March 2008

I’m sure our Luca’s sick and tired of people having a pop and I’m not about to re-visit that Ersnt & Young report; I’ll let these boys do that – and, whilst you’re there,

And I was thinking about this the other day as we started to wander our way around this whole local advertising thing.

Because the other model that appears to have slipped under the Ernst & Young radar is PPM. Has anyone actually done PPM yet? It’s pay-per-month.

It’s very simple. Me and/or Kev wander into a local advertiser and, say, ‘Here you are, fella, give us a 150 notes and you can be on our site for a month…’

What can then follow is a conversation that would make Jeff Jarvis’ head spin and our new best pal Luca reach for his triangles.

But it’s a conversation that again needs to be slipped into next autumn’s course-work because out there – where the metal meets the meat, so to speak – it’s a conversation that the next generation of local, self-financing journalists need to have.

Because not everyone they encounter will, actually, have a website. But they may still recognise a good, banner placement opportunity when they see one.

And for all those thousands and thousands of little local firms out there who have known nothing else but advertising in their little local paper, you have to hold them by the hand and lead them oh-so gently across the great divide and into this whole new world of digitally-based advertising.

These are busy people; with small ad budgets and even less time than most to worry about the latest CPM rates; PPC ratios, etc, etc… We’re back to Ady and the man from Google. Out there, down Sprowston Road and up Martineau Lane, you just make their lives as easy as possible.

And if they have grown up paying £250 for one night in an evening newspaper, then the next step is to say: ‘OK, how about £150 for 31 nights on a local website…’

Gently, gently catchee monkey… Let’s start with PPM. Let’s go from there.

Here, you go Luca. Take yourself up Aylsham Road – if memory serves it’s just before the Bingo – and there’s a pawn-brokers. Good lads. Not yet got round to getting a website.

Busy people. Times are hard; business is up.

But you bring an ad-make up function to the party – and this is what our Nick down Norton Road knocks me out…

Now, it is not about to win any awards at some swish London bash; this isn’t Saatchi & Saatchi – this is a pawn-brokers half-way up Aylsham Road in Norwich; and he’s got a second place out Lowestoft way.

But to my little, local mind – that ad looks good.

And what is more important, that simple PPM ad makes that pawnbroker feel good.

I bet, quietly, he’s quite proud of his new – if not, first – web presence. After 30 years running virtually the same ad in the local paper, now he’s got that to show his family and friends.

Whether it actually drives him new business, who knows? Depends, as ever, as to whether or not he asks every customer who walks through his door where they saw his ad.

But it’s interesting – and very telling as to what you can actually do out there on the front-line; what models you can actually get to work at a local level. Cos if he actually likes the way his ad looks on-line, then there’s a sneak of a chance that come the end of his four-month PPM, he’ll book again.

Just like he used to do when the lad from the local newspaper used to pop his head round the door. ‘Same again..?’ he’d ask.

‘Yeh, go on then…’ they’d reply.

That’s how they’ve given local newspapers a living for donkeys years; that’s how – in part – they might, just, give local news websites a living, too.

It’s still mights and maybes. Ifs and buts.

But PPM and pawn-brokers; we ignore them at our peril. For let’s face it, way things are in our line of work, we may all need cash quick…


We haven’t mentioned banks yet. We will.

But on one of my little forays down to London, a mate of mine who helped me unearth Mexican Kev’s missing ‘millions’ from somewhere in mid-banking Atlantic introduced me to one of his best ‘blue sky thinkers’.

Nice lad, to be fair. And you could see he was Mr Blue Sky from the moment you walked into this open plan office. He was the one afforded enough space for a putting machine.

Anyway, I did the Mark I water lilies and long tails at him; he then did nice triangles at me.

Speaking to Kyle of fame at Paul’s JEECamp do last week, we discovered that we had at least one thing in common – we’d both had the triangle talk in the course of our various brushes with the banks. Maybe it was the same bloke; maybe he only does triangles.

Anyway, decent lad, etc… but we weren’t really on the same planet. We certainly didn’t talk the same language.

Which brings me – albeit in a roundabout way – to this little gem that popped up on – a lesson in how we should all be making money Google-style from those good people at Ernst & Young.

“The online revenue gap between nationals and Google is also evident if we consider that the latter could have generated £2.40 per UK unique user per month from its websites in 2007, compared to top newspaper websites’ £0.10 to £0.13,” said Luca Mastrodonato, media and entertainment analyst, Ernst & Young.

“This gap is an opportunity for newspapers as it shows that monetising online services in the UK is possible. But to do so, newspapers need to move away from the volume based CPM model towards more interactive ad models such as CPC (cost-per-click) or CPL (cost-per-lead)…

Far be it from me to stand up for either national or local newspaper industry, but I think Luca may be one of those that does triangles.

CPL – cost-per-lead – is something we ran courtesy of the OnLine Media Group here in Norwich.

I couldn’t get it to work.

I’m sure it does elsewhere, but when punters are on your site to read their football news, they don’t tend to buy a car insurance policy. Nor pet insurance. Bike insurance. Van insurance.

Nor do they order travel holiday brochures. Or even order bottles of wine. Not even if you’re offering 50% off a case of Virgin Wine.

The only thing, at the time, that the whole CPL thing gave me was access to a whole load of nice-looking banners that ran through the site and made me and our Kev look like the ad salesman of all time. Cash-wise? I’d like to say not a bean; it wasn’t a bean, it was peanuts.

Having just logged into my cobwebbed account, I can arm Luca with our up-to-date ’08 figures for the Virgin Wines offer we ran through the site until, that is, we got Ipswich Audi on board last month. Here we are, 29,624 impressions for 18 clicks… validated transactions? That would be nil, Mr Waghorn.

Half price cases of wine off a footie site. Not a taker in sight.

Because people don’t come to a football site to buy a case of wine… You come to a football site to read about football.

Just as when you go to a news site, you go there to read about news. Not to buy wine. Or car insurance. Or pet insurance.

OK, maybe it was me.

Here we go – another exercise for Paul’s kids when it comes to teaching journalism by teaching advertising.

First story that grabbed my eye when on the Guardian home page; I was in that ‘I’ve got a mo…’ mood; I’ll go see what’s happening in the world…

The Guardian runs the smartest piece of adsense-type advertising software around that story and what on earth in that story is ever going to encourage anyone to click-through somewhere? They’ll click on the embedded video; that’s an advertising ‘click through’ model, for sure.

But only cos they’ve still got their ‘news’ hats on; nothing else.

I guess we can rule out the ‘Trekking in Tibet’ buttons; B&Bs in Lhasa… in fact the only possible thing that crossed my mind came from the last line….

“The Dalai [Lama] is a wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast…”

At a push, you might get a couple of clicks on a Fancy Dress place. Otherwise, don’t work.

Not on news; not on football. People aren’t in the mood.

Ernst&Young. Bet they do triangles.

When I was first cutting my journalistic teeth on that mighty organ of the west that was the weekly Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, the advertising department was something you tried to get off with pass seasonal greetings to every Christmas.

And it was the same when I graduated to my local evening paper; the advertising department was something that you wandered through en route to the accounts dept; it was another world; one that we journalists never knew anything about. Like I say, we’d try to build bridges come Christmas time – for the rest of the year, we went our way; they went their’s.

And I guess that’s true of 90 per cent of old newspaper institutions; more, probably. Even now, I don’t think habits and perceptions have changed.

But they need to. In fact, given what most reporters can – in theory – do with a digital camera these days, I’d ditch the old reporter-photographer combo altogether and send the reporter out into battle locally with an ad person at their side – you get the story, I’ll get an ad… and they’d sit next to each other in the office.

And swap contacts books. One would gut the other’s battered little black book for stories and leads; the other would likewise gut the list for ad leads… this parish councillor, doesn’t he run a garage…?

It’s funny, but doing what we’ve done of late you tend to bump into more academics than newspaper executives. Don’t know why… perhaps it’s something we’ve said.

Anyway, you listen to what the likes of Paul, Adrian, Charlie, Roy, Jeff and people are all up to with their students and they all seem to be grappling with the same big issue – what do we actually teach our J-School kids these days that’s going to be of relevance to their digitally-based journalistic lives?

What do you teach the next generation of journalists? Simple.


In fact, I’ll even get the ball rolling with a simple, multiple-choice question for their Fall ’08 module on ‘Enterprise and journalism; making ends meet when the local newspaper goes t*ts up…’

Johnny Smith’s family furniture store half-way up the Sprowston Road was one of your early launch advertisers. You join your ad-man for what you presume to be a straight-forward re-booking. Johnny Smith, however, has had a re-think. ‘To be honest, we’re going to give it a miss this quarter,” he says. “We’re just not seeing any response…”

Do you…

(a) say: ‘How the f*ck do you know that? What, do you ask everyone who walks through the door where they heard of you? What about them over there, you asked them?’

or (b) say: ‘Look I know you’ve only had six click-throughs this month, but how many f*cking click-throughs have you had off that ridiculous taxi you had painted last month? Who’s ‘clicking through’ on that, twat? And while we’re on the subject, how many people have clicked through that half-page newspaper ad you’ve been running for the last 30 years… eh?’

or (c) say: ‘Johnny, that’s fine. We’re just grateful for all your initial support; maybe we can pop back in again in a couple of months when you’ve got your new autumn cane furniture range in…?’

If you answer either (a) or (b) you are a journalist.

If you answer (c) you’re our Kev.

But if, as a journalist, you can learn and/or be taught to answer (c) then you’ve got a chance.

Even if you still think (a) and (b). You’ve got a chance.

Teach the kids how to sell; at a local level certainly. They sell, they survive.

Me and Ian – addiply/Jimmy The Book Ian – have this running gag about these various venues in the history of MFW that – in years ahead – will be adorned by one of those blue plaque things. So-and-so was born here…

I stress the word ‘gag’ at this point; we’ve never been able to afford the luxury of taking ourselves too seriously.

In fact, there have been times when we couldn’t afford anything – principally when our Kev’s round one investment (Mexican Kev; not back bedroom Kev…) got lost in mid-Atlantic banking cyber-space for 17, hair-raising days.

Anyway, for the historical record – and in no particular order – the name MyFootballWriter was ‘invented’ in the Walnut Tree Shades pub in Norwich; me and Ian divvied up bits of addiply in the Dilraj curry house in Loddon; me, Ian and Neil figured out what we might do with in the Artichoke pub in Broome… oh and me and Ad-man Kev, have our sales meetings in the Fat Cat, on the corner of Nelson Street.

The birth of MyLocalWriter is a bit more tricky in that I found that the domain name was still unregistered on the train back to Norwich from London about three weeks ago. I have a feeling we’d just gone through Seven Sisters. Or was it Shenfield? Make it Platform Nine, Liverpool St.

Would it have been the same if we’d ever had an office to call our own? Nah, not really.

With Kev hanging out of his back bedroom window, Ian slaving over a hot addiply cms in his mum’s spare room and Neil off proofing the history of art, it was time for the boss to treat the rest of the MFW troops to lunch.

Both of them. It should have been three, but Tom was down with flu.

Mark does Ipswich, Nick does Colchester; both do MFW like a dream.

There was a time when we thought we might go the franchise route with MFW; build a football reporter starter-pack and let people take the ‘kit’ off the shelf and off they go; it’s where we think MLW might be able to go.

But go down the franchise route and, as far as I could ever work out, I’d have spent the last six months slaving night and day writing a training manual.

So instead when first Mark and then Nick joined the party, their ‘kit’ was a 3G data card, one of those digital voice recorders with the UBS thing that makes them a radio station and a decent, second-hand motor off Col’s Cars in Acle. £120 a month over three years; works out OK.

Like most 20-somethings, they come with a lap-top attached.

A quick chat about remembering they’re a local; that it’s great to get a headline one day; not so great if that same headline doesn’t talk to you the next… and that was about it, I think.

I showed them once how to upload the Action Images stuff off the CMS; Neil bunged them the link to their site stats to keep track of their hourly circulation figures and neither of them have missed a trick. Or a deadline.

They’ve had to change; to adapt. We all work Sundays. For until the provincial newspaper industry start producing Sunday newspapers – or flooding out the post-match quotes and copy ahead of their Monday print editions – we’ve got that day to ourselves; but they don’t seem to be bothered.

Write the piece on a Saturday night before you go out; time the piece on the CMS to go up at 10am on Sunday morning and these boys can still be sleeping off the night before as they publish to the waiting world.

During the week, minus deadlines we have this deal that they aim for the whole ‘My first coffee break…’ market sometime around the mid-morning; then hit the ‘One last look before I log off…’ brigade some time around 5; 5.30pm. And all the time, you’re about to roll out stuff as and when anything breaks.

Because these days punters call the shots; they access their news when they want to – and where they want to. Not when we tell them. It’s on your door mat at 4.40pm. Take it or leave it…

And we’re not going to get everything first; ask most football reporters these days and they get sweet FA first – not ‘news’ wise. News belongs to the clubs; that’s why they run their own TV stations; hire ‘club journalists’… the rest of us just mop up afterwards.

That’s why we run the RSS feeds from elsewhere; look here’s the news from the local newspaper, Sky, BBC, Telegraph football… just get it off our site while you’re here… And look, before anyone starts to complain, here’s your branding on our site…

News is everywhere; me, Mark and Nick can’t be. So we link.

And this is the thing; they get all of this; the fact that all we can ever do now is aim at this ‘When I get a mo…’ market; the fact that they need to work slightly different days; be slightly more flexible in their thinking.

But they’ve been flexible in their thinking since the first time they set a finger on a keyboard. When they were five, probably. In school.

This generation of young journalists embraced the web years ago; they know what it can deliver; they don’t need a training manual; it’s in their DNA.

Podcasts? Yeh, fine… Upload pictures? Whatever…

We got 72 CVs through for the Colchester gig; good CVs; nigh-on all were the same age, same background; journalism courses, year or so on a local weekly; a good few on an evening sports desk. All can clearly see the writing on the wall.

So you go back and say: ‘Right, given a choice…. given your contacts, location… what club would you like to do?’ And they’re all there; the six for Watford, four for Preston, eight for Palace. Cos they all get it; like I still don’t most of the time.

Twitter? Me? Behave.

But my boys will. Stand in front of that JEECamp and listen to Paul talk about what his kids are up to and, boy, are they going to have fun.

Someone, somewhere, just needs to set them free. That’s why we want to beta MyLocalWriter through the J-Schools, the colleges, the universities. Cos the kids know what they’re doing; they know where their world is going.

Most of the time, we haven’t got a clue.

My BlogAds pal – he of the ‘race to the bottom’ cheeriness – was right in one respect.

Once you get out here, it is all a numbers game. We are, indeed, entering ‘the Age of Quantification’.

And, as he suggested, for all us professional locals the numbers don’t add up.

Take, for example, our Google AdSense numbers since March ’07.

406,002 impressions, 846 clicks…. $223. So I did Google a disservice at JEECamp. Apologies. When I said $180 for 400,000 page impressions I was $40 out and 6,000 page impressions under. We made £110 in a year.

We took AdSense off round about September. and have never run AdSense; it didn’t make any sense; by the time both launched, for better or worse we were giving ‘addiply’ a go.

AdSense remains sat there on the mother site, in the hope that any passing Colchester United, Norwich City or Ipswich Town punter might want to buy some Champions League quarter-final tickets off

Unlikely, I suspect, but as the publisher it’s one of those little straws that Google leaves me to cling to.

It’s somewhere about now that ‘Out With A Bang’ veers more towards ‘Shuffling Off With A Whimper’ as we start to tip-toe around the whole G-word issue.

Cos clearly, in many other aspects, we need to cling to their magic black box with a passion. It is, after all, how all-too many people get to find us in the first place. And where would any of us be without that Google searchlight to illuminate this infinite web darkness?

But when it comes to earning anyone a living off their local web toils, well, I’m sorry. I can’t get it to work.

Not on my numbers; great, sticky 436-second copy twice a day and all that, but £110 for every 400,000 page impressions… someone’s having a laugh.

Of course, Google has now got a new toy for us all to play with – Google Ad Manager. It has, says Mr Jarvis, the odd chink in its armour – one that is unlikely to make the life of the local publisher any easier in terms of sourcing local advertising.

Because for 400-odd years that’s what under-pinned the business model of local newspapers, local advertising. And that hasn’t changed; that’s still there; all that’s changed – albeit dramatically – is our reliance as journalists on the wood-stainers to distribute our thoughts.

Nor for that matter do the little local advertisers increasingly want to bother with the wood-stainers any more – not when they’ve got a nice, new shiny website to promote. Like Ady. And his skips.

But back to Google Ad Manager and our Jeff’s thoughts from…

One big problem with its program is that it doesn’t share that data with the publishers and let them use it to more efficiently serve its ads. It also doesn’t share it with advertisers and let them take advantage of a more transparent marketplace.

“No, Google’s holding onto that information itself and, once again, becoming smarter than all of us. And I say that’s our own damned fault for not building our truly open ad marketplace. It’s not too late, but it soon will be…”

That’s why for the Ady’s of this world we built – these people have been used to paying 500 notes for a half page ad in their local evening paper and seeing that half page ad on Page 17 on a Monday night. So when the Mrs does the books, Ady can point to where, exactly, that £500 went.

What, exactly, they got for their money. A half page. On Page 17. On a Monday. causes me, the publisher, a pain in the a*se cos armed with all his new figures from his own client log-in page, I have to explain to Ady why we’re unlikely to hit 1.3 million banners this month; that January was transfer window month; that Norwich are doing crap; Colchester are bottom of the table; Ipswich are falling away from the play-offs…

But look, Ady… there’s your new ad. We’ve made it a sky-scraper this time. And look, don’t worry about this cpm stuff; just give us 140 notes for the month… and we’ll bung you a month for free at the end.

Go back to New York and my pal with his race to the bottom, and his other gem was the battle was lost; the war was won; that before any of us had re-organised and re-grouped, Google would have an ad rep in every city and town in the UK.

Me and our Kev bust our proverbials to get Ady and his skips onto our site. The story was that he got a call from Mrs Huckerby one day, ordering a skip from an ad that she’d seen on-line somewhere…

I would pay a small fortune to watch a Google ad rep go and get an ad off Ady.

I would pay an even bigger fortune to watch a Google ad rep go and get money off someone like an Ady. He’s as good as gold; doesn’t owe us a penny. But most of these boys come from a generation – maybe that’s now passing – in which paying us out of what’s rolled up tightly in their back pocket was the norm.

Cos they’re a local. And that’s where our future lies. At an Ady’s door, not at Google’s.

A scribble, yesterday

It was a simple question from Pete Ashton – and one that, at the time, I had no answer to.

I’m not sure I do now.

Which is why, in part, Out With A Bang is here to help. Kind of.

Anyway, the question. ‘Is that model you drew online?’

Drew is probably over-stating it. Scribbled is a more accurate phrase as the old flip chart, marker pen and A-frame were assembled for the new kid on the (un)conference block as I tried to offer some ‘elegant organisation’ to the whole MFW thing. And, indeed, potentially to the whole baby.

I’d scribbled the thing out a couple of times before – once to some Barclays Bank types who drew a really lovely triangle by way of return; all-too-often to Col and Gary at the accountants who tend to nod politely as their eyes glaze over; once to Shane Richmond in the midst of a ‘Norwich aren’t going down, are they?’ conversation that he invariably demands.

OK, the idea is that if journalism is to thrive and survive in any post wood-stainer world, we have to build new alliances, forge fresh commercial links; re-organise; re-invent; start again from a blank piece of paper – and scribble all over it. Elegantly.

And what we create are these tubes – and I’m sure someone will think of a better term – but tubes that are, as I discovered at Charlie Beckett’s POLIS gig way back when, “two inches wide, but a mile deep…” Long tails. That’s the theory.

So beneath our mothership,, we bolt a succession of sub-sites on, and down and down we go.

For down there in the depths is this hyper-local world that features not only some prime, ‘sticky’ content, but also all that untapped local advertising; all these traditional, evening newspaper types who have built their own little business websites of late but don’t now know what to do with them…

Up top, where the sun shines and the lily pads are, that’s this new and emerging world of previously ‘national’ media brands who are suddenly discovering an escape route via global audiences – that’s where the circulation wars of the future will be fought between your Mails, Times, Telegraphs and Guardians. In their ABCe’s – how many monthly uniques are they pulling from the Mid-West US….

The trick is to devise an editorial and advertising platform that mirrors a Craig’s List or an eBay; that has this similar capacity to be both local in focus, but national in scope.

That’s why the BBC is laughing – or would be if it ever got the green light to do what it’s doing on its Worldwide platform and source UK-facing advertising.

For it can be this huge, global media beast – and yet at the same time via its county radio stations and its forthcoming BBC Local roll-out – it can drill down to being local in focus.

Just as MFW can. As can – albeit via its regional platforms. As, in fairness, RightMove, PrimeLocation, Monster and all those boys are.

With their minds all set on broadening their global appeal, do the Mails, the Telegraphs and the Times’ want to dive down to the bottom of the pond and see what’s there? Or will they concentrate their energies on spreading their wings and being a lily pad – and let someone else hoover up what’s down below?

Cos then, the theory goes, you just bolt your tube onto the bottom of a lily-pad; up comes local content and local advertising – down goes national content and, potentially, national advertising… BMW ads and Russell Brand’s Saturday football column makes it to the bottom of the MFW pond, as podcasts with Mick Mills and Johnny Wark reach the surface.

And this is where me and the provincial newspaper industry go our seperate ways.

Cos they’re neither lily-pad nor bottom-dwelling pond-life.

As this new kid on the (un)conference block I did my homework before JEECamp and looked at Trinity Mirror’s excellent online communities site that they have trialled – very successfully – out of the Gazette. I know that TS10 is the postcode for Redcar.

And fair play, it’s good.

And then you read that they’re planning a ‘national’ roll-out. Fantastic.

So when are you going to do NR14? Have one of those TrinityMirror babies rolling down our street? Complete with a local advertising revenue driver…

Cos clearly this being Archant-land, they won’t mind. As they won’t in every other traditional provincial newspaper fiefdom across the country. Don’t mind us, you carry on…

Me, Neil, Kev and Ian are four boys on their laptops. This being Norfolk, if I want a mobile phone signal to speak to Kev my ad man, I need to stand in a three-foot circle in our dining room; he answers by leaning out of his back bedroom window.

But we can still see a lily pad., – or, if you prefer.

From there it’s up and into MySun, MyTelegraph or whoever…

Well, that’s our theory. F*ck it.

Like the blog says, let’s go out with a bang.

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