How Gannett transformed into a digital media agency

How can a newspaper company successfully transform itself into a digital media agency? How can both the publisher and the client benefit from the process? Lessons from Gannett Inc., the largest newspaper publisher in the US.

by Elizabeth Shilpa | March 26, 2021

About five or six years ago, Gannett, the largest newspaper publishing company in the US, was looking for digital marketing and media solutions providers to acquire. As part of the process, its team regularly asked salespeople from potential companies what they would say to clients who were considering working with Gannett or other local media companies. Often, they got the same reply – why would anyone buy digital marketing solutions from a newspaper company?

This prompted the team to rethink how they could change the perception about who they were as a company and who they could be as a partner to local businesses.

Selling advertising alone wasn’t enough; the company needed to transform into a true marketing partner. Thus began Gannett’s year-long journey of discovery, perception change and skill development, said Kevin Gentzel, the company’s Chief Revenue Officer, during WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media India 2021.

Today, he said, Gannett has effectively rebranded its offerings and has added to its capabilities, transforming itself from a newspaper company to a true digital media agency.

“We have rebranded our go-to-market across the 260 local communities where we do have a printed local newspaper, but also all of the digital media assets, as LOCALiQ,” said Gentzel.

By fusing trust with tech, LOCALiQ has become a one-stop-agency for local businesses, he said.

Being subscription-led

One of the “mission-critical” points Gannett identified to take the company from 2021 to 2025 and beyond, is committing to the idea of being subscription-led.

Driving digital subscriptions is a top priority for most media houses today, and Gannett’s aim is to have 10 million by 2025 (up from around 1 million currently). But that’s only a part of the company’s goals around being subscription-led.

“To us, subscription is not just limited to the consumer side of our business. On the B2B side of the business, which I oversee, we think a subscription-based effort can really focus on those clients who are purchasing digital marketing services from us,” he said.

“We believe the relationship we have with the DMS clients is a lot more subscriber-like than a flighting advertiser for instance,” he added. “A DMS client is obviously built to be always on and to grow for much longer. It also creates that foundation of digital revenue which we can forecast accurately and grow upon. That brings us to our second Northstar priority, which is growing the digital marketing services revenue.”

Simplifying local marketing

Gentzel said LOCALiQ aims to solve the complexities in digital marketing faced by local businesses and SMBs to help these companies focus on what they do best.

“We’ve had a big focus on things like e-commerce, SEO, listings and management, and ultimately how we can put these important KPIs into dashboards and reporting for businesses so that the data visualisation can help them make better decisions. We do treat reporting as a product, and we take it very seriously and are always looking to enhance and improve upon it,” he said.

New tools and tech 

Part of the LOCALiQ value proposition is bringing in new tech and tools that can help businesses to make investments more effectively and efficiently.

One such tool, called The Grader, provides competitive analysis about a company’s marketing efforts and allows the business owner to conduct a digital health checkup on how his/her website is performing, how the SEO is doing, how the content marketing is performing and so on. 

“Then we can also build into the results of the tool a proprietary budget that will show a business if they want to just achieve reach if they want to achieve scale, if they want to achieve leads and what type of budget it would take to accomplish this,” Gentzel said. 

He noted that Gannett’s sales team has been using the tool regularly to help make a sales call, while the services team has been using it to understand campaign management and campaign optimisation. The tool, which was launched two years ago, has today become a core part of Gannett’s value proposition from a technology standpoint.

Another tool, called the Client Center, is not only built to enable the sales and services teams but also for self-service.

“We view campaign reporting as a product and as part of our overall offering to business owners. We feel that the more powerfully we can represent campaign data and campaign details – what’s working and what’s not – the more educated our clients are,” Gentzel noted.

Client Center helps with this by offering in-depth performance reporting and insights. 

Get Creative

Along with such tools and offerings, the company has also built a full-fledged in-house creative agency called ‘Get Creative’. 

“We wanted to create branded content, storytelling devices, native advertising plans that could work for local and small businesses and not just for global and national brands. We had to figure out how we could make storytelling affordable, effective, enhanced and scalable,” Gentzel said.

The search for this led the team to build innovative stuff like virtual reality branded content and more experimentation in augmented reality. 

“To get our native advertising business functional for local businesses, we had to open up ad slots across all 260 of our local sites. Today, we are very pleased that it is a growth business for us. It is servicing along with our digital marketing services and other display ad products to help local businesses tell their stories, remind local communities why they are important and the role that they play,” Gentzel said.

New partnerships

Recently, Gannett announced it would be working with McClatchy, the second-largest newspaper publisher in the US, to bring in national demand for McClatchy’s vast inventory. Gentzel said the company is constantly looking at exploring such business partnerships. 

“National advertisers in the US spend with us not only to reach the USA Today audiences but also the local audiences across our network,” he said. “Adding other local publishers to our network gives national brands and large local companies the ability to reach even larger audience segments while they are in that trust-based deeply engaged consumption of local media content. It is a big part of our trajectory in 2021, and we expect this to grow over the next five years.”

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