With local outposts in cities across the country, Gannett has an insider’s view into American communities and what their residents want and need from big brands.
“Big, national brands often don't want to be perceived as big, national brands,” said Kevin Gentzel, chief revenue officer at Gannett. “They want to feel embedded in local communities, just like our readers and journalists.”
While its outlets skew local, Gannett also is the publisher of USA Today, which offers national coverage while bringing together a network of newsrooms to create opportunities for data-driven editorial and distribution.
“Our journalists often are the neighbors of our readers. They go to synagogue or church together, and their children go to school together,” Gentzel said. “We take that foundation, our reach to red state-blue state, urban-rural, north-south, east and west and then figure out what that means for a brand.”
Local businesses also offer a huge opportunity for Gannett, which has a footprint of 109 media brands reaching 125 million uniques across the country, as ranked by comScore.
To service local businesses’ marketing needs, Gannett in 2016 acquired the search and social channel provider ReachLocal, and in 2017 it purchased SweetIQ, a platform that manages online reviews, location data and listings. With these tools, Gannett offers a “growing suite of agency-like services” for local businesses, from designing to deploying ad campaigns, Gentzel said.
“We believe we can make [these capabilities] scale because of our footprint, our sales organization in local markets and through relationships we’ve built with local businesses over time,” he said. “It’s our ongoing initiative to build a comprehensive set of solutions for local businesses. [They] will drive the spend shift for the next three to five years.”
Gentzel spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: Local and print news are both struggling. How are you keeping brands interested in what you can offer?
KEVIN GENTZEL: We’re getting interested in using technology.
We’re using natural-language processing to scan article pages – both the words on the page and the metadata – to extract sentiment. For instance, is this story driving community pride? Then we scale that across the thousands of articles we publish every day.
If we can derive that the article is driving inspiration, trust or civic pride, we can then help a brand, through branded content or display, reach these people in a sentiment that’s relevant.
What services do you offer local businesses?
Our organization helps thousands of local businesses design creative ads for print and digital. We inject the order, manage and optimize the campaign. We study signals in design elements of the ad to see how they correlate with elements of the campaign.
We sit on top of this ecosystem for local businesses. We can see across the nation how these different parts of the digital creative ad assets impact performance. Now we’re putting more technology and machine learning behind our nationwide campaigns.
How important is programmatic to your overall revenue strategy?
Very important. We strive to build our premium and direct programmatic businesses. We do a lot of private marketplaces. That’s a big part of our future and growth.
We recognized early that selling programmatically was way beyond just setting and forgetting nobs. Having talent, including sales talent, that understand the data, how to connect brands with audiences and premium content environments [is critical].
The talent we recruit now is able to evangelize, drive branded-content partnerships and build premium programmatic relationships directly with brands, agencies, trading desks and other demand sources.
How important is branded content? What services do you offer?
We launched Get Creative, our branded content studio, in the middle of 2016 to drive our partnership with national and global brands. We’ve also been scaling branded content and native advertising products for local businesses. We have been building the infrastructure over the past 18 months, opening ad slots across all of our local market mobile web and desktop pages.
We are ready, in 2018, to help showcase how branded content and native advertising can help local businesses engage audiences. There’s a huge potential for partnership growth with local businesses, just like there has been for national businesses.
Revenue diversification is a big theme for publishers right now. How are you approaching alternative revenue streams?
We’re focused on marketing solutions, which is inclusive of advertising revenue but extends beyond. We view our opportunity for partnership with businesses as broader than advertising.
One of the benefits of having 109 newsrooms is that it gives you an opportunity to test and measure storytelling devices, [like] virtual reality ad products and branded content.
Our first foray into the medium was out of our Des Moines Register newsroom in 2014. We told a story in VR to show people what it was like to live on a working farm. We did other interesting experiments using VR and 360, including shooting footage in a Blue Angels cockpit. That was the most-viewed piece of 360 content in 2016.
What kind of viewership and brand interest are you getting from VR? Is it a real revenue stream?
It’s a business for us. We’ve worked 20 brands in different types of VR ad products, including VR branded content. A lot of publishers dip their toe in the water and sporadically publish. We believe that a regular cadence of publishing is how we can help drive the habit of consumption.
We launched a show called VRtually There and for two seasons. We learned a ton about time spent in goggles and how to optimize for that. The first scalable ad product we launched was the cubemercial, in which we used the four walls of the cube [for advertising messages].
We think there’s much more evolution to occur but getting on the ground floor situates you in a way that you're learning. It gets us thinking about the internet in new and exciting ways. It prepares us.
What do you make of consolidation in the media industry? How do you prepare for that volatility?
I like the position we’re in because we’ve got rural audiences. We have one in two adults in America turning to us because we’re either a trusted source of information or entertainment. We’re part of the fabric.
For us it’s how do we take the print cash flow and use it almost as venture capital to continue to fund our digital future.
This interview has been edited.