Atlantic Media’s newest niche ad play is for the ‘Parks and Rec crowd’

While other publishers chase scale, Atlantic Media has found success lately with niche publishing. Two years after launching Defense One, a site covering security issues, Atlantic Media is following it today with Route Fifty, a new brand for state and local government executives. Route Fifty started as the state and local news channel of Government Executive, Atlantic Media’s publication for federal execs.

With stories like Homeless Encampments Present Decisionmaking Challenges for City Leaders and Exploring Philadelphia’s Newly Upgraded Open Data Portal, the content is not intended for mass consumption — executive editor Michael Grass calls it a site for “our Parks and Rec crowd” — and the traffic, 50,000 unique visitors (internal figures), shows it. Launch advertisers are Amazon Web Services, General Dynamics Health Solutions, SAS and Akamai Technologies.

But, buoyed by growing reader interest in the channel and demand by tech advertisers wanting to reach those readers, along with its success with Defense One, Atlantic Media decided to spin the channel off into its own site.

“It’s a small audience, but it’s our most engaged audience,” said Constance Sayers, president of the Government Executive Media Group, noting that the channel’s newsletter has a robust 40 percent open rate.

Executives there provided an advance look at the site. It has elements of Defense One, which in turn borrowed from Quartz, Atlantic Media’s global business site that launched in 2012

Like Defense One, Route Fifty — so named for the corridor that runs through the U.S., connecting lesser-known cities — is starting small, with an editorial staff of three under an editor, Grass, who is steeped in digital and social media.

Visitors will see in Route Fifty the same photo-heavy approach taken by Defense One (and Quartz before it), showing that a B2B site can be highly visual and functional at the same time. The site will be responsively designed, with its mobile-oriented user in mind.

In terms of coverage, the organizing principle behind Route Fifty will look more like Quartz’s “obsessions” than the fixed verticals found on many news sites. Route Fifty will focus on best practices, and plans call for adopting a platform approach where readers can upload their case studies.

“This is an underserved market,” Grass said. “There’s definitely an enthusiasm to share stories, best practices, look at how management and performance works within government. They talk a lot on Twitter, but there isn’t one large platform where different parts of state, county and municipal governments can come together and talk about their issues.”

Like other recent Atlantic Media launches before it, Route Fifty will operate on an ad-supported model, with native advertising as its core. Sayers envisions native ads on Route Fifty as being an extension of the editorial content, which is geared towards helping public servants work smarter. To get efficiencies, Route Fifty will share a four-person staff that works across the Government Executive Media Group and ad units created by Atlantic Media.

“Our audience is going to come to Route Fifty to solve problems, so native allows advertisers to really participate in this process,” she said.

Route Fifty has a growing target audience: Local government employment is rising due to rehiring of people whose jobs were lost during the recession, according to The New York Times. Route Fifty’s highly visual, mobile-first approach could help differentiate it from existing players in the market, such as Governing and e.Republic, which have been around since the ’80s.

But Kevin Green, who leads Dell’s digital strategy & innovation team, said that with most marketers still measuring success by reach, Route Fifty is at a disadvantage as a small player. “Even with data-driven market era we’re in right now, we’re still looking at targeting at scale,” he said.

Route Fifty could overcome that barrier if it can convince advertisers it’s reaching the right audience of decision-makers, even if it’s a small one, and if it can tie its native ads to business results, though.

“The ROI can’t be click-through,” Green said. “They’re going to have to be able to tie this back to a business result. If they can pull it off, it’s incredibly valuable.”

Image courtesy of Atlantic Media.

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