Community Media – Victims or Entrepreneurs?

After attending the recent GCIS Colloquium (yes it really is a word) on Media Transformation and Diversity I was asked

“what is the one factor, common to all communities, that marketers and advertisers take into consideration when deciding whether to place an advertisement in community media”?

Here’s the answer.

Is there one factor which makes community media attractive to advertisers?

The simple answer is that there is no one factor that is common to all communities. Each community has a unique bonding agent which binds it together. It could be language; it could be age; it could be gender or sexual orientation.

Community media owners need to stop thinking about legislative definitions of what constitutes a community medium and start thinking like marketers.

All too often, community is defined in a very restricted way to mean geographical location; the “community of Alexandra” for instance. This leads to a massive oversimplification of the communication process because within one geographical community there are many attitudinal, behavioural and economic communities.

Increasingly what successful marketers are looking at is how the community spontaneously segments itself; not what conventional research parameters are super-imposed on a community. People who fly drones for a hobby are a community, just as people who attend poetry-readings or support Kaizer Chiefs are a community.

In segmenting the market, advertisers more typically refer to communities as ‘target-market segments’ and would be looking for ROMI (Return on Media Investment) from any advertising activity directed at these segments. In response to this, community media-owners need to analyse the commercial viability of the community their medium represents and isolate those facets which are commercially attractive to advertisers.

So, for example, if the community offering is defined by “old-age’ then it might be pitched to advertisers of Health and Retirement Insurance or Anti-ageing creams.

Each and every advertiser targets different market segments. Community media-owners need to position their medium in such a manner that it stands out from the alternative options. If you are selling a geographic community, then you need to build a case for the ‘commercial attractiveness’ of that community and demonstrate why that community requires regional up-weighting over and above the inevitable exposure generated by national advertising.

If a community medium can’t demonstrate that it has bigger fish in its pond, then media planners won’t invest in an extra fishing rod.

Why are mainstream media & national coverage preferred?

The global business model for advertising has over the past two decades been relentlessly driven by a procurement mindset which emphasizes high levels of national reach, discounts and cost-efficiency. Big national audience numbers at the cheapest price. Most agencies are hugely incentivized to buy media space this way and, given the rise of programmatic planning and buying, this is going to get a lot worse for the smaller players before it gets better.

Advertising algorithms are formulated to buy big audiences cheaply. That’s their purpose in life.

Unfortunately, buying volume rarely equates to buying quality and therein lies the opportunity for community media; or should I say those community media that offer quality content.

The most consistent mistake made by all media owners is to try and prove they are ‘viable’ as an advertising platform. It’s not enough. You have to prove that you are ‘more viable’ than the other media options available to advertisers.

So not only do you have to sell your community to the advertisers, but you have to sell the fact that you are the best means of reaching that community; that you are the best means of getting a commercial response from that community or market segment. You have to sell that fact effectively, authoritatively and consistently.

One of the biggest myths in media is that every medium is entitled to its ‘fair share’ of the advertising pie. The Inconvenient Truth is that some people are better at selling advertising than others. When it comes to media placement, it’s not just about what media planners are prepared to buy, it’s about what media owners are able to sell.

So how should we sell small community media?

Community media need to think in terms of business ecosystems not survival of the fittest in a last man standing competition. No single medium owns the community or the individual within the community, therefore in order to sell the community, media-owners have to work together. This is not just a ‘nice to have’ option; small community based media (including geographical communities) need to form into a Community Media Collective (CMC) or face the reality that their media offering will gradually expire.

Community media-owners will extract more commercial value by co-operating with other media owners at a community level than by competing with them. First you must all sell your community before you can sell your medium. When it comes to community media, the old marketing adage “it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond” actually offers very poor advice. First you make the pond bigger and then you can work on being the biggest fish!

First prize has always been being the Big Fish in a Big Pond.

Think of your ‘community’ as an atom. At the centre of the atom is the ‘Nucleus’; the central energy force that holds the Atom (community) together. Each community will have a different energy source. Age. Political affiliation. Gender orientation. Language. Geographical proximity. From a media perspective the energy that holds it all together is ‘communication’. The exchange of information. Content.


The nucleus of the community is made up of two elements; Protons (let’s call them “your medium”) and Neutrons (let’s call them “competing media”). It’s the balance between these media types (Protons and Neutrons) that holds the Atom (community) together and ensures that the Electrons (the actual members of the community) are still bound to that community. If any single element or medium in the homeostatic system seeks to overwhelm the balance, then the entire Atom (community) will be destabilized and the community will be destroyed.

Your Proton doesn’t “win” the Nucleus by overwhelming the Neutrons. It simply destroys the Atom. If you don’t believe me than ask Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Community media owners need to recognize their common destiny and their common purpose; which is to keep the Atom (community) alive. No one medium can lay claim to “owning” the consumer these days. Media exposure is ubiquitous. Community print, community radio and TV, mobile and OOH media all need to mobilize themselves into an aggregated communication offering which is dedicated to growing the size and commercial value of the pond.

All media owners need to sell their content platforms holistically because advertisers have come to realize that no single medium can offer any single community the complete picture.

There’s no such thing as a ‘fair share’ of advertising support any more than there is a fair share of goals in a football match. You get the goals you work for and you let in the goals the other guys work for.

Community media need to stop behaving like victims and starting thinking like entrepreneurs.