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March 31, 2022updated 16 Nov 2022 5:55pm

How news publishers can instantly grow their direct-sales display advertising business

By Freddy Mayhew

Having helped to transform the digital display advertising offering of local, independent and B2B publishers in Germany and other parts of Europe, Smartico is now expanding to the UK.

The company will take any print advert sold to a small or medium-sized business and turn it into a professional-looking online banner ad complete with click-through landing page for the campaign.

“What we do is we take the strong existing print advertising business of a newspaper and try to find an intuitive and hassle-free way to leverage this for digital,” says CEO and founder Christian Scherbel.

Print to digital display advertising: ‘We build profit centres with media companies’

Europe’s largest publisher Axel Springer, Mediahuis (which bought Ireland’s Independent News and Media in 2019) Madsack, Dumont, and Tamedia are among its 100 existing clients.

Founded in Germany in late 2013, the company, which trades as Transmatico in Europe, makes more than €20m of new local digital advertising revenues a year for its client publishers, reaching some 20m unique users per month with more than one million local ads produced since its foundation.

Smartico runs a revenue sharing model – taking about a 30% cut of new digital ad sales – rather than a flat fee, although this option is available to those who prefer to offer discretionary discounts to clients. This model ties Smartico’s success to that of the publisher.

“We build profit centres together with media companies,” explains Scherbel. “It’s a full service of everything you need to transform your existing SMB print advertising into digital.”

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He adds: “In newspapers you have a lot of local businesses that advertise and it’s super important for them to be there, it’s core to their business, they have been doing this for decades. But if you look on the news website, depending on how big the title is, you’ll see a lot of programmatic  adverts from national brands – everything is there.

“No wonder, because if you’re talking to a national brand, they have absolutely no problem understanding things like ‘eCPM’ (cost per thousand ad impressions), ‘CTR’ (click-through rate), ‘frequency capping’, ‘regional targeting’, ‘do you want to have a remarketing pixel?’.

“Tell this to a local advertiser, a restaurant owner, and they will say: ‘That does not make any sense for me. I don’t need it.’ So they need a totally different business model.”

Scherbel says there is “huge untapped potential” in digital advertising for local and specialist B2B publishers, who might sell 2,000 print ads in a year but only ten banner ads.

“Why is that? Because the offering is not intuitive enough. It’s too complex,” he says. “That’s what we try to change. For a local advertiser it has to be as simple as the print ad offer: do you want a small or a big one? End of story.”


How to unlock £100k of local display revenue

Promoted whitepaper from Smartico details how publishers turned print advertising into online display revenue using smart automation.


Display advertising innovation: Mix of technology and ‘human touch’

Smartico’s approach is divided roughly in two, with a team producing the creative content and a team to train up publishers’ own sales staff to better sell the digital product, with the aim of making digital display an automatic bundle offering alongside print ads.

Training and on-boarding takes between four to six weeks and a small set up fee is required.

“We believe in the relationship of print sales reps with their advertisers, so we never want to take this away. We want to just equip them with the tools so they can start selling online,” says Scherbel.

Smartico makes use of the latest automated technology to produce slick carousel banner adverts that match those seen on Facebook, but ensures it has a human sign off on its adverts – “it’s always this combination of technology and human touch”, says Scherbel.

Explaining the process, he says: “We take the print ad, we cut and extract everything that we can find in there and then we gather additional images and texts from the homepage of the advertiser, from Google and social media, so we try to get as much data as possible, then we have a native speaking media designer team that builds this into a nice mobile-first carousel ad within 24 hours.”

The company prides itself on the speed of its service, – “if you don’t deliver your banners, you can be absolutely sure that your service will be out very quickly”.

Creating a landing page avoids potential clients clicking through on a banner ad only to be taken to a stagnant and outdated homepage with no “call to action” relevant to the ad campaign.

Smartico hosts the landing pages itself, allowing it to delve into the data which it shares with publishers.

A landing page includes the ad campaign – for example a reader offer – and “everything you’d want to know”, such as contact information for the business, such as telephone, email, link to official website and opening hours, explains Scherbel.

“The great thing is, because we control this landing page, we can not only report clicks – because clicks don’t tell you anything – we can report attention. I can tell you how many minutes people stayed on the site, how many people visited the site, how far they scrolled, how many people looked at your opening hours, how many people clicked on the email button.

“That is suddenly a story and that changes the whole sales narrative from being a click machine like Facebook – and Facebook has so much more clicks than every newspaper page in the world, so it will always be cheaper – to attention and quality of traffic. And suddenly, I’m able to prove this.”

Scherbel adds: “If you sell 2,000 print ads a year and you’re suddenly selling 2,000 banner ads as well, that’s money that you didn’t have before.”

Although based in Germany, Smartico is a “decentralised” company, with less than half of its staff, who work remotely, employed in Germanophone Europe.

Exclusive offer for Press Gazette ReadersReach out to Smartico CEO  to get a 30-minute video call with CEO Christian to see matching business cases out of 200 media companies that could make you more regional advertising revenues instantly. And receive a free demo/transformation of an advertorial/magazine or print ad into a Smartico campaign at the end.

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