The Future of Print

Content Bridges: Advance Partnership Signals Greater Microsoft/Newspaper Connection

Posted in Boom by futureofprint on September 9, 2009

MSNBC.com just paid several million to buy Everyblock, the much-watched Adrian Holovaty start-up, around local city data. Smart local interactive data should be a strong core of every local news(paper) site; it drives traffic and screams utility. The fact that MSNBC.com — co-owned by Microsoft and NBC — understands that opportunity better than newspaper companies speaks volumes. The deal also reinforces the notion, noted in the post below, that Microsoft will once again become a more dominant local, news-oriented player in the years ahead.

Advance Internet is announcing its new partnership with Microsoft. The new partnership — already launched in part — parallels the Yahoo Newspaper Consortium, but differs from it in one important respect.

What’s the same:

  • Advance Internet’s own salespeople, and then the vanguard of its newspaper sales reps, will sell into the Microsoft Media Network, encompassing all the Microsoft sites. So, in essence, Advance will greatly expand what its sales teams can offer local advertisers. The idea and the centerpiece of the deal for Advance: the ability to offer local businesses additional marketing solutions, multiplying Advance’s sales.
  • Advance Internet will use the capabilities of the Microsoft ad technologies — among them behavioral targeting (BT) and re-messaging (following would-be customers as they move about the web)
  • The deal connects Advance and Microsoft directly on paid search products. Microsoft will deliver its text ads both through its paid search and contextual-reading ad products. Microsoft paid search ads will replace Google paid search on Advance sites.

The main difference: Advance Internet is maintaining its own ad platform, currently powered by 24/7 RealMedia, and integrating with Microsoft. Yahoo Newspaper Consortium members have fully adopted the Yahoo APT platform for their ad serving businesses, creating a closer, more exclusive relationship.

First, Microsoft is really coming back — to the newspaper world. After Sidewalk, after all kinds of attempted relationships, Microsoft — soon to be half of the Google/Microsoft search duopoly — is once again seeing the benefits of the newspaper company local connection. Advance Internet is the first major local news company reselling display ads into the Microsoft Media Network, Peter MacDonald, who is Microsoft’s PubCenter Director of Business Development, Advertiser and Publisher solutions, told me. Haven’t heard of the Microsoft Media Network?  It was formed in February, rolled up from various Microsoft businesses, well-described here by ClickZ. Among the other big media companies named as collaborating on the new underlying PubCenter platform are IAC, Dow Jones Online, The New York Times Co., Time Inc., and Viacom.

With the Advance deal, it gets good local sales potential — those feet-on-the-street that are the envy of companies that are cubicle-bound and technology-centered. Recall that in the Microsoft/Yahoo deal, Microsoft’s Bing and paid search businesses will power not only Yahoo, but apparently all the newspapers sites in the consortium. That will mean that the majority of newspaper sites (with the big exceptions of Gannett, Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post, among others) will see critical parts of their business powered by Microsoft.

The solutions, here and in the Yahoo consortium: 1) sell more products, in addition to display; and 2) sell Other People’s Inventory and networks; in Advance’s case, Microsoft’s.

As I’ve noted, this new math is compelling — many smaller advertisers never could afford print. They can afford online, and that means the potential of hundreds and thousands of new customers in every metro marketplace.

According to Borrell Associates, roughly half of the $14 billion local online ad market is going to the pure plays — Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and smaller sites without legacy media businesses. Only a quarter of it is going to newspaper companies. Newspapers’ strength is in non-targeted display advertising; they’re minor players in the fastest-growing online ad segments of paid search and direct marketing.

Broadcasters see the new markets opening as well — all those small businesses that used to be “too small to sell”, businesses that have gotten a taste of self-service keyword advertising, but would like some help in putting together better, smarter campaigns. Both YP and broadcast companies are part of the Microsoft reseller program that Advance just joined, in fact. Conversely, Weinberger notes that with the new programs “we can go after broadcast dollars.”

So it’s a race, a “consultative” sales race. As I talk to newspaper publishers, broadcast execs, YP honchos, all will tell war stories of how hard it is to transform their legacy sales forces. How do you re-train “order-takers” for the new world order of selling targeting, networks and re-messaging? It’s a race of turtles to some degree.

The new world order of hyper-targeted, sold and serviced both by (self-serve) computers and flexible, innovative human salespeople is certainly not here yet. Whoever gets there first stands to build sizable new businesses. Yes, the buy-our-site-plus approach makes sense, and may offer initial advantage, but ultimately, whoever can bring results by best harnessing the diverse marketing environment wins.

What makes sense to me, conceptually at least, is that Advance is trying to remain at the solid center of its business. Here, it is leveraging Microsoft technology and network assets, but is not bound to its platform.

Via Ken Doctor of Content Bridges

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