After reading a recent article on Business Week, (here) I got to thinking about the campaigns I've worked on for local clients and the difficulties I've faced in a) getting online across the board and b) actually finding where these clients can advertise.
We all love working on big national clients with big national budgets, however many agencies also have a number of local-based clients they also work on. There are many hurdles involved in getting these local advertisers into the online space, the least of which is the client's knowledge of the mystical being they see as 'digital' and 'online'.
Personally, I find it quite refreshing to go along the journey with a small local client and get them online and share a successful campaign - it breaks up what can sometimes feel like a 'rinse-and-repeat' process with some larger clients. Those small clients who do show an interest and eagerness to learn about online get much more excited about the process than big-business and - I have found - much easier to work with, despite more work being involved on my end in getting the digital education up to the necessary level.
However, many local clients aren't too eager to dip their toes in the online field, and after doing a number of campaigns for these sorts of clients, I'm beginning to see it from their point of view. The internet just isn't a local medium. From day dot, the internet has always been about connecting people, networks. Many people look to the social aspect of the internet in recent years and think, there's got to be a way to use that on a local level. The problem is, no matter how you dice the audience, that network (be it social or otherwise) can be global.
Most social networking - and I'm not just talking about Facebook and Myspace, but forums and blogs and so on - uses common interest as the glue that hold the group together. There's communities devoted to knitting, oil-painting, cars, toenail clippings and god-knows what else, but there seems to be very little in the way of 'local' community interaction. Why would I want to talk to Joe Bloe from down the street when I can interact with Steve McCool from Beunos aires and Jane Trendy from the Lower East Side? There internet just doesn't seem to be so efficient when it comes to local level marketing.
But this isn't just the fault of the internet. Local daily (or weekly) newspapers are in decline, you see the figures almost weekly at the moment. Despite this, local newspapers have much more of a community feel to them then any forum or group on the internet. Compounding this problem is the fact that many newspapers still struggle with their online properties. Local papers are used to only publishing stories once (maybe twice) per week, so trying to get their head around this whole 'instant' thing seems to be a very large hurdle. So some sites will agregate their content with feeds from state/national or even international sources, reducing the whole localness of the brand.
So we are left with local community newspaper websites with already small audiences, but now most of their content comes from a larger, usually more authoritative website and a lot of users seem to be using the large sites aleady anyway.
So what do we do for local advertisers?
At the moment, there aren't many viable options open. You could use an eDM and send out advertising in newsletter targeted to postcodes, but most people hate spam and traditional DM can still do a very good job; Local newspaper websites can work, but they work best when your client has good geographic reach or multiple locations to make the most of the audiences available; finally there is IP targeting. Many publishers still can't do postcode or region targeting in Australia which is increasingly frustrating for both clients and us at agencies.
It's a bit of a catch-22 at the moment for local clients and online: they're tightening their belts looking for better efficiency, and the one channel which can deliver very well on this can't provide the level of localness they need. It will be interesting to see how this year pans out for advertisers, especially smaller, local based clients.