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January Spring Helps Publishers Bloom

by | Feb 26, 2018

Founders, Charity & Shannon talk rapid growth, Facebook’s latest changes and the need for publishers to undergo true digital transformation, with Ronn Levine from SIPA.

Charity Huff and Shannon McBride started new SIPA member January Spring in 2017 and have been growing the digital agency rapidly ever since. With a combined 50 years in media and sales experience and calling themselves “jargon-clearers,” they excel at making marketing tech work for all types of media companies.

Lately they have been fielding requests for content management systems migration and media website build-out projects, so they have engaged the very experienced and knowledgeable Chris Tippie to lead these projects. In a recent phone conversation, we asked Huff and McBride about the company, digital advertising, CMS migrations and social media strategy, specifically Facebook.

What made you start January Spring?

CHARITY: We thought about opening our own agency for several years. As digital executives, we’ve worked for or competed against almost every provider. We wanted to work with the best-of-breed tech, so finally, we decided that we could better serve our clients with our own agency. Our goal is to be an in-house digital arm for media companies. Publishers do a good job of monetizing their audience in one or two traditional areas; we can act as a complement to help them monetize with new digital offerings and find new audiences. This approach leads to building subscribers and extending value for advertisers.

SHANNON: We wanted to be able to market not just what ad solutions sell but what works. We can help build content and social strategies as well—and then that will allow you to take better advantage of all that digital has to offer.

Are publishers using the analytics and data that are available to them enough these days?

CHARITY: Probably not. Digital is 100% measurable and comes down to your processes for capturing, reporting and analyzing. My last tech venture was an advertising analytics company; it was acquired by McClatchy in 2013. Niche publishers do a great job at producing high-quality content. But wrapping all the marketing that needs to go around that and layer in a social strategy too can be very demanding. You need to answer a lot of questions: How many uniques are coming to my site? Where are they coming in through? Why are they coming? Is the journey easy for them?

How big is your staff?

We have extended staff of well over a dozen people. Most importantly, it’s a diverse staff with backgrounds in analytics, design, social, content management systems, websites—almost everything that can help publishers.

You’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about Content Management Systems. In the past, a new one would be so expensive and take so much time to implement. Has that changed? 

CHARITY:  We’ve been hearing from publishers who would like to see improvements to their website and reach new digital readers. Bringing Chris on board, we can provide those services. He managed a whole new content system implementation for Hanley Wood (an SIIA Connectiv member). He helped them migrate to an open source platform where they could put out multiple articles a day online. He also created a curation desk that allowed them to pull in other content. Launching a curation system used to take 15 man hours; now it’s 45 minutes. The cost is also about 20% of what it used to be—about $10k to 15k now for a niche media site.

So many publishers struggle with social media. What are your suggestions there?

SHANNON: Social has become huge. But to be worth your time, it has to be part of a publishing strategy. 30% of all website traffic comes from social media. If you don’t have a social strategy, that’s hurting your business. Almost 75% of small and mid-sized businesses use social media to advertise their business.

CHARITY: We see editorial staffs that are great at knocking out articles, tapping into readers’ concerns, but then they’re also expected to be social media experts. It doesn’t work that way. They get judged by KPIs on skill sets they don’t possess. We had a meeting recently with a publisher who’s good at keeping their social media site up-to-date. But they weren’t getting any engagement. We helped them to figure it out, build reader personas, a content calendar, and let their journalists focus on what they do best.

As you said, there has to be a strategy.

CHARITY: Yes. You need a full calendar that builds social media posts around what’s important to your readers. You can take the editorial you do and use it in so many different ways. We are helping publishers reach new readers, drive them to their site, and then monetizing them for their to advertisers and sponsors. Without a strategy, you end up chasing stuff that doesn’t matter or turn into revenue.

What can publishers do better with Facebook and will their new focus hurt publishers?

SHANNON: Social strategy has to be customized to each audience. Facebook is most universal, even if it has been tilted more to consumer. We have a take on the tech heavy lifting for our publishers by using a unique platform to manage social media advertising. Media companies tried to offer Facebook advertising to clients, but you have to get administrative access to that page. It has always been a non-starter for publishers. We’ve set up a one-step authorization for launching paid social ads, where we can go live immediately. It’s a huge advantage.

CHARITY: Facebook made some drastic changes to their algorithm in January.  The most direct impact the new Facebook “Meaningful Interactions” changes will have on media companies is less exposure in readers Facebook News Feed. Facebook is prioritizing friends and family posts over brands and media companies posts.  Facebook hopes this change will increase the interaction people have with one another via their posts.  With this change we are advising our media clients to: 1) Make every post matter. Your social content must be compelling and relevant to your readers to get their attention. 2) Shot and share video. People tend to interact with video over static posts. 3) Double down on your e-newsletter and email program, because that is the best, direct way to interact with your digital readers.

What’s the best way to build your audience through Facebook?

SHANNON: Reader Personas. Take what your audience looks like and build a lookalike audience. Then you can find people that have similar interests and match their profile. It’s amazing how targeted you can get with that bit of marketing leg-work.

You sent me those great statistics. You really do need to pay at times to be effective, it seems.

CHARITY: Yes, in Facebook, you have to pay to play. Just 2.6% of all posts are seen by your fan base. Paid ads can drive real business outcomes like brand awareness and website traffic. It’s taking advantage of amazing targeting.

SHANNON: And if you don’t have a lot of fans, then we can upload your subscription email database to Facebook and target that audience.  We see an 80% match. Build from that with a new group. Very few publishers are far along in taking advantage of this. Nearly 20% of all time spent online is spent on Facebook.

CHARITY: We strongly believe the best interaction between readers and advertisers happens on your own media property.  There is no middle-man regulating who see what or when.  Your media audience is of great value to your advertisers.  Use all the tools at your disposal, including social media to enhance and strengthen your reader relationships.