Acquire Consumers and Make Change with Local Media

How B Corps Can Ensure Transparency and Encourage a More Engaged Community by Advertising with Local Media

The Sentinel in Marfa, Texas, is home to The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International newspapers, as well as a coffee shop, restaurant and bar. (Photo by Max Kabat)

We’re B Corps. A pretty considerate bunch. We treat our organizations like citizens of the world. Employees. Business partners. Our supply chain and the people in it. Our customers. These are not just evaluation criteria in the B Impact Assessment. They’re stakeholders in our business. An ever-evolving consideration set we tirelessly pour through as we make decisions everyday.

So what if I told you there’s a part of your business that isn’t measuring up like everything else? A line item on your balance sheet stuck in the antiquated paradigm of looking to spend the least amount of money while achieving the highest ROI.

Call it paid media or just plain marketing and advertising. It’s the way you spend money to acquire customers. A game of efficiency and effectiveness. A game of putting your brand in front of the right people at the right time.

Community newspapers like the Big Bend Sentinel are growing rare as information becomes less about news and more about clicks. (Photo by Max Kabat)

Over the last 15 years we’ve seen a tectonic shift as digital media and social networks — two platforms about quantity, not quality — perfected this game at scale. They turned the inefficiencies and inequities of a fragmented local and regional media landscape into opportunity.

Content, although king, had always been expensive to make, but new tools — iPhone + name-your-social-media-platform — made it possible for practically anyone to create it. New age media companies put an ability for advertisers to speak to large swaths of a specific audience as their highest priority. Information became less about news and more about the best ways to get eyeballs and clicks which, subsequently, defunded local journalism. Technology zoomed past them and all legacy media could do was stand and watch. Classifieds moved to Craigslist. Googling became a verb. Podcasts provided on-demand radio. To make matters worse, conglomerates rolled up whatever titles they could get their hands on in hopes of mirroring this advertising-first mentality that further stripped out the utility of journalism.

The lack of checks and balances gave rise to content purporting itself to be fact-based. There was so much of it that the label “divisive content” was born. More recently, Stop Hate For Profit leveraged societal unrest and asked brands to hit pause for advertising on social platforms allowing it to happen. The conversation about who makes all the money in programmatic advertising caught another wind. Spoiler alert: It’s not the publisher.

And here we are. A huge transfer of power and wealth has occurred, providing us with another story of how unchecked, exponential growth without a strong value system comes with unintended, societal consequences.

Maybe this grand experiment of putting quantity over quality — that values the amount of information more than news with journalistic integrity — might be creating a greater divide? Our virtual connections abound, but our communities suffer.

Depressing? Possibly. But we’re B Corps. We should be able to do something about it, right?

The community of Certified B Corporations knows that profits don’t have to come at the expense of other stakeholders. Learn more in this downloadable report.

The Opposite of Creating Division: Building Community

Ironically, local journalism might just be the antidote.

A thriving local media is a cornerstone of a thriving community. It equates to more civic engagement which, in turn, means a more informed constituency. Without active journalism city and county governments go unchecked while locals lose their ability to interact with and relate to that neighbor they don’t agree with very much. Everything is national and global. Everything is breaking and immediate. What’s left for locals to do besides feel angry and forgotten and choose one side or the other?

Would it surprise you that news stories mostly start with local newspapers and are responsible for almost all of the original reporting? How are we, as a society, expected to stay informed if traditional media, mainly newspapers, continue to die a slow death?

Some see the future of local journalism as a public good. Others want to make it more entrenched in civics. The House is looking at bipartisan legislation to stop the acceleration of closing titles resulting in more and more news deserts.

A growing number of counties, in areas known as news deserts, are without a local newspaper. (Source: UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media)

My wife and I felt so strongly about the challenge at hand that just over a year ago we became the Editor & Chief and Publisher, respectively, of two weekly newspapers in far west Texas where we live. We wanted to figure out a way to make local, independent journalism thrive instead of just survive.

Building a website was legacy media’s reactionary evolution. We built one. We also decided to go off script and rethink our role by bringing the community into the newspaper and creating a gathering space around it. Scalable? Not everywhere, but it does have the potential to work in certain places that leverage art, community mindedness and/or natural capital into diversified revenue streams of local business and tourism. Think Sonoma, Bend, Charleston, Telluride, Santa Fe, The Berkshires, Sedona or Martha’s Vineyard.

By advertising with local media, businesses can strengthen their communities and improve transparency in local government. (Photo by Max Kabat)

What is worth scaling, though, is the passion readers have for local news. Especially independent media sources. It’s why we’re building a platform for regional and national brands to plan and buy local media — across all platforms — the same way they do digital and social. With a couple clicks.

It’ll be a way for B Corps, and others, to know exactly where their dollars are going and what they’re supporting. Good ol’ transparency. The kicker? Building it with a value system in mind the publishers will keep the lion share of the money instead of the middle men and opportunists.

What We Can Do

If you’re left asking what you can do and how you can live your best B Corp life, consider the following:

Get Informed.

Start by asking questions about your customer acquisition dollars. To your marketing team and/or agency partners. Find out to whom the money flows in your digital and social media buying. What DSPs and SSPs are you using? Are you using a trading desk to place these buys? If your budget is experiential heavy then who owns the events you’re supporting?

Vote with Your Dollars. Buy Local at Scale.

Consider reallocating a portion of those dollars to local journalism. Sure, your local paper is a start. But the best way to make the most impact is to develop a national platform for brands to do it at scale. We’ll prove out the model with 1) a single state test (Texas), and 2) a nationwide test of titles in desirable communities like the ones above. It’ll launch with all independent ventures. Interested in joining the test, or in the completed national platform? Please sign up here and even share your thoughts, or send me an email.

Educate Consumers.

We encourage them to vote with their dollars, right? Consider turning the way you spend media into an opportunity to engage with your customers on a deeper level. What tools would you need to do so? How can I/B Lab help? Please send me or Andy Fyfe of B Lab a note and let us know what you need.

Update the Assessment.

Consider joining a list of B Corp businesses to get the scrutinization of paid media incorporated into the B Impact Assessment. You can do that here or reach out to your B Lab representative.

Max Kabat is the Publisher and Co-Owner of West Texan Media Group, LLC, owners of The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International — two weekly newspapers covering the vast Big Bend Region of far west Texas. He is also Co-Founder of goodDog, a B Corp brand consultancy that helps mostly mid-stage, founder-built, mission-driven brands grow by articulating a single storyline and then bringing it to market.

B The Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

Acquire Consumers and Build a Better World with Local Media was originally published in B The Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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