Online advertising in a downturn

Online advertising in a downturn

If you haven’t heard it already, the next 12 months are going to be tough for online businsses – especially if your revenue depends in anyway on advertising. But the platforms and strategies you settle on now will ensure your success when we see the inevitable upturn.

This will be the fourth market downturn I have worked through. All came about for different reasons, but the consequences in the media industry are similar – reduced advertising spend, resulting in publishing businesses (of all types and sizes) finding it more difficult to reach budgets and achieve year-on-year revenue growth.

If your online business generates revenue through advertising the next 12 months (at least) are likely to be challenging.

Online advertisers will react to their declining profits by implementing strategies that include reducing their marketing budgets. They will redirect spend from qualitative or awareness generating results to more quantitative or response-driven advertising offers, such as performance and affiliate opportunities (like those offered by Google).

Each online business should examine their business plan and determine forward strategies based on their own circumstances. The commercial strategies you adopt and implement can place your business in the strongest possible position to navigate the downturn and then meet the needs of a recovering market.

Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Continue to motivate your sales team. Even sales staff giving 110% cannot make advertisers spend money that is just not there, or will not give them the return they require, and it will be hard for salespeople to maintain conversion rates that you would expect during stronger economic times. Work on ways to keep them motivated and informed about your business’s position.

2. Implementing other revenue streams. What can you do to take your revenue reliance off advertising? A digital platform can be structured to generate many forms of revenue, such as paid content, membership, retail and transactional models. What other revenue streams (both on and offline) are suitable extensions of your brand and are relevant to your market? What can you build the knowledge and resources to implement, monetise and manage?

3. Advertising placements. What quantitative orientated advertising models could you incorporate into your website to meet the needs of advertisers that require more response-based results? As an example, generally newsletters provide stronger click-throughs than typical onsite display positions.

4. Training and staff development. The digital market is constantly evolving in line with the needs of your site’s users and advertisers. How can your business benefit from training and upskilling current staff to ensure they are following digital trends and you are following “best practice” procedures?

5. Site development. I rarely see a site that couldn’t do with some form of improvement, tweaking or “evolution”. What developments could you implement with direct impact on the audience and revenue you could generate?

6. Understand your market. Do you have relevant information on your target market or website users that is of direct interest to your advertising market? In the last few weeks, countless articles have been published on the outlook for 2009, including the great piece on SmartCompany looking at sector-by-sector forecasts for the year ahead. Get reading!

7. Advertiser “usability” – Adopting strong processes and procedures to manage your advertising can directly affect required resources and revenue. This can often be one of the easiest things to review and address.

8. Audience growth. While advertising revenue will be difficult to generate, online usage patterns may not be affected. Media pundits are actually predicting spikes in online usage as people turn to more home-based activities. What strategies do you have in place to maximise your audience?

9. Develop better relationships. How are you maintaining contact and gaining a better understanding of your advertisers’ needs? Even if they have reduced or stopped spending with you, how can you be first they consider when they are ready to advertise again.

10. Build your brand. Social networking and web 2.0 opportunities are among many cost effective marketing platforms that can establish and build your brand. What ongoing resources can you put in place to initiate, manage and optimise these channels for maximum results?

Though the next 12 months will be challenging, online publishers can also view this period with optimism as advertisers look to online’s positive attractions – accountability and audience targeting capabilities – and divert their spend from traditional media.

This is your opportunity to ensure the foundations of your commercial platform adapts to the changing environment and you are prepared to enter the market upturn – it will happen – in a way that gives you maximum advantage.



Denise Shrivell has initiated and implemented online revenue platforms into several well-known media outlets. She is now consulting businesses in their revenue and advertising strategies, and training sales people in online selling. Read about Denise and the consultancy and training services she provides –


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