Scripps Adapts Agency Arm for Digital Era

Faced with declining ad revenue, publishers are scrambling to find additional ways to pay the bills. A growing trend: publishers-as-agencies. The 135-year-old E.W. Scripps Company, who has seen its revenues drop significantly in the last five years, is no different.

Long helping local companies with media campaigns in TV and print, it’s now adapting its agency practice for the digital world, helping small businesses wade through the digital waters. That means everything from building sites to SEM, mobile and content creation.

“As we’ve transitioned over the last several years into digital, it only makes sense seeing our role expanding,” said Adam Symson, chief digital officer. “We say to clients, ‘We have a long relationship you.’ It’s important for them to be where their consumers are. We have the wherewithal to provide different options — some owned by us, and some partners to help grow their business. We’re experts in content generation and telling stories and we provide advertisers with a vehicle to do that.”

The decision to have a digital agency goes back seven years, when the company realized that selling just reach and frequency of its own digital products wasn’t the best thing for its clients.

Scripps works with small business to develop and deploy campaigns across a variety of media and can include advertising on newspaper and TV websites, mobile products, SEM (Scripps is a Google authorized retailer). But it also might include custom creative or integrated elements like sponsored content.

For example, one of its newspaper groups, KnoxNews, worked with a local music store to create this interactive pushdown banner ad that lets people play a piano by clicking on a key. Symson said that the company did in excess of 11,000 digital campaigns last year, often working with agencies.

“Early on, we created partnerships with other media that allow us to take on more representative or agency-like approaches and place media, like an agency would, on other sites,” Symson.

Scripps has a creative hub in Tampa, as well as local creative teams helping brands with everything from strategy to design. For example, its local creative team in Knoxville, Tennessee designed this local caterer’s website. No one knows a market better than those who work and play there.

“Sharing resources allows us to coordinate integrated campaigns across media,” said Thomas Sly, senior director of revenue at Scripps. “While our digital team’s efforts are focused on helping to provide end-to-end digital solutions for our local and regional advertisers, however, a good portion of our digital campaigns are developed for existing clients from our legacy media clients.”

The balance between being a publisher and being an agency is a fine line, and according to Chet Fenster, managing partner at MEC Global this trend of publisher-as-agency isn’t going away. “It’s a part of the landscape and agencies need to embrace this as complementary to what they do,” he said.

“That’s the fundamental need they’re servicing,” he said. “There are lots of small businesses not in that space because of barriers — it’s expensive for one — and it seems that Scripps is bundling that solution with their media in order to get advertisers not in the market. That’s my hunch of what they’re doing and it’s a good strategy.”