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August 6, 2022
5 min read

How to Scale Digital Direct Sales in the Long Tail of Local Print Advertisers

Local small and medium-sized business (SMB) print advertisers remain a significant revenue source for regional publishers. However, many publishers struggle to convert these print revenues into sustainable digital revenues due to the small size and limited online booking capabilities of these customers, coupled with the neglect from digital ad sales teams.

Christian Scherbel
LInkedIn Logo

This article appeared first on inma.org


Local SMB print advertisers remain a significant revenue source for regional publishers. However, many publishing houses struggle to convert these print revenues into sustainable digital earnings. This challenge arises because these customers are typically too small or lack the experience to engage in direct online-only campaigns. Additionally, digital ad sales teams often overlook them due to a “low profit potential”.

Despite this, the substantial number of customers, the theoretical revenue potential, and the shifting trends in advertising effectiveness demand a solution. This solution would enable publishers to capitalize on this untapped potential. Our analysis of over 20 regional publishers in Europe reveals successful business models for SMB advertisers in 2021. We also identified key success factors contributing to these achievements.

Transforming SMB Print Advertisers into Digital Champions

In 2021, regional publishers who successfully scaled local digital ads shared a common belief in “direct sales” for SMB customers. This approach was crucial because:

a) SMBs are unlikely to engage in programmatic advertising due to its technical complexity, and

b) They require direct contact with their trusted print sales representatives to transition into digital.

The key was empowering local sales reps to sell an intuitive and effective digital solution to their advertisers. This approach allowed reps to excel without getting entangled in complex discussions about digital technicalities – such as KPIs, metrics and complex strategies.

Integrating digital solutions with existing print ads was a key move. Sales reps could offer digital options as an add-on to existing ads (either as opt-out combinations or "auto-bundles"), avoiding the need to start a completely new sales pitch. Instead of urging clients to abandon print for digital, the strategy was to enhance the reach of their print ads online, seamlessly integrating digital components. In this way, print and digital campaigns look like natural counterparts, rather than two competing revenue channels.

The secret sauce of this obvious “auto-bundle” of a print ad and a digital display ad in 2021 could be found in 4 main drivers that separated the successful models from the less successful approaches.

Streamlining Ad Creation

Full Service with Simplified Processes for Advertisers and Sales Representatives: The most successful newspapers in recent times have adopted a unique approach. They start with the print ad as a foundation and enhance it using web-sourced information. This method allows them to create impressive creatives based on clear templates. Importantly, this process eliminates the need for feedback loops to customize the banner or for obtaining advertiser approval before ad deployment. The combination of technology for building templates and extracting advertiser data, coupled with human designers for fine-tuning banners, has proven to be highly effective.

Creatives: nice banners out of print data enriched with web data about the advertiser – here in a carousel ad

Automating Campaign Management for Publishers

Optimizing Campaign Management with Auto-Pilot Processes: To preserve the margins gained from automating banner creation, the most successful publishers automated the ad booking process into their ad servers. This was achieved either by consolidating all ad tags for local campaigns into a single tag-in-tag campaign, which runs on a dedicated spot serving only those local advertisers currently active, or by integrating the ads into the ad server via an API. A critical aspect for all these publishers was to develop a system that eliminated the need for manual campaign management. This approach ensures that campaigns maintain a clear eCPM, allowing for precise and upfront allocation within all existing online-only campaigns (as elaborated in the following point).

Clear and Transparent Ad Pricing

Streamlining Ad Sales with Simple, Holistic, and Transparent Pricing: The transformation of advertisers and sales representatives became more successful when the pricing and expected performance were communicated clearly and concisely. The most effective pitch we observed was:

“Dear Advertiser, for 100$ you get 5.000 regionally targeted display ads according to your print ad including banner and landing page done for you by us, served in the 3 days following your print campaign”.

What made this sentence so special for us is that it breaks down a complex digital model into simple ingredients that each and every print advertiser can understand, but it still keeps the logic of the online presence. This allows to derive a clear eCPM of – in this case – 20$ that helps to allocate the campaign in the ad server and also aligns online ad sales for everyone to see the margins of the print-to-online display ads.

Integrated Landing Pages for Local Advertisers

Transform Your Sales Story with Integrated Landing Pages: Local SMB advertisers require more than just creative content, they need an effective landing page to capture leads and monitor their campaign's performance. Often, their websites are not optimized for all devices and lack compelling calls-to-action, making performance tracking and customer engagement much more challenging. Leading regional publishers have innovated by incorporating landing pages into their offerings. This integration ensures consistently high page speeds and superior site quality for readers, while also enabling comprehensive tracking of user interactions. As a result, their reporting has evolved from basic click-through rate (CTR) tracking to more meaningful metrics. This new approach highlights key metrics such as visitor numbers, time spent on the page, and device usage, offering advertisers a deeper understanding of audience engagement.

Landing pages: no chance to produce any valuable results for advertisers with a destination page like this

Landing pages from the derived data when creating the creative directly loaded in an overlay on the publisher page

Dashboards: tell a story about attention and users on the landing pages than a naked ctr


The success stories from European publishers in 2021 demonstrate that with the right strategies, local SMBs can become digital champions, contributing significantly to the digital revenue streams of regional publishers. The future of advertising lies in the seamless integration of print and digital mediums, creating a holistic and impactful advertising experience for local businesses. To find out more about how we build and deliver 1000s of new display and video ad campaigns for SMB advertisers, check out our Smart Ads product.

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