March 26, 2018

Ad guru Gordon Borrell has updated his forecast for local advertising in 2018 and beyond, and for traditional outlets — such as newspapers, cable and broadcast TV — it is a mixed bag.

The bad news first:

  • At newspapers, local ad revenues, print and digital combined, are expected to fall 10.1 percent. National ad results could be even worse, and they appeared to be in recent financial reports on the fourth quarter of 2017. Borrell's forecast is for local advertising to fall 28 percent over the next five years, but national to decline 54 percent. Local cable's prospects are bad in 2018 too, according to Borrell, down 10.5 percent.
  • Actually, 2018 will be a year of healthy advertising growth — 5.3 percent across media types — buoyed by heavy spending at local TV stations on mid-term Congressional elections. But in the next five years, Borrell expects advertising growth to average out to a puny 0.2 of 1 percent. Marketing budgets will grow in that same period but mostly in digital formats like email and social media.

Offering some comfort to hard-pressed legacy execs, Borrell finds evidence that a combination traditional and new media buy is appealing to about three-quarters of local advertisers. Also Facebook — while still killer competition — is no longer the hot-new-thing it was in 2016 and 2017.

Borrell bases his forecasts on surveys of 7,500 advertisers and agencies. The main research was done in the summer of 2017 but updated with a smaller sample in December and January. He presented the results with some commentary in a webinar March 20.

One of the survey questions asked businesses whether they thought traditional or new digital media were more effective. The split was almost exactly 50-50. Sales people for newspapers or cable should emphasize their benefits and the effectiveness of combination buys, Borrell said.

"Talking trash about digital media doesn't work," he explained, "because the advertisers love digital and buy both."

He also thinks that traditional media can capture a share of growing marketing spending in coming years, if they offer strong help to their customer base in functions like email, analytics and web redesign.

In essence that means acting more like a mini ad agency rather than just selling. In fact, in a part of the survey sampling local ad agencies, a majority cited the adoption of agency functions at traditional media outlets as their most significant competition.

The Dallas Morning News, which bought a half-dozen local ad and marketing agencies several years back, is Borrell's model for moving to new areas of greater opportunity. And in his surveys, 70 percent of the businesses have a single person making ad and marketing decisions — a puzzling and time-sucking activity for which they need help.

While Facebook remains popular, some advertisers are troubled by price increases, a few find the spending ineffective and only a tiny percentage rely on digital marketing alone.

Borrrell was one of the first to flag Facebook's penetration of the local market after the social network had initially targeted national advertising. The more recent reservations he found about using the platform predate the huge hacking and data breach issues now engulfing Facebook, which could impact its credibility as an ad medium and the size of its audience.

In the survey, a little over half the businesses agreed that Facebook would merely stay even or "begin losing steam in 2018 as other platforms (like Snapchat and Facebook's own Instagram) allow more advertising."

I asked Borrell the degree to which legacy media's ad troubles stem from retail store closings as Amazon and Walmart grab a bigger share of the action.  While bankruptcies like Toys R Us get the attention, he said, the bigger problem may be consolidation locally. Neither is likely to be reversed." 

"For instance there may be only six major car dealerships left," he said where there used to be a dozen or 20 not long ago. "Of course, there are stores opening too but most of them are at the low end who don't do advertising."

Borrell presented these finding in a webinar, "The Ebb and Flow of Media's Lifeblood: Local Ad Dollars" to the Media Financial Management Foundation. Versions of the research are available for a fee at the Borrell Associates website.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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