All in with digital media

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Advocate Digital Media may have been spawned by a small newspaper company in Texas, but it has little in common with a traditional publishing operation.

ADM shares a building with the Victoria Advocate, though not for much longer. The sales staffs for the Advocate, the Longview News-Journal, The Marshall News Messenger and the twice-weekly Panola Watchman paper compete with ADM. ADM (www.advocatedigitalmedia.com) places its clients wherever it thinks will do the most good, which may or may not be in print.

"We are a digitally focused marketing company, more than just a digital advertising agency," said General Manager Jason Holmes. "We handle everything from TV production, audio, digital, print, outdoor, really anything for our clients."

ADM seeks to be the agency of record, a one-stop shop offering businesses market analysis, design, production, placement, budgeting and social media recommendations, among other services. "I don't know of anybody who's doing exactly what we're doing," Holmes said.

Few of the 20 employees have ever worked in a traditional newspaper job, he said. "Most of them don't feel like they work for a newspaper. They feel more like tenants at the Advocate building. In fact we're moving out of the building Jan. 1 to our own facility. And it's going to feel even a lot less like a newspaper."

Holmes left The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, to join the Advocate in 2011 as digital advertising director. Amid leadership changes, Advocate Publisher Dan Easton and Steve McHaney, now publisher of the News-Journal, agreed to develop ADM as a different business with different goals from the newspapers.

"The No. 1 thing was our leadership team bought into the 'innovator's dilemma' concept of a skilled, separate team," Holmes said. The sales team was trained in multimedia and encouraged to think like business owners determining where they wanted to advertise.

But the newspapers retained their own multimedia sales staffs, and Holmes readily admits there have been conflicts. "It's not easy," he said. "That's probably the biggest internal issue we've had, is that there is internal competition. We're all competing for the same dollars."

Holmes argues that competition should be encouraged. "We have a lot of competitors, and they don't care what our problems are. They're just glad that we have them," he said. "If we go out and get the sale and bring a new customer, that's a win."

Circulation at the Advocate has held steady at around 30,000, and print still makes up about 70 percent of the revenue. But Holmes said ADM's revenue stream now exceeds the paper's local display advertising business.

ADM handles most advertising on the newspapers' websites. It also built its own content management system for the websites, which present an accessible and inviting design.

Holmes believes in the importance of community papers even if they ultimately aren't printed on paper and delivered to homes. But he pulls no punches in offering advice to other newspaper companies in the digital age.

"They can't keep doing what they're doing right now. They can't sit on the sidelines and complain about what Google and Facebook and all of the other major players are doing and how much ad revenue they're losing.

"If they're going to go in on it, they've got to go all in on this type of a concept in order to gain market share."

He added, "I think the traditional newspaper's role is really to promote consistency and have programs that promote reading the newspaper every day they publish."

Newspaper companies need to move quickly to innovate in both publishing and digital media, Holmes said.

"They are going to be facing true start-up agencies in their own markets. And once that happens, it's game over."

For more information, contact Jason Holmes at jtholmes@advocatedigitalmedia.com.


Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.

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