In a recent post, I argued that the problem facing newspapers today has nothing to do with the notion that news-on-paper is not viable — instead the problem is a broken advertising sales process. Since then I’ve discovered MediaBids, which seems to have a good idea for how to fix that problem.

According to their website:

Since its online launch in 2003, MediaBids has become the leading online print advertising marketplace, bringing together more than 4,500 publications and 10,000 businesses on its website. MediaBids’ easy-to-use platform has attracted a wide range of users, from small sole proprietorships to large national corporations.

Given that Google has recently given up on delivering print ads to newspapers, I was immediately intrigued by this start-up. Once I discovered that they had an impressive Board of Advisers and very interesting partners, I needed to know more.

While the exciting part might be the way they sell ads by auction, the real secret sauce for hyper-locals is that Mediabids is a one-stop shop for getting quotes and buying print ads. All the exchanges are through their website. Another plus is that if there’s a snag in the purchase process, you’ll have MediaBids on your side to walk you through it. It makes placing advertising so easy that any publication that wants to build a relationship with small local businesses has an easy online purchasing system already in place.

It might even be possible for those professionals already trying to build relationships with small businesses — people like graphic designers, public relations specialists, or commercial printer sales people — to sell ads through Mediabids as a side benefit of doing business. Jessica Lampron, Mediabids’ director of marketing and communications, indicated to me that an affiliate program is “in the works.” Below is a transcript of my conversation with Lampron.

Q: Explain how the bid process and pay-for-response system works.

Lampron: The Per-Inquiry Print Advertising Program is for national, direct response advertisers. Essentially, they pay for their advertising on a response basis. Each advertiser’s payment program is a little different — some pay a fixed dollar amount per call, others pay a fixed dollar amount per lead. If a publication would like to run an ad from one of these advertisers, they simply log into their MediaBids account and select the ad size/color they’d like, and we deliver it to their account in a PDF format based on the materials deadline they enter. These publications get paid based on the response the ad generates in their publication. It’s kind of like pay-per-click — but for print advertising.

Our advertising auctions work like this: An advertiser defines how much they’d like to spend and the desired number of ad insertions and then invites publications to bid on that dollar amount. So if an advertiser has a $500 auction and wants one insertion of an ad in Connecticut newspapers, they could create an auction for $500, invite newspapers in Connecticut to participate. Those publications will let the advertiser know how much space and how many insertions they’d be willing to give them for that $500. The advertiser can then buy the space after the auction closes. Actually, advertisers can get some great savings this way, because the publication bids are anonymous except to the advertiser who created the auction. It fosters competition amongst bidding publications.

Q: I would like to test an idea that I’ve been floating to see if you think it might make sense. Get feet on the ground to sell local ads to local business by partnering with commercial print salespeople and retail stores. The idea is local businesses are not yet “advertisers,” so the idea is to create a new group of buyers in the advertising/marketing market. Since “copy shops,” Big Box stores like Staples, commercial print salespeople and local advertising creatives all need to help small business make the transition to effective marketing, it seems a natural step.

Lampron: We think that you’re absolutely right on — it would make complete sense to utilize commercial print salespeople to sell ads to local businesses. As a first point of interaction for many new businesses, they could certainly guide them in the right direction when it comes to their print advertising. We currently have an affiliate program in the works that is not live on the site yet, but will essentially compensate affiliates for advertiser/publication referrals or ad sales.

i-d3cc6bc54ea06d15ae714093cd62c89e-jessica.jpg
Jessica Lampron

There is no doubt that the best way to sell local ads to local businesses is by putting people on the street to do the selling.

In a best case scenario, a salesperson is effective because he or she is able to understand the needs of the advertiser and tailor the advertising being offered to maximize effectiveness. In your question above you suggest that advertisers don’t have the focus to be able to truly understand why the advertising being offered to them is so important. We agree with this premise, however, differ slightly in a arriving at a solution.

Too often sales is not about offering advice or information, it is about building a relationship. And too often a relationship does not mean that an advertiser is getting good advice. Many local advertisers are turned off to print and other mediums because they have taken the advice offered to them by salespeople. So rather than buying into logical advertising concepts like testing and tracking, advertisers buy ads with unrealistic expectations of their success. This is a quick win for the salesperson but a long term loss for the advertiser and the industry.

Q: Can you share your vision of the path to scale? I don’t see any reason that you won’t be able to solve the print ad problem that stumped Google.

Lampron: As an advertising medium, print works. Advertisers who have used tracking mechanisms within their ads can attest to this — whether they used 800 numbers, unique URLs or other measurement tools, advertisers come back to publications that deliver results. Despite print’s effectiveness, the conventional buying and selling mechanisms are badly in need of refinement. That’s where we stepped in.

Over the past ten years, we have been refining our online processes to adapt to the way advertisers want to buy their print advertising — and it has worked. Whether advertisers are buying ad space they can buy instantly, advertising auctions or our performance-based advertising program, advertisers like the way we sell print.

Ultimately, with enough publication participation, we hope to become the marketplace advertisers turn to place print the way that travelers depend on sites like Travelocity and Expedia to book travel. Our growth in the last three years has been very strong and we have achieved it by enabling advertisers to place effective print ads easily, and publications to sell these ads without having to increase their sales force.

Q: What do you see as your present greatest challenge?

Lampron: The greatest challenge thus far has been increasing publication participation. Each advertiser comes to our website with a different idea of what they want to purchase; some want an ad in their local newspaper, others want to plan a long-term buy in national magazines. One of our main challenges is ensuring we have the inventory available to meet the needs of each advertiser.

Q: To me it seems that you have the ad solution that is needed for niche and micro-versioned publications, either start-ups or living in an established newspaper company. Is there anything I’m missing or should know about in that direction?

Lampron: We have had great success in helping small or niche publications reach advertisers that their sales forces otherwise could not. And conversely, our advertisers have been happy we’ve helped them discover publications not initially on that radar; publications which have yielded great results.

The “why wouldn’t I do that” test

MediaBids’ system could be a winning strategy not just for advertisers, but also for local printers, designers and hyper-local publications. Mediabids’ greatest challenge is “increasing publication participation.” Meanwhile, the problem facing hyper-local publications is how to get advertising dolars, and the problem facing commercial printers and marketing/design studios is to get more paying work. The success of local businesses — like neighborhood printers and hyper-local newspapers — ties into the economic health of a community.

Mediabids’ idea seems like a “win-win-win-win” for advertisers, printers, designers, newspapers and even the public. This passes the “why wouldn’t I do that?” test. The company’s idea seems like it could go far in solving the current ad crisis that’s made so many people mistakenly write off print; it would be well worth watching in the future.

What do you think? Have you used MediaBids and was the process worthwhile for you? What could be fixed about it? And why has MediaBids succeeded where giant Google hasn’t?

Michael Josefowicz spent 30 years at Red Ink Productions, a boutique print production brokerage he co-founded which served New York-based design studios and non-profit organizations. He came out of retirement to teach production at Parsons The New School for Design for the next 7 years. He now blogs about print at Print in the Communication Ecology and about the digital printing industry at Tough Love for Xerox.

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