Michael Grover, Director of Marketing CMP's TechWeb Network, admits his job and budget focus have shifted dramatically since the dot-com meltdown caused many media companies' tech-related ad sales to founder on the rocks of hard reality.
In the past Grover concentrated on marketing campaigns to bring more and more traffic to the Network's sites. He paid for booths at trade shows, print ads, and lots of PR. After a while he realized his most effective traffic driving did not cost a cent.
"We've got 440,000 pieces of direct mail called Information Week going out every week, 220,000 pieces of Network Computing. It's incredible exposure that helps online so much."
However, he hastens to add that one of the reason CMP's magazines drive traffic so well is that the (unlike many others we could name) Company had the foresight to use URLs that matched their magazine titles exactly. Network Computing is at http://www.networkcomputing.com
rather than netcomp.com or netcomag.com, or network.cmp.com or something else without that critical "duh" factor that means loads more traffic.
This was lucky because by mid-2001, it became obvious that the second half of the equation, ad sales, was going to require every ounce of marketing savvy Grover could pour into it. Competitors were tanking, you know the drill.CAMPAIGN
Together with the ad sales and Web development teams, Grover invented five clever tactics to keep sales high:
Tactic #1: TechLibrary Spotlight: Launched 9/7/2001
Although IT marketers were pulling back sharply on standard online ad units such as banners, Grover noticed that they were still investing in producing white papers to use as educational and lead generation tools.
"People spend a fair amount of money writing white papers," he explains. "The big challenge appears to be getting distribution."
CMP already had a partnership in place with IT white paper distributor Bitpipe, which generated some of revenue. (Tech marketers pay Bitpipe a fee per white paper they wish to see distributed through its network of many sites including Techweb's. Bitpipe then gives these sites a small cut of this income as compensation.)
Grover wondered, was there a way to make some more money on that co-branded Bitpipe white paper section of the site?
CMP's sales launched a new sponsorship opportunity; high level positioning for ads promoting your white paper in the "Tech Library."
Tactic #2: TechQuiz Sponsorship: Launched 10/1/2001
Every time in advertising history when there has been a recession, most marketers have cut back sharply on branding ads in favor of direct sales and sales lead generation.
Grover decided to invent a new ad unit that was designed to generate highly qualified sales leads: the TechQuiz.
Every week a new quiz topic appears in a featured box in the top right of NetworkComputing.com's home page (note: that positioning is one of the best for high clicks on most sites).
This week's reads:
Take our TechQuiz on website content
delivery. A mondo cool GPS device from
our sponsor, Empirix, could be yours!
Only registered visitors can take the quiz, which helps build CMP's and that week's sponsor's databases. It usually includes about five questions on a topic related to the sponsor's product that are designed to be fun for techies to test their knowledge.
The following week, all entrants get an email directly from the TechQuiz sponsor telling them what the quiz answers were, and if they won the prize for entering.
Tactic #3: Search Results Sponsorship: Launched 10/31/2001
About the only online ad unit getting highly favorable press these days is search engine marketing, because it is guaranteed to be served up against highly qualified eyeballs; it is not as annoying as pop-ups or pop-unders; and, creative costs are minimal compared to rich media ads.
Clients asking if they could buy ads against specific search terms already besieged TechWeb's ad sales team. That does not mean selling these ads was easy.
Grover explains, "The problem was no one ever searched for terms advertisers wanted to sponsor. Hypothetical example: the marketer for the widget company says, 'Our big thing is purple widgets, so when people search, I want to own it.' But, no one ever searches for it. So they wouldn't get enough hits to justify the work we'd go through to make it happen."
Grover combed through web logs to see what search terms were popular in reality. Then he and the sales team "went through a fairly extensive process of categorizing different terms into 12 different buckets of top 25 terms for each topic people want to buy."
Unlike classic search engine marketing, sponsors pay by the month instead of by the click or thousand (although sales can predict each bucket's search traffic fairly comfortably based on past results). The sponsor gets to dominate that search result page with their ads placed in every spot, top, side and bottom, on that page.
Tactic #4: Email Newsletter Upsell Specials: Launched 2002
"We had one newsletter that was a huge seller in the previous economy," says Grover, "when all of the sudden, welcome to the new world. People just stopped buying. It wasn't sold out anymore."
He decided to repackage the newsletter's sponsorship opportunities to upsell the advertisers that were left.
"We sell newsletters in panels of 50,000 addresses, so people who don't want to buy all 150,000 can buy fewer. With this newsletter we created more options. If you bought two panels in a week, for a little more you could supersize it and get the whole week."
The "supersize it" price was such a bargain that marketers were tempted to say "why not?" and grab it.
Plus, the sales reps could explain that the newsletter's daily average open rate was in the 30% range, with different people opening it through the week. If you bought the whole week you'd have a much better chance of your ad being seen by 100% of readers.
Tactic #5: The IT Ad Club Newsletter: Launched May 2002
Next Grover figured if email newsletters were such a powerful marketing tool, why not start his own?
He added an opt-in form to the online media kit inviting media buyers and IT marketers to sign up for the 'IT Ad Club Newsletter.'
At first ad sales reps, who all loved the idea, called Grover with names of clients and prospects to add to the list. However, Grover felt very strongly that this list must be guaranteed personal opt-in only. In each case he asked the rep to have their client go to the sign up form and do it himself or herself.
Each issue of the newsletter (link to sample below) is about two pages long, and features a quick useful article (for example, how to read an @plan media buying report) and a new research briefing on TechWeb's demographics, and a few special offers.
In addition to these five tactics, the ad sales team also focused on making advertisers happy by giving lots of input on ad creative, especially for formats such as email newsletter sponsorships which many marketers do not have a lot of experience in yet.
Grover notes that unlike most publishers who insist that all ad creative be funneled from the client through their trafficking department, more often than not the client gives their ad rep their creative, and gets valuable input in response.
Plus, the Company offers all advertisers who need it the ability to have a campaign landing page for clicks included in their package.
Grover explains, "You have to help people make the most of their investment. Although there are advertisers out there who are tremendously sophisticated, it's amazing how often a click goes to the vendor's Web site and it's not carrying through on the promise of the ad. Instead it's dropping them off on the home page."
"Oftentimes, the part of the client's company that does the Web site is completely different from the marketing people, and they end up in a sticky situation. They acknowledge that it's an issue, but they can't do anything about it. So, we build custom microsites for people that do a really good job of pre-qualifying on their end."
"We're actually doing remarkably well," says Grover "Advertisers are renewing. There are areas that are just completely sold out, and that sums it up." He could not reveal
specific sales figures (darn) but he was able to tell us:
- The Search sponsorship program was immediately popular and "it's virtually sold out." Many sponsors are now paying for search on an annual basis.
- Tech Library (white paper area) sponsorship has "proven to be very popular."
- While the IT Ad Club newsletter still has a fairly small readership, Grover is happy that way. "I really want the right people on the list." He is definitely getting reader feedback and notes in response to issues already.
Plus, "I got a call from a guy who joined the list who said, 'The welcome email says to give you a call for help. Well, I'm interested in buying something.'" Grover immediately passed that hot lead off to a sales rep who closed on it.
Grover's advice for other online ad marketers, "In the end making it super cheap doesn't work. It becomes cheapened and there's always someone who's going to offer even cheaper. It's much more knowing your audience and having a value that benefits advertisers."
Link to sample IT Ad Club newsletter: