Earlier this year, Gannett held its first investors meeting in New York, where company executives focused on local digital marketing services as a critical part of their strategy moving forward. As John A. Williams, president of Gannett Digital Ventures, put it, digital “is a big pot of money that’s going to grow and grow a lot more quickly than any other area of marketing and advertising.”
To capitalize on that growing pot, the struggling newspaper firm has been slowly building up a digital services portfolio over the past half decade; Gannett’s Digital Marketing Services group already houses local retail marketing platform ShopLocal and digital advertising company PointRoll, and now it’s added social ad firm Blinq Media.
The deal, which closed this morning and was first reported by TechCrunch, brings to Gannett one of the top third-party Facebook ad-buying platforms, which the company can now bring to small and medium-size businesses at the local level.
From Gannett's point of view, the newspaper giant brings Blinq that local scale. “We think that our contacts and our customer relationships through ShopLocal, which basically deals with all of the top retailers in the United States, our contacts at Gannett Digital Marketing Services as well as our national sales forces at USA Today and Gannett can greatly extend Blinq’s reach and Blinq’s ability to sell against those ad agencies and those major customers,” Gannett's Williams said.
Social media is increasingly crucial to small local businesses that have traditionally made up newspapers' core ad base. Social is “the avenue to the local market,” said Blinq CEO Dave Williams, who contends that Blinq can take ShopLocal’s local retail data and put it to work within Blinq’s BAM 2.0 social ad platform to “roll out local programs at scale.”
Prior to establishing Blinq in 2008, Williams co-founded digital agency 360i, then primarily a search marketing firm. In search he “saw this inability to scale on a local basis,” a handicap that social doesn’t share, he said.
Meanwhile, Gannett has been eyeing the social marketing space “for the better part of the last year,” said Vikram Sharma, president and CEO of Gannett Digital Marketing Services. In that time, the company looked at a number of firms, vetting them through product and team evaluations, client rosters and direct conversations with advertisers, agencies and Facebook executives. “The reinforcement [from Facebook] couldn’t have been more positive,” Sharma said. Helping matters, Blinq was identified as one of only a few partners Facebook involves in testing new ad products and capabilities.
Williams claims that unlike a number of startups, the decision for Blinq to sell wasn’t to reap returns for investors. According to Williams, he and his investors had been recently seeking more venture capital investments when Gannett came along. “For me it felt like the professional opportunity of a lifetime in terms of being able to take the company to this level, sell the company and then be able to execute on a longer term vision we have for the business going forward,” he said.
All Blinq employees are expected to be retained, and Gannett's Williams said the company would likely add new hires.
Blinq is the latest in a string of social ad firms to sell within the past 18 months. Context Optional sold to Efficient Frontier last May, which was then acquired by Adobe in November. Adknowledge picked up AdParlor in November. And Buddy Media bought Brighter Option in February, before Buddy was sold to Salesforce in June.