By late 2000, Craig Calder, VP Marketing New York Times Digital, was feeling increasingly frustrated, “Despite the fact that Media Metrix numbers showed that our audience was growing, loyalty increasing, and time spent on the site increasing, we were under pressure for CPM to come down."
"What it was saying to us was that the quality of the site didn’t matter. A click is a click is a click."
"We would have salespeople going out to see clients. They would agree, ‘You have a great audience, a great brand, and great content, but we can buy more clicks from iWon.com.’ Clicks aren’t the only way to measure advertising effectiveness. We know clicks don’t work.”
But clicks were the only measurement unit generally available.
To add to Calder's frustration, standard Web metrics are not easily compared to offline metrics, so it was difficult for online publishers to make any serious in-roads into traditional media budgets. He knew that what media buyers needed was apples-to-apples comparison, and only when the Web could deliver comparable feedback would advertisers move serious money online.
Also, he knew that media buyers did not have time to make sense of the many IAB advertising formats, nor of the metrics used online. “When you say clicks, awareness, or conversion, eyeballs roll back,” Calder says.
Calder began to wonder, “How can we capitalize on user loyalty – the fact that people come to the site on a regular basis, spend time, and engage with the brand?” CAMPAIGN
In early 2001, Calder developed the idea of Surround Sessions -- where a visitor saw only one advertiser on his entire visit to the site -- to permit the advertiser to engage the customers throughout a session.
The idea was simple enough, but how well would it go over at a time when the banner ad was the whipping boy of online media?
Calder decided to take a gamble and introduce the idea to the thought leaders in the industry. If it was going to survive, it would have to be vetted by this group anyway. If they liked it, selling the idea to the advertisers would be much easier.
Calder recounts, “We were all on the ABC Interactive Advisory Board, and they were talking about measurement standards. Everybody was talking about how we had to have a common language. And we had to do this and that. Then someone said ‘We’re not even worried about measurement standards, because we’re looking at qualitative standards, we need qualitative measurements of site and content. We’re less concerned about clicks.’"
"I raised my hand and volunteered, ‘We’re working on a concept that would be ideal for this.’ As I explained it, you could see the light bulbs going off all around the room. Then they added what we could do to improve it."
The momentum created by the Board meeting led to coverage throughout the trade press. The next day Lynn Bolger [CEO Fastbridge media buying firm] was doing an interview with Masha [Geller of MediaPost's Online Minute ezine], and she called me for a quote, and she said she would do a story. After the Online Minute, then Tom Hespos, then the Oldtimers list, and it snowballed from there."
However, while the thought leaders all understood the concept right from the beginning, obstacles to selling remained. “It’s a new medium, and it’s one more thing media buyers and clients have to deal with,” says Calder. So, he used six tactics to get them the hump:
1. Explaining the Buy in Terms of Reach
“Traditional media buyers work with reach, not impressions, so it was easier for them to put this on a traditional plan as an extension of their reach. It gave them an opportunity to buy an audience, not a click.”
2. Pitching a "Clutter-Free" Environment
“Media buyers are concerned about the clutter they were encountering -- general online clutter. When CPM drops, publishers create more inventory on the page. We were offering a clutter free environment. You’re spending an exclusive amount of time with the visitor, which gives you the opportunity to tell a story and get your branding message across.”
Calder adds, “When you tell them that theirs is the only message they’ll see on the entire visit, they get it.”
3. Creating a Media Kit that Made the New Format Easier to "Get"
"Instead of a media kit we used the flash demo," explains Calder. "We created a microsite with a flash demo mock-up. Initially we had bogus advertisers in the mock-up, then we replaced those ads with real ones.” (Link to demo below.)
4. Sticking with Existing Ad Sizes
"They were also concerned about the prospect of having to make new creative. That’s one of the reasons we started out with existing ad units. There are no proprietary units in surround sessions.”
5. Setting Reasonable Pricing & Including a Branding Survey
“We sat down with the sales group and tried to come up with our best guestimate -- what we thought a fair price would be, but not high enough to discourage people from trying it.”
They ended up offering the initial package of 75,000 guaranteed visitors sessions of no less than five pages in length for $25,000 a month. That price included a Dynamic Logic survey. “We thought there would be some exciting branding opportunities, and we offered the survey at cost. $18k was the hard media cost. We made some deals initially with the first round of advertisers,” explains Calder.
6. Offering Bonus Reach - Free
Calder decided the session didn’t count until the visitor looked at the fifth page. If people only looked at 4 pages, the advertiser does not pay for it as a session. Plus, after that, it does not matter how many more pages a visitor sees, the advertiser continues to own that visitor until he/she leaves the site, at no additional cost. So media buyers had the tantalizing feeling they just might get something extra … for nothing.
“Initially, they were somewhat skeptical. A lot of people didn’t want to be the first to try it," Calder admits. "Luckily we had an ambitious first set of clients." These included Nexium, American Airlines, Verizon, Miramax, eTrade, and Verisign.
Soon more came on broard, "When some broke the ice, there was a buzz in the industry, and others were anxious to try it,” recalls Calder.
Due to the success of the trial, two clients that were part of the initial trial have already renewed. Plus, New York Times Digital has been able to raise its prices to $35,000 per month for a guaranteed 75,000 sessions. (The Dynamic Logic survey is an additional $10K.)
Additional results data:
- Message association went from 14% in the control group to 61% in the group that viewed the Surround Session.
- Brand awareness went from 4% in the control group to 11% in the Surround Session group.
- In the pharmaceutical category, brand awareness went from 1% to 20%, and message association went from 16% to 45%.
- Initial Surround Sessions consisted of an average of 17 page views and 11 minutes per session.
Flash media kit: