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Sept. 30, 2011, 1:03 p.m.

Community news sites band together to create the Chicago Independent Advertising Network

ChiAd wants to find safety — and money — in numbers.

At last year’s Block by Block conference, the first of the maybe-annual confab of community news site editors and publishers, one of the big themes that emerged was a simple one: solitude. Lots of local news publishers — many of whom work both on the business and editorial sides, and with no permanent staff — labor in relative isolation as they go about covering the news, coordinating logistics, and, in many cases, selling the ads that kept the other work sustainable.

So it’s noteworthy that a group of fifteen Chicago community news sites have joined together to overcome the isolation, launching, this week, the Chicago Independent Advertising Network. The network, which will begin running ads on November 1, is an effort to bring the benefits of scale — and the complementary ideas of “safety in numbers,” “misery loves company,” etc. — to the business side of community news.

ChiAd isn’t the first to try the network approach — see the Seattle Indie Ad Network and the Boston Blogs network, for example — but it’s notable not only given that it’s situated in Chicago, which offers a rich ecosystem for community news sites, but also given that it’s a collaboration between for-profit sites and foundations: ChiAd’s efforts (including the hiring of a full-time ad salesperson) are being funded by the Chicago Community Trust, which both suggested the initial idea of the network and convened its current participants, and by the Knight Community Information Challenge, which put up matching funds for the project.

“The truth is that the vast majority of large digital advertising is done by much larger organizations,” says Mike Fourcher, business manager of the new network. (As the publisher of both CenterSquareJournal.com and RoscoeViewJournal.com, Fourcher knows of what he speaks.) The network is an effort to merge the intimacy of local sales efforts with the size that local sites need to make those efforts financially viable.

The deal: Ad placements are sold in blocks, currently priced at $2,400 each, with five new blocks available each month. (Every ad placement will be evenly rotated across all member sites.) And that all means that the network will have, Fourcher noted, “no more than five ads running across our network at one time.” (Advertisers can also purchase a “roadblock” — an arrangement that guarantees that a single ad will be seen across the network for a full day. A roadblock goes for for $1,000.)

The pitch: again, scale. For both the sites and the businesses that advertise on them. Businesses get reach (Fourcher is promising to serve over 1 million pageviews a month through the network) and sites get efficient ad sales — one of the most time-consuming aspects of site sustainability — in addition to the sales-pitch benefits of size. They get recognition where, previously, they may have been ignored. There are, for example, several theater companies in his coverage area, Fourcher told me. Theater companies and local news sites would seem an obvious marketing match; previously, though, the companies wouldn’t do business with his sites because they rely on external agencies to make their ad buys. And the agencies, for their part, wouldn’t do business with Fourcher’s sites because they considered the sites to be — you guessed it — too small to be worth their attention. “In their mind, we’re nobody,” Fourcher says.

As a group, though, they’re somebody. “Together, we’re now 1 million monthly pageviews,” Fourcher says. “That’s really something. And that’s worth a lot of people taking notice of.”

POSTED     Sept. 30, 2011, 1:03 p.m.
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