Self-serve advertising for SMBs is catching on fire with local media companies who understand its best use: As an efficient way to attract new customers.

“This is the most misunderstood aspect of the DIY platforms,” according to Brian Gorman, co-founder of iPublish Media Solutions.

The Value of Self-Service

Traditionally, media companies who added a self-serve platform thought of it as equivalent to adding a sales channel that competes with the salesperson, rather than as an essential lead-gen tool and an integral part of a successful sales operation. Media companies also have the tendency to price turnkey DIY sales on par with traditional advertising sales, a strategy that short-changes the power of DIY advertising.

The real value of self-serve advertising platforms – whether general or verticalized – is in attracting new and often smaller customers back to the media. Have you looked recently at what GoDaddy,, and other self-service advertising engines price media campaigns? They are low-risk numbers small businesses aren’t afraid to try. Business owners are smart enough to determine a campaign designed and managed specifically for them will be more expensive and more effective, but they are not ready to commit to the high-spend packages in a DIY environment.

Your self-service strategy for local retail/SMB should focus on providing enough value to capture registrations and gauge interest in your medium. Successful DIY retail packages offer irresistible bargains and more generic targeting that would be impossible with a salesperson and multiple production and fulfillment steps.

Today local media who understand this proposition are selling $99 self-service campaigns with a 50% margin and generating thousands of new advertising accounts and targets for potential up sales by their inside or outside sales team. The publisher reaps the rewards of customers either renewing using self-service or growing their spend when a salesperson listens to the customers’ needs, then explains the value proposition of the offering. Publishers generally don’t land the whale on the first DIY order.

This doesn’t replace salespeople, this is the best method for generating leads and reaching the lower third of the market that is too expensive to call in person.

Self-Serve As Lead Generation

Here’s how it works: in the self-serve funnel, SMBs are enticed to register, so even if the user abandons before purchase or simply places a small buy, salespeople can follow up. In some cases, the automated ad design is, itself, the benefit that the SMB gets to see, even if the ad is watermarked and the prospect abandons before check-out. A live sales representative can then provide a helpful follow up to complete or add an upsell, instead of wasting time on multiple cold calls to find a new customer.

“For years I’ve been asking ad directors ‘what does it actually cost you to get a new account?’ I typically don’t get an answer because they don’t know,” Gorman said, “with AdPortal they will know exactly what it will cost.”

“What are you doing now to acquire new accounts? Dialing for dollars? Knocking on doors?”

Instead of modeling pricing after traditional ads, he recommends starting with this lead generation model.

Not only does an irresistible offer lower the barrier to entry for small accounts, but it also attracts larger ones, enticing more new business into the pipeline, and multimedia programs, including print.

The results of this type of go-to-market strategy are getting recognition industry-wide. Bay Area News Group, which built a real estate platform on the iPublish AdPortal, is using lower-priced entry points to generate buys and then averaging 4 to 5 times that revenue in additional marketing products, according to Eric Bloom, Director of Real Estate.

The case study presented at the 2020 Mega and Borrell conferences showed that the initiative drew over 1000 new customers back to the newspaper group in its first two years, which resulted in nearly $1MiL in additional advertising revenue.

“Every major corporation in any industry knows the cost of acquisition to the penny, and it’s very expensive,” Gorman says.

“In running sales at iPublish I always worked on the premise that it is much more expensive to get a new customer than keep an existing one. A good well thought out self-service strategy will help lower the cost substantially of attaining new accounts.”

While media are not great at estimating the cost of acquisition of a new customer, according to Editor & Publisher, most local media tacitly acknowledge that its too high to make servicing most SMBs profitable and are directing sales teams to call on larger and fewer accounts, a strategy for direct sales we totally agree with.

Self-serve platforms not only find new leads for potential advertising “whales,” but also supply an alternative that can broaden the marketing share of SMBs long term. In effect, self-serve can fill in the gap with smaller businesses by allowing them to be managed efficiently, while also feeding better leads to experienced reps.

“Every small business, if given the choice of dealing from an unknown digital agency or the local newspaper who is known and a trusted brand, will buy from the local newspaper because it’s safe,” Gorman notes, citing several Borrell Associate reports. Self-serve provides a low risk affordable advertising solution for both the SMB and the media company.

“There is no way today that you should have a sales strategy that does not include a good well thought out self-service strategy.” Gorman said. “It should really come out of your marketing budget – it is the most efficient way to develop new accounts into your advertising pipeline.”