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The other side of advertising: Why publishers need to think more about self-promotion

May 8, 2018 | By Tim Bourgeois — Digital Media Auditor and Consultant @ChiefDigOfficer

Publishers spend most of their time thinking about how to sell advertising, not buy it. However, they should rethink advertising as a promotional tactic. As their sales teams likely say time and again, it can be used to increase brand awareness, viewership, and even paying customers. What follows are a few ideas for thinking about how to work old-fashioned advertising into a publisher’s promotional and audience acquisition strategy. (For more “traditional,” digital-centric tactics for increasing a publication’s audience, see my March 2018 piece, “How to Maximize the Value of Your Digital Publishing Properties”.)

Google Display Network

When campaigns are executed properly, the Google Display Network (GDN) can be a powerful tool for publishers to reach big audience groups, quickly and cost-effectively. The trick is to make sure that campaign settings are precise and strict.

According to some estimates, the GDN reaches as much as 90% of internet users. While Google makes most of its money on high-priced, keyword-based, pay-per-click activity, it also has a robust display advertising network that is global and reaches into the outermost nooks and crannies of the internet. For just pennies a click, savvy publishers can get their content in front of relevant audiences.


Though, by comparison, considerably more expensive than Google (on a per-click basis), Twitter can nevertheless be a valuable tool in a publisher’s promotional bag-of-tricks. It is especially useful when a marquee or evergreen piece of content is at the center of a campaign. Marketers can easily serve up ads to audience categories that are known to be attracted to a particular topic.

(If you’re not on Twitter already, it’s high time you open an account. Then keep an eye out for ads – aka promoted tweets – from the New York Times, which has been particularly aggressive on the social network in recent weeks – along with the usual suspects Fidelity Investments, Starz, and Uber.)

Press Releases

Not typically considered as “advertising”, as apress releases can serve in a variety of roles:

  • To strengthen a particular content asset’s performance in the search engines (when aligned with a particular keyword(s) strategy)
  • Expand a content asset’s reach among secondary and tertiary target audience groups – such as other media outlets, which takes their cues from others, and pursue “me-too” stories
  • To legitimize a topic or subject, vis-a-vis the vetting methodology and reputation of highly regarded wire services

Keys to Success

Regardless of the techniques used to get eyeballs to a content asset or publishing property, a variety of baseline tactics need to be employed in order to maximize ROI on the money you spent to the get them there. These include:

  • Front-and-center conversions. Make it easy for site visitors to follow your social media properties, sign up for newsletters, and give you permission to engage with them over the long term. The ultimate goal is to gain a new subscriber, of course, but there are lots of interim, nurturing steps that need to be formidable to help convince suspects and prospects of your value.
  • Accommodate Google’s Best Practices. That means make sure your website downloads fast and secure, and is in line with the Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. These accommodations lead to better search engine result placement, and more traffic. (When in doubt, look at properties like NYTimes.com and BusinessInsider.com for best practice guidance. And remember, we don’t need to respect the content, just the promotional tactics.)
  • Give Them An Offer They Can’t Refuse. Digitally-enable offers that you’ve been using for years via direct mail or at industry conferences: three months for one dollar, two years for the price of one, etc. Digital advertising, when done correctly, practically guarantees that your ads are being seen by like-minded individuals. Use what’s worked offline to convert passive online audiences into paying subscribers.

When employed strategically, online advertising can play a meaningful role in a publisher’s audience expansion plans. When combined with compelling content and baseline digital marketing best practices, internet advertising can help publishers find new paying audience groups and expand their footprints in a meaningful way.

Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a principal at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based digital consulting company specializing in advertising audit services.

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