I’ve never heard of the student media outlet that sells so much advertising that it just has too much money. Instead, most student media officials say their pubs produce less advertising revenue than ever before and the amount seems to decrease annually.
The need for more revenue is the reason I invited my friend, Piper Jackson-Sevy, to be a guest on #EditorTherapy, the weekly Twitter chat I host with the goal of helping student journalists become the editors they want to be.
Piper is the vice president of growth at Flytedesk, a national campus advertising network. I figured who better than Piper to give us advice about how to attract some of the $6 billion advertisers spend each year on college campuses?
Here’s what Piper had to say!
Note: Remember that Piper was writing in Tweet form. I’ve compiled her tweets here to make it easier, but don’t go all grammar snob on us. Just take the lessons from the content. Fair? Ok.
Q1: Why are student media outlets suffering from advertising decline when so much money is being spent?
Piper: This is the question that Flytedesk was founded on! The media buying landscape has changed so much in the digital age. Facebook and Google have totally changed the game. The most important thing to understand is that most media is bought and sold at media agencies. But, as Google and Facebook make it easier to book ads, media agencies are increasingly under pressure to prove their value to their clients (the brands). Many agencies position their value as not just planning, booking, and billing campaigns (because that’s easy now), but also in using analytics to optimize future campaigns for their brands. To optimize a campaign you need data. Google and Facebook are amazing at giving you every possible analytic, but how do you track impressions or clicks for a print ad? How do you easily aggregate the data for your digital ads across 500 student media websites? College media right now is really only able to get local or experimental budgets, which are scraps compared to the real spending, if they get anything at all. It has nothing to do with effectiveness, it has nothing to do with the target audience (because college is huge right now), it’s simply because it’s hard to book, hard to manage, and impossible to track. By hard to book and manage, I mean when we’re talking about a scale of 500+ papers and everyone has a different system of billing, different specs, different due dates, etc.
Flytedesk focuses mostly on the national side, and our tools are set up to fix these exact issues. We’ve made booking easier, we’ve made campaign managing (think creative, tearsheets and billing) easier, and now we’re starting to crack the data problem.
I think this applies to local advertising too though. Facebook has changed the whole ecosystem. Of course, mom and pops are still happy to sign an invoice and mail a check, but even most small businesses expect to be able to book ads online now days. Flytedesk has actually built a tool that lets local buyers book ads in a single college newspaper roughly the way they book an ad on Facebook.
We think this is the future of student media sales. Every buyer—local or national—wants to spend their money effectively. Facebook shows you analytics after a campaign. After a student media campaign, you might get a tearsheet and a thank you. Most student media sales are made based on relationships and inertia, but that’s not enough anymore.
Q2: Which student media products attract the most advertisers?
Piper: Honestly, we’re still figuring this out, and it totally varies. Most people are surprised to know that the vast majority of our revenue is from quarter- and half-page print ads.
We see huge opportunity in the out-of-home category—campus billboards, bus ads, handing out flyers/“street teams,” etc. and also social promoted posts.
On a local level, it varies from paper to paper. For some campuses, football or basketball bring in tons of money. For some it’s their housing guide. Those are really difficult for us to capitalize on at the national level though because of how much it varies.
Q3: What can student media outlets do to gain more advertisers?
Piper: Gosh I have tons of recommendations, but, again, it totally varies from paper to paper. There’s really basic stuff. Are you using a CRM? If you don’t know what that is, Google it and install Pipedrive right now (It’s free.).
Also, get creative! Host a Twitter workshop for local businesses in your area, go to Chamber of Commerce meetings, sponsor a local business meet and greet at the student media office. Do what you need to do to become a thought leader.
Also, start making case studies. Case studies are amazing because they are a great segue into a new campaign for your clients, but you can also show them to potential future buyers as well!
If you want to know more about how Flytedesk tracks our data, I’m happy to explain and share examples. I also send out a weekly email with a tip for how to bring in more advertisers. Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested in either!
Q4: Tell us what services Flytedesk offers.
Piper: Our core service is bringing more national advertisers. We’re currently hiring six new sales people and opening offices in NYC, DC, and potentially California. Our national sales are poised to just take off next quarter, and I couldn’t be more excited.
We never wanted to be a youth marketing agencies though, we’ve always set out to build tools for student media. So we’ve started building other tools as well.
Our Ad Shop I alluded to earlier makes it easy for local buyers to book and manage campaigns in your newspaper. It’s modeled after Facebook’s buying, and it’s totally awesome. (I swear I’m not biased.). The Ad Shop also has a free CRM tool, so you can manage the buyers coming in, assign different ad reps to them, and more.
After that we’ve got Flyteboard, which is basically our version of Reddit for student media. Any student media employee at any Flytedesk member school can get access, and we are putting new content on there as well.
Right now those are our core three products, though we’ve got a ton more in the works! All of our tools are free to use, but we take a commission on the ones that generate revenue so that they only cost as much as the value they bring.
Q5: What is the biggest advertising problem/mistake you see in working with student media?
Piper: I have two. The biggest challenge for student media I think is turnover. Every semester we’re retraining students on using the Flytedesk platform because the previous person left with no forwarding information. This is where a CRM comes in handy. A central database with information on every client and notes about the relationship. When the new person comes in, they can easily see all the clients they need to reach out to.
That and making it easier to book an ad. A contact form on your website isn’t good enough. At least give me a number to call and a name. Ideally give me an email too. And, really importantly, put your publication schedule and prices on your website! I don’t need a fancy media kit, but I can’t even start planning my campaign until I know if you’re daily, weekly or monthly, and what’s it going to cost me?
You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to book ads sometimes. One time we literally searched the web, saw the ad manager was an RA, found the RA schedule online, called the desk while he was on duty, and got our ad booked that way. I couldn’t make this up. That struggle was the inspiration for the Ad Shop—What if we could just book an ad directly from the website, day or night!?
Q6: What are some of the new/unique advertising opportunities you’re seeing?
Piper: There are a few things I’m pretty excited about:
- Email newsletters seem to be gaining popularity,
- New special editions like housing guides,
- Career fairs, and
- Street teams.
I mentioned out-of-home inventory before, we’d love to see all of that controlled by the student media office. Out-of-home inventory is things like:
- News racks,
- Bus ads, and
- Cell phone charging stations.
Also, sponsored content! We’re starting to see interest in that and I think it’s awesome. If you want to see some examples, I think The Daily Tarheel does a great job with editorial.
And, if you’re not watching The Collegian’s Beer Me videos, you’re not living.
Q7: What are @flytedesk clients looking for in student media outlets they advertise with?
Piper: Completely depends. A lot of times it’s about the demographics of the school: large enrollment, specific city or state, HBCU, top engineering program… the list goes on. Sometimes it has to do with the brand (Where do they have locations, etc.). Sometimes it’s about a certain product that the pubs offer. Or sometimes we’re able to recommend pubs that do great work for us.
We’re also working on a Flytedesk Score that will let buyers factor in things like reliability and quality of the publisher when booking an ad so that the best student media offices can rise to the top.
I always hate this question (and we get it a lot) because the answer is it really, really depends.
Q8: How can student media outlets position their websites for advertising opportunities?
Piper: Okay buckle up, I have a lot here!
Make it easy to find your contact information on the site. A contact form isn’t good enough. Give me a phone number that takes me to a human. Tell me the name of who I’m calling.
Don’t bury your advertising link on your page. If I have to search for it, I’m probably going to get distracted by your great content and forget why I came there in the first place. Put it at the top. Not under “About Us,” it get it’s own spot!
Put your rates and dates on there! I know some pubs don’t want to scare people off with their prices, but, again, if I don’t know if you’re daily, weekly, monthly, or once per semester, I don’t even know if I’m interested yet.
Make sure your dates are current. Nothing says “We don’t have our shit together” like giving me dates from 2016.
Think about SEO. If I google *school name* + *student newspaper* or even *student newspaper name,* you should be the first thing to pop up. There’s a lot of “Collegian’s” out there… 100 years ago when people were naming student newspapers they didn’t think about SEO! Now you have to work extra hard. Shoutout to UW’s The Daily, specifically, for what I can only imagine is a constant battle with SEO. @thedaily nailed the Twitter handle though.
Tell me, on your page, or in your media kit, some basic selling points:
- How many students at your school?
- How many copies in circulation?
- Bonus points if you do some surveying and tell me how many students commute, eat off campus, etc.
And I’ll finish with a shameless plug. Use the Flytedesk Ad Shop. Let people book ads straight from your website.
Q9: What about social media? What’s the best way to use student media social accounts for revenue, not just content promotion?
Piper: Yes! Everyone should do this! It’s easy and you get great data! Also, personally I love it when the Colorado Daily promotes events in Boulder (where I’m based). Facebook is really only good for organizing events anyway, so it’s barely an ad, it’s content.
We’ve sold this a ton and we get great results and happy buyers.
Q10: What do you predict for the future of college media advertising?
Piper: Student media offices should continue to be the portal through which the outside world advertises to colleges. The future of student media is going to be about innovating to keep that position.
Students will always want hyperlocal content written about them by their peers. That’s not going to change.
College students will always be a scary, elusive and incredibly important demographic for brands to reach. That’s not going to change.
And I see the people involved in student media who are passionate about it, and I meet people who did it in college who still have a special place in their heart for it. So student media might be changing, but it’s not going anywhere.
I don’t think print is going away either. A print newspaper is an out-of-home product on campus. I pick it up because I’m procrastinating, studying in the library, because I’m waiting for my friend to get out of class. It’s everywhere and I might know someone in it, of course I’m going to grab a copy. Print may not reach everyone on campus, but 63 percent of kids use AdBlock… fewer and fewer students are using Facebook… the reality of advertising today is that every campaign should be using multiple channels or you’re only reaching a portion of your audience.
The flip side here is that student media offices can’t rely solely on print. An awesome website should be a requirement. Having a robust social account that makes you money is a requirement. From there, the sky is the limit.
One of the most successful things I’ve seen is the media offices that are starting mini agencies and leaning into their campus expertise. Some really good examples are Orange House Agency and Central Media Cafe.
It’s definitely more work that it used to be, and there’s a lot more competition than there used to be, but there’s also a lot more opportunities. Student media is in a great place to start seizing those opportunities.
I absolutely love learning from #EditorTherapy guests, and I learned so much from Piper. Thank you again, Piper, for being our guest.
If you’d like to know more about the chat in general, check out #EditorTherapy. The chat is at 9 p.m. CST Wednesdays.
I hope to see you during the next #EditorTherapy!