What we learned about the NC advertising landscape

By Erica Beshears Perel, CISLM Director


This week, we present the 2024 Ad Buyer’s Report, a study we hope you’ll find immediately useful if you run or work for a local media organization, even one that doesn’t currently sell ads or sponsorships.

Much of the conversation and research around local news advertising in recent years has centered on finding other ways to make money, and rightly so. The ad conversation has also often been about digital programmatic ads, national advertisers’ worries about brand safety or local ad networks (in other words, scale). It has often centered on the needs of the news industry.

For this project, Research Consultant Ted Williams and I wanted to lead with curiosity in order to understand the demand for advertising – how media buyers make decisions, plan and allocate their budgets and think about local. We wanted to understand their KPIs and marketing needs, as well as how they perceive the sales pitches they get from local media.

By focusing on those needs, we understand more how news outlets can meet them, and therefore build more sustainable businesses.

Local media companies need to tell a better story about the publications and their audience: All the reader revenue work from the last 5 years can come in handy here. Most news organizations know a lot more about their audience than they used to – they know what kinds of stories turn visitors into subscribers, or how often people are visiting the site or opening emails. Use this to craft a story about the relationship between the outlet and its most loyal readers – and then make the connection to the media buyer’s needs. You can’t monetize an audience you don’t have, and ad revenue could be seen as a lagging indicator of audience loyalty and trust.

Local media companies should invest in building a motivated, well-trained and creative sales team, which very often should be led by the founder/president/CEO. Not everyone wants the same thing from a local media pitch – this means a customized, high-touch sales process and a problem-solving mindset is required.

Small media companies that can dominate a niche should position themselves as influencers, ones who can deliver consistency and quality. Influencer marketing is hot, but ad buyers find the space hard to navigate due to quality control, pricing and brand alignment issues.

This survey focuses on North Carolina and skews urban, but I believe the insights apply broadly throughout the local news industry.

We designed a geographically targeted survey because it would be difficult to execute a national survey of local ad buyers that delivered useful data. It seemed more effective to define a project area where personal networks, knowledge and connections would reach a critical mass of ad-buying decision-makers (chief marketing officers, small-business owners, agency pros). We’d love to expand this project in the future, but on-the-ground partners with networks and connections in a state or region are key to success.

What’s next? First, we want to hear your thoughts and feedback by emailing me at perel@email.unc.edu or Ted at twil@unc.edu. And stay tuned for more opportunities to talk about media revenue in 2024.

This is part of the Buyers Unfiltered research project, published Jan. 2024. Read the entire package.