This interview with Steve Hall of Adrants is the first in a What’s Next Blog series of interviews with successful bloggers. Success means different things to different bloggers. A handful have monetized the model with advertising. Others use their blogs as a way to sell their goods and services. Steve Hall is a shining example of a blogger supporting his family and paying the mortgage with blogging. Read on to learn the secrets to Steve Hall’s Adrants success.
Hall started Adrants in early 2002 when he lost his job at an ad agency. Adrants started out as the tits and ass journal of advertising, but has moved beyond that to become a competitor to Adweek and Ad Age and an attractive buy for advertisers. “I live in a nice suburb of Boston and I live comfortably, making more than in my last job. My income from advertising on my blog is on par with the average of the past 10 years of my agency jobs.”
“I used to do Adrant’s ad sales myself but as the site grew and took more of my time, I hired a company called The Laredo Group to do sales and the results have been wonderful. I tried ad networks like BURST! and Fastclick but most of the advertisers in those networks were consumer focused so it didn’t make sense for a business audience.”
Adrants’ growth has been organic. Hall has 6,500 subscribers to his daily emailed Adrants newsletter and gets 30 to 35 newsletter subscribers each business day. The blog gets 20,000 visitors a day and 31,000 page views and, according to Bloglines, 954 subscribers to its RSS feed.
Pointer Number One: Write about what you know and love
Hall was unemployed “just like every other blogger” and was between ad agency jobs. “I followed the old adage,” he says, “write about what you know.”
“I’m 43. I always wondered what I would do when I turned 40. Advertising is very ageistic. There are not many people with gray hair in ad agencies. I never really had a conscious though that I better start a business. I just fell into this. And I love it.”
Many people who write about advertising have never worked in the field. “They can’t drop in little comments, nuance or reference of someone who’s been there. People realize I know what they are going through and that engenders additional trust.”
Pointer Number Two: Be the GO TO blog for your subject
Hall strives to provide ad industry news delivered in a funny manner.
“You can a get a dose of pop culture along with the latest Nielsen net ratings,” he says.
In terms of influence, Adrants traffic is right up there with trades like Adweek and Ad Age.
Pointer Number Three: Post more than a dozen times a day
Hall posts 12 to 15 times a day. He doesn’t have a hard and fast rule, but “If something is going on in industry I will write about it. Because Adrants is a news source, I can’t give a broad enough picture in a day with just a couple of posts.”
His only patterns are summing up Ad Age’s Monday look at new TV spots and looking at the 10 to 12 ads that Amy Corr at Media Post reviews on Wednesday. “I pull stuff from here and she also pulls stuff from me.”
Pointer Number Four: Realize that blogging as a business is a lot of work
Blogging takes way more work than the average person thinks once it becomes a business, Hall says. “I spend a lot of hours on it. I don’t want to be caught with my proverbial pants down and miss something. I Want people to trust to come to Adrants because I found the best content for them.
Blogging is now Hall’s full-time job. He starts at 7 a.m. and tries to get bulk of his posts up by noon and he also blogs throughout the afternoon, generally slowing down after two. He’s back at the keyboard in the evening to make sure he hasn’t missed a big story.
He posts over the weekend but not on a regular basis. Readership takes a nose dive on Saturday and Sunday because Adrants is “for all intents a B2B online magazine read by those who work during the week in advertising.”
Pointer Number Five: Have a professional design your blog
Hall did Adrants’ first four designs himself. When he got serious about running advertising he needed the site to have a more professional look. And he wanted more strength on the back end. He switched to Moveable Type and hired a designer who knew how to make it work smoothly. “You get to a point and you say ‘let’s do this right.’ I have advertisers paying me money. The site has to work properly.”
Pointer Number Six: Use a good stats program
Hall is using Urchin, which gives sessions, and other in-depth information. Advertisers want to see reliable stats.
Pointer Number Seven: Do a daily newsletter
An email newsletter from a popular blog is of interest to advertisers as well as readers. Some click through rates are 50% (or more) higher in the email newsletter than on the site.
Hall has always done a newsletter, and puts out Adrants daily at lunchtime. Some people only look at RSS, he says, some want to be notified and only read email, some only visit the site. The newsletter is just giving readers another choice.
Pointer Number Eight: Run a lot of original content in posts
Adrants’ original content varies from 30 to 60% and are based on press releases; offer opinion on a creative campaign that’s just been released; or report on a viral campaign.
Hall has quite a few people who send him leads that they think he’ll find interesting or that they want him to write about. Google News features Adrants’ posts because they aren’t just a re-hash of someone else’s news. Either they think it’s interesting or they want him to write about it. Hall does aggregate and comment, and aggregation is beneficial to his readers.
Every trade aggregates, he notes. His goal is to read all the trades, scour RSS feeds and pick up 15 great items a day.
Pointer Number Nine: Keep your RSS feed content to a tease
Hall runs headlines and 25 words as a tease. He isn’t serving ads in RSS, but if he did he would serve full posts with ads embedded in the post itself but, as an option, also serve an ad-free feed that was only headline and 25 words. “Gothamist is serving a full post with a banner. That works. I don’t like when people do a feed that’s just an ad. RSS is supposed to guide you to info, not ads.”
Pointer Number Ten: Promote your blog
Hall has been low-key in his promotion. He says he’s sent out one or two press releases, and did an ad swap with Gawker. “The way I look at it,” he says, “my posts are in the organic search results, so I get lots of promotion for my content. That’s a cheap opinion. If I had tons of money would do an ad campaign.”
Pointer Number Eleven: Consider the needs of your advertisers and your readers
If advertisers are paying your mortgage you have to consider them. But readers will go away if they think you cater to advertisers.
Pointer Number Twelve: Consider running a forum in conjunction with your blog
Adrants’ 1853-member Soflow forum is fodder for content on the site because a lot of discussion happens there that is very interesting and Hall can craft together an article about what’s being said.
“What’s pleased me is that conversations have been so intelligent and insightful. These kinds of communities can dissolve into fights and flame wars but that has not happened. The Adrants forum is like Friendster for the ad industry. There is Adholes and a list for ad production people and directors. But there wasn’t one for agency people and marketers, so I started one on Soflow.”
Soflow has plans for a paid model. If you want complete access you’ll have to pay something. The model will be a rev share, with hosts getting a percentage of subscription feeds. “It really takes none of my time,” Hall says. “My involvement is just to get notifications when a new post comes in.”
Hall’s plan for the future? “I would like Adrants to grow to point where, when calling a marketer for a story, I don’t have to explain what Adrants is.”