Category Archives: online media

Chicago Analytics?

I’m always interested in connecting (and reconnecting) with colleagues in the Chicago area; especially those working in the crazy field of online measurement. The other day I received an urgent request from, warning that the Chicago Data and Strategy Consortium meet-up was about to be canceled! So, I volunteered myself to prevent that from happening…

Lincoln Park Lagoon looking southeast.

Why? I personally, would like to see an informal group of professionals working in this nascent field that isn’t always served by other local groups like Chicago AMA, CIMA, national groups like IAB, OPA and the more software-oriented or social/networking groups. Ideally, less drinking and more learning. Thin overhead and easy to manage…maybe even invitation-only?

In what areas of analytics and research are people interested?

Contact me and let me know what you think…we’re all busy people and all at different stages of our respective careers.


CIMA Spring Social (attendance is limited)

Please join us for the 2009 CIMA Spring Social on Thursday, April 23rd at Rockit Bar and Grill.

View looking East from Wacker Drive in March 09

The festivities start at 6pm sharp and we have rented out the entire place. CIMA will be offering 2 1/2 Hours of Unlimited Domestic/Imported Beer, House Wine, Soda, Special “CIMATINIS” and Heavy Passed Appetizers. This event is for members and non-members! Please renew your membership or become a new member today for a discount on the event! Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate everyone so the first 500 people to sign up will be admitted.

Won’t be able to attend this one but looks worthy…

The fuzzy math behind digital’s value –

Interesting take…no mention of the comparative cost of online publishing compared to TV and print.

How can 20 million online users be worth less to advertisers than 1 million print readers? Welcome to digital’s ongoing struggle to decide whether superior ROI and engagement capabilities are worth ad rate equality.


RSS Advertising Part II – The Wild West meets the Measurement Crater

Measurement…The Wild West

As prefaced in Part I, identifying and reaching an online audience can be a challenge – especially if you are after the evasive Techfluentials.
The reality is that right now, measurement is The Wild West of the online advertising industry. As marketers (gold-seekers) demand more and more accountability for their spend, software and media vendors continue the cycle of launch, failure and/or consolidation in a made scramble to sell the pick-axes to those after online gold.

By choosing to measure in-feed RSS advertising with oversold site metrics tools…it just make things even wilder. The reality is that there are serious technical limitations to consider when planning how to measure success at advertising to this target audience. Without proper planning however, marketers are left with a measurement gap of epic proportions.

First a quick primer to frame this classic situation. As a trained marketer, there are basically two different objectives of advertising and your ad creative typically can do one of the following well:

  1. Branding. In other words, making an impression and/or changing perceptions. Often very important but very difficult to accurately measure. For this reason, measuring branding is more complex and almost always requires either a custom-study or syndicated (shared, usually generic) sample-based research. Right now, ad effectiveness services like Dynamic Logic, InsightExpress, Nielsen and ComScore are not yet working with RSS feed networks. This means that qualitative audience research requires a custom study that is considerate of the RSS user’s environment – this may incur additional costs.
  2. Response. In the other corner is the quantitative measurement of tangible results such as sales, leads, impressions, clicks, time spent and the like. While it is much easier to technically measure the entire universe of such activities, in-feed RSS advertising success is a double-edge sword. Clicks (response) may be huge and the Clickthrough Rates great (relative to banners); with so much industry hand-wringing over declining CTR, clearly having a bounty of clicks is a good problem to have these days!

The Measurement Crater

For the purposes of this series, let’s say that you just want to measure response as the primary success metric for an RSS ad campaign. Unfortunately, if you or your client are depending on a JavaScript-tag based landing page tool to measure consumer response, you will likely experience something akin to this:

What happened? Wondering where did the clicks go? How many visits from’s RSS feed? Did they buy? Did they come back? Curious as to why you can’t determine what they did after they landed? As am I.

Newsflash: JavaScript tag-based Site Metrics have Limitations

Online marketers that are primarily interested in measuring response from an RSS campaign just found one. While many enterprise site metrics vendors brag about their simple, “just add our tag to your footer” implementation (Omniture, Google Analytics, Coremetrics)…if only it was that easy to get usable information.

The harsh technical reality is that JS tag-based systems require the browser to execute their special tag when the landing page is rendered. That is very different than server-side site metrics tools that track every access by definition. The main problem with relying exclusively on these tag-based approaches is that they cannot count accesses that originate from JS-disabled borwsers or altogether JS-incompatible applications. In other words, these popular site metrics tools essentially are blind to and ignore browsers and any traffic (including robots and spiders) that do not execute JS; I’m not going to get into the cookie deletion argument either.

Suffice to say with RSS advertising to Technfluentials, tracking non-JS accesses becomes your problem. To put it in marketing terms, here’s why:

  1. Techfluentials use standalone desktop RSS Feed Readers/Aggregators (non-browser applications).
  2. Techfluentials access the Web via mobile deivices in a browser environment that is even less likely to execute JS tags (my Treo 755p uses Palm Blazer 4.5, which offers the disable option).
  3. Techfluentials ALSO deliberately/religiously disable JS in their browsers (not to mention deleting cookies).

In other words, your most valuable segment is missing from the numbers. What to do about it?

To Be Continued…

RSS Advertising Part III – Solutions to this Mess

Coming Soon…Blast from the Past

A 1995 classic: New Media and The Role of the Agency; submitted but hitherto never published.

From my Streams Online Media Development days. The study looks at the challenges facing ad agencies during the rise of the Web as a commercial medium. Back in the Web 1.0 days when things were different…actually, alot of this is still true.

Seattle Post Intelligencer Newspaper Goes Web Only

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced is now online only. The Hearst Corporation, owner of the 146 year-old newspaper, was unable to find a buyer after putting it up for sale in January. The Seattle Times is now the only mainstream daily still printed in the city.

Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said the online P-I would not be just an online newspaper and this was an opportunity to “craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information Web site at its core.”

Stanford Accel Online Advertising Symposium – Sir martin: We’re Not Dogs to be Kicked

Last Wednesday (2/25/09), I spent part of the day at Stanford University to check out the 15th Annual session – The Delta Conference: The Impact of 2008’s Dramatic Events on the World of Digital Media and Technology.

Much of the event was unmemorable until Sir Martin came up to the front of the room. Sir Martin should have been the keynote. He spoke in plain English about how the economy was doing and about businesses making a profit, i.e. organic revenue growth versus finance schemes. Not that he is any slouch in using the capital markets to buy growth or access to new technologies…just an interesting choice of how to view it all. Still, Sir Martin Sorrell packed a refreshing wallop talking about the state of the global economy, the advertising industry and even WPP (disclosure: I am currently affiliated with a WPP-owned agency Grey Advertising).


  • Global Economy. While upbeat, he likened the recession to the Enlgand in the 1970s when there was just a 3-day work week.
  • State of the Ad Biz. Sir Martin expressed amazement that for clients in grave financial situations, long-standing relationships often don’t matter saying, “We’re Not Dogs to be Kicked.” Though he did mention surprise that better-capitalized media companies were feeling that familiar pinch that agencies know with the recent call for 120-day payment terms. He continued saying that business has changed and it’s “not about the creative but the application of technology.”
  • Analytics. He specifically talked about the rationale for the recent Omniture strategic alliance (including $25MM investment) and TNS (parent of Millward Brown, Dynamic Logic and others) as evidence of the kind of analytical capabilities and consumer insight that would be a bigger part of WPP in the future.
  • Technology. In reference to the acquisition of 247Real Media, Sir Martin curiously pointed out that they couldn’t afford Doubleclick so they bought “the poor man’s choice.”
  • VCs & PE Firms.A financial industry “winnowing out” is underway because in the past these firms have far fewer exit opportunities for their investments. In the past, they haven’t admitted their mistakes and just sold them off to the next buyer (greater fool theory). Sir Martin said “the music has stopped,” and the business climate has changed. Specifcally, he mentioned that ad revenue that was more concentrated will now be more fragmented and there will be a Darwinian culling out.
  • Google as “Frenemy”. A question from the Silicon Valley audience mentioned his oft-quoted comment from 2007. He noted that while Google was previously gesturing towards providing their own agency services, with revenue now down and capital tight the reach up the food chain has diminished (from small advertisers doing search to large advertisers doing branding). This seems to have led to changing attitudes. He left it as the relationship is now of, “a friendlier frenemy”.

Low Points

  • Gratuitous and obsequious name-dropping.
  • Annoying Stanford MBA students. NOTE: table-hopping interrogation is not a recommended networking technique.
  • Most of the other sessions.

Newspapers…Tragedy, Irony and Reinvention Opportunity

A follow-up to the previous post, Sam Zell Pops Bubbles, The Deal’s Chris Nolter pens “Black and White and Red All Over“, an overview of the tragedy in which the newspaper business finds itself in these days.

Nolter offers a high-level look at the financial problems and opportunities facing the newspaper industry today. A couple of interesting themes emerge in the article that beg for a closer look, namely the FCC’s curious 180-degree turnaround and the concept of ephemeral media brands as valuable assets; there are even a few pithy quotes from the venerable Dave Morgan of RealMedia and Tacoda.

FCC’s Change of Heart?
Nolter raises the very interesting notion that the previous FCC policy to regulate local media is becoming passe.

“…the government might be more willing to consider deals that would consolidate media ownership but preserve jobs. “Given the economic climate today some of the nostrums and antitrust views voiced as recently as six to 12 months ago may have to be tweaked, in order to focus on job preservation in the short term rather than some larger antitrust theories,” he says.”

Recall the days when media company consolidation was running rampant and unchecked. Conveniently oblivious to the online media tsunami and under the nobler-than-thou auspices of “diversity of ownership” (think subprime mortgage crisis) interventionists-of-convenience red-flagged the motivations of big media only looking to get bigger. They successfully got legislators and federal bureaucrats in a tizzy enabling bizarre local ownership regulations that forced newspapers, radio and television stations within a market to stay artificially separate. The FCC cracked down and was encouraged to scrutinize and block all suspect Mergers & Acquisitions…especially those creating any potential local monopolies on…get this: news information. Yes, the government was going to protect us from suspect news.

Like all government rules, this did have the perverse and predictably unintended effect of encouraging media companies to attempt to game the system. Tactics include fattening-up DC lobbyists to get exceptions, incurring vast legal charges to file paperwork and argue the point, issuing feel good press releases and exorbitant investment banking fees to load-up on new debt (this cost management time as well as money) – all the while thinking they had a sunny new media future. Meanwhile, the then nascent global online marketplace for advertisers and audiences grew fast and fairly lean (thanks to an overreaching Sarbanes-Oxley growth capital has been slim). Not surprisingly and at the same time, the legacy newspaper business model has shriveled up with the sacred cash cow that is classified taking the biggest disintermediation hit. Fast forward to today.

“Hearst Corp. put the Seattle Post-Intelligencer up for sale Jan. 9, and said if it did not find a buyer within 60 days it would consider going digital only or halting publication. The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News now only deliver papers on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, though it will still sell papers on newsstands seven days a week. “

The cost of doing business is the same if not higher for newspapers (labor + newsprint) yet the revenues are long gone. Saddled with debt from propping up their businesses, they are now dropping like flies and clearly getting very desperate. Many newspaper companies will be forced to offer online-only products, limited print runs and some may shut down altogether.

Ironically, these same high-minded voices that prompted the FCC’s inane rules to begin with are now actually suggesting that local TV/radio stations buy the newspapers to keep them in business! Apparently, it is now OK to consolidate operations within a local market because of journalism’s higher-purpose not to mention saving jobs. Considering the political bent of the soon-to-be-unemployed highly-unionized newspaper manufacturing workers and journalists, one can guess what the the new do-gooder administration will do next. Prepare for the sappy journalism paeans and the FCC’s rules to lighten up, if not more creative government-bailout schemes for the well-connected.

Trusted Brands

The other really interesting aspect brought up by Nolter is the actual value of newspaper’s brands.

“Journalists hate the word, but newspapers have great brand…It’s not fake. It’s not a lie. Newspapers have an incredible relationship and substantial amount of trust with readers.”

Specifically, it’s the credibility and trust borrowed from their traditional offline business. All those years of news reporting did have an impact – inuring or accruing to the the newspaper’s brand equity. From a financial analysis standpoint, such branding is often associated with that balance sheet intangible – goodwill. While it is true that technically, goodwill is just the difference between book value and market value these media brands haven’t disappeared either nor has their connection to their locales either. It is true that their prospects have both worsened and capital has become scarcer at the same time. Clearly, not a good place to be.
However, there is an arbitrage upside. Many have already gone negative in terms of goodwill, yet this has made them into financial targets. In the online media business, a newspaper’s brand name is probably their biggest asset and very bankable to both advertising agencies, local marketers and local audiences. Yet, to tap that online brand equity without being dragged down by an business model – the old management culture, legacy infrastructure needs to go…fast. The sclerotic thinking and corporate culture’s that allowed such obsolescence to exist are going to feel it. Expect more unusual bedfellows in creative destruction type deals, like Sam Zell and Tribune as well as Carlos Slim’s debt/warrant financing of The New York Times.

Final Thoughts

With newspaper jobs and all the associated votes now at stake, the diversity of media ownership pabulum is going to go out the door. It seems that minimal FCC regulation 10-15 years ago would have allowed the consumer and the marketplace to sort out this mess – not Congress, the FCC and ultimately the taxpayer.

All told, this situation brings to mind the classic Ted Levit business school case-study, Marketing Myopia. Levit’s article on the railroad industry of the 50s was spot-on; it spawned the thought-provoking question for managers and owners – what business are they really in? For railroads, it wasn’t the physical trains or railroads. Instead, it was providing transportation for their industrial customers. That was the problem that the railroad companies solved for their customers and therefore the “solution” they essentially sold.

Turns out for newspapers, their business is really the news and not the paper part.

Reinvention is better than extinction – just ask NPR & PBS’s sponsorship sales team!