When Check-Ins Don’t Make Your Ad Client’s Shortlist

Digital ad agencies know that the sizzle stuff gets the most attention until the client reels it all back in and says, “Hey, where’s the ROI here?” That’s why agencies can avoid getting burned if they go into the “local” advertising discussion prepared to handle a blend of different approaches to an ROI. While the flashy check-in campaign on the iPad with a user-generated video contest sounds hot, it’s not going to make the cut.

Here’s an example to help illustrate how an agency can work with their client to orchestrate the right mix of online media and local platforms:

The client and opportunity: Zipcar is launching its car sharing service in Denver.

What online marketing tools does the agency have at its disposal?

1) They have branding and display ads on regional publisher sites like newspaper and TV websites — see campaigns running on the Denver Post and The Denver Channel. An agency can usually get good CPM rates on custom sponsorships and run saturation advertising like full-page take overs and section sponsorship.

2) They can do IP targeting of display ads to segment Denver-based audiences on national publishers like MSN, Aol, and CNN — To get the lowest CPMs, and agency will buy in bulk through an ad network.Certain agencies like quadrantONE and Centro specialize in regional campaigns.

3) They can buy search terms to make sure they reach consumers using location-based terms like “Denver” and “car rental” to capture consumers with intent on Google, Yahoo, and Bing — This will require bidding on keywords to get the right sponsored search position, but will benefit the client since they’ll only pay when their ad gets clicked with a CPC campaign.

4) They can run creative campaigns with Foursquare and Facebook to try and encourage people to check-in to locations and create virtual road trips. Since these location-based apps require opt-in, they’ll likely need to invest in supporting offline media to build awareness and highlight incentives.

5) They can send targeted email campaigns through Daily Candy, Thrillist, and Groupon. If they’re running a deal to capture new customers, they’ll eat the margin on the promotion they run, or if it is a dedicated email blast, they’ll pay a per send fee.

6) They could hire a bunch of bloggers to post and comment on Patch, Huffington Post, Examiner, and Demand Media sites about Zipcar coming to Denver. Most freelancers will work on a negotiated CPM basis.

The point is that agencies have a ton of tools at their disposal, and clients should ask which local tools they’ve used in the past and why. The problem with local is that everything is local. No one online publisher is right. An agency should be able to talk intelligently about the combination of these approaches and be comfortable working with multiple vendors to reach the audience in the geography a client needs to activate.