Over the past 8 years, we’ve worked with hundreds of local media companies – from TV stations, to newspapers, to local bloggers – who use our polling technology in their content. To say it’s been a happy time for most of them would be the fakest news you’ve ever heard.
Consumer migration from print to online, from cords to no cords, from direct ad sales to programmatic, and from national political apathy to national political obsession, have all bludgeoned local newsrooms, some of them into submission.
But our data – and the data we collect for many of those companies – tell us things could be looking up again for local media. It may not happen overnight, but it’s coming.
The Facebook Cause – and Effect
As we wrote last week, Facebook’s decision to prioritize local news in user feeds was a super-smart business decision for Mark Zuckerberg & Company. People prefer local content nearly 3X more than other types, largely because they trust local media over 65% more than any other platform. At a time when nearly every national outlet is being tainted with accusations of bias, consumers are returning to their trusted, familiar, local roots.
Facebook is giving users what they ultimately want, while aligning the company (and its advertisers) with safer content. Considering Facebook’s unmatched ability to drive audiences, we should be on the precipice of a local media resurgence.
And advertisers – not just the publishers themselves – should be doing cartwheels over it.
National Advertising, Locally-Sourced
My Australian Shepherd could probably tell you that if more eyeballs are driven to local publishers, ad dollars will follow. That’s the remedial math of the digital advertising economy. But it doesn’t even begin to tell the full story. National advertisers should place a premium on these local media audiences for several reasons:
For the same reason Facebook is cozying up to local media, so will savvy advertisers. As consumers grow more tribal in their values and media consumption, the risk of brands alienating customers through the wrong media placement is greater than ever. Our research showed that 39% of U.S. adults have boycotted brands based on where they spend their ad dollars – and that number is climbing. The high degree of trust consumers place in local media – and local newsrooms’ legacy of professional journalism – give advertisers a reliable haven.
Yes, local media is not the outlet of choice for everyone. Highly-educated, left-leaning people over-index as readers and ‘trusters’ of national newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. GenX and Baby Boomer men consume a lot of cable news. Still, all of these groups prefer local media, just by a smaller margin.
But local is huge among coveted audiences like Millennial women, particularly moms. Not only do these women still control purchasing power in food, retail, children’s products, and housewares, but they are rapidly growing as household decision-makers for large-ticket items like banking, health insurance, real estate, and even auto. They’re also more likely to tell others about their purchases, which influences the next wave of product buyers.
Our data tell us that local media enthusiasts over-index as homeowners, avid sports fans, and frequent TV viewers. They’re 20% more likely than average to eat regularly at QSR restaurants. Readers of my hometown Pittsburgh Post-Gazette significantly over-index as General Motors fans. Viewers of WSOC-TV in Charlotte love Hondas. The right advertisers with the right message can capitalize on all of that.
They’re Not as Politically Charged
We’ve written extensively about the impact of our nation’s political obsession on media of all kinds – from the NFL to network sitcoms. As tribal consumers continue to seek out content that reaffirms their existing beliefs, our media landscape is only becoming more fragmented. And, while politically-focused media might be attracting a lot more eyeballs, advertisers will follow those eyeballs at their own peril. Local media outlets, meanwhile, appear to be the least-affected over the long haul. See for yourself:
It Can Scale
Just as this local media renaissance is approaching, national advertisers are finally equipped with the tools to capitalize on it. Advancements in marketing technology or ‘Martech’ have made it scalable for national advertisers to deliver hundreds of different personalized ads to consumers on different sites or inside different content. A Nike ad can serve up one message and creative element in Miami and a completely different one in Oklahoma City – all at an agency’s push of a button. A world of single-source, wholesale media campaigns is disappearing, enabling local media publishers to guarantee the brand safety advertisers need, while meeting the standards of sophistication they expect.
We may never see a return to the heyday of local newspapers. The downfall of print readership and the revenues it generated can’t be resurrected by Facebook or anyone else.
But, if a resurgence of local media comes to pass, as we expect, it will usher in a new (if different) era of prosperity for the media publishers who play the game right and widespread ripple effects for others in the ecosystem. Facebook will distance itself from the scourge of fake news and political divisiveness. Advertisers will follow the traffic, while avoiding the ‘contextual danger’ of political or otherwise polarizing content. Consumers will see more of the content they trust and less of the content that misleads them. And, all of society will benefit as professional journalism is reinvigorated and rewarded with the dollars that follow.