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Star Tribune's new digital unit targets small businesses

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS
  • Star Tribune
  • September 23, 2012 - 5:52 PM

The Star Tribune will launch this week a new array of digital marketing services to small- and medium-sized businesses, many of whom have never advertised with the traditional newspaper.

Called Radius, the new product is designed to help businesses increase and manage their presence on the Internet through a variety of means, including website development, search engine marketing, social and mobile media, and reputation management.

"There are small businesses out there that we don't have a product for. This is a turnkey solution, one-stop shopping," said Jeff Griffing, the Star Tribune's chief revenue officer.

The McClatchy, Hearst and Gannett newspaper chains have initiated similar operations with some success.

"You're not just selling businesses your traditional stuff; you've become a digital agency," said media analyst Ken Doctor, who is author of the book "Newsonomics." "There is still plenty of print advertising out there, but why not tap into the largest-growing segment in the country? And that's digital advertising."

Radius customers will be able to access a suite of digital campaign-management tools in one centralized online dashboard. Businesses can preview, update and customize their products and will receive one-on-one customer support.

The Star Tribune has hired and trained a separate digital sales force of 15 with four customer service representatives to sell the digital- only services. Griffing said he expects the digital team to generate new revenue in the "low seven figures" in its first year. Total ad revenue for the Star Tribune is in excess of $100 million a year.

"This appears to be a very scalable business," Griffing said. "Two years from now, we may have 100 digital sales representatives."

The Star Tribune faces a competitive marketplace for digital services as it attempts to expand its efforts to reach the 80,000 small businesses in the Twin Cities. Deluxe Corp., for instance, offers a sales and marketing program directed at small business. Companies such as Checkerboard Strategic Web Development also help businesses build websites and post content.

"There definitely is a sweet spot for this," said Michael Porter, director of the Master of Business Communication program at the University of St. Thomas.

"But you'll have to do some education. There will have to be some coaching. You have to concentrate on what a business' digital footprint will be and how you drive people there."

Fees for digital services from the Star Tribune range from a low of $400 a month to $1,000 a month, with additional fees for customized services.

"If you want a press release, we'll write a press release," Griffing said.

The Star Tribune's digital product will also offer tracking services to monitor customer engagement, mentions, reviews and other analytics. Participants in the program will get premium placement listing in StarTribune.com's local search directory.

Steve Yaeger, the Star Tribune director of marketing, said many of the client targets for the new digital product will be small businesses whose advertising budgets at one time were spent on small ads in directories such as the Yellow Pages.

"We're talking about florists, bakeries, lawyers from small firms, contractors, pizza places," Yaeger said.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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