Much-needed extra revenue for local councils is not the only bonus of running digital ads. Make use of free access to the technology that comes with it to save money on campaigns and much more, says CAN’s Managing Director Lloyd Clark.

Local government is currently being tested in so many ways, with shrinking budgets, stretched services, fewer staff, data consent issues as residents increasingly interact with councils online and on social media, and communicating all this and more in a targeted way that reaches the right people.

Obviously, there’s no magic broom to sweep away all these challenges. But I believe the power of digital technology and smart data – used wisely and for the public good – can help local councils tackle some of them without extra effort or expenditure.

Generating an income from an existing asset with unobtrusive advertising at no cost is ‘a no-brainer’. This revenue could boost service budgets and fund key council campaigns.

But once the relatively simple tech is installed on a website to serve ads, it provides many other benefits for councils beyond this revenue.

Ultra-low-cost campaigns

One great benefit of a local council website having advertising tech is that it can be used free of charge to promote its own campaigns. At CAN, on our Council Advertising Network, we reserve a percentage of ad space on their websites that councils can use as they wish and call these ‘house ads’. All the support needed to run them – in terms of placement, optimisation and reporting – is also free to those on our network.

This means that priority services – like foster care and social work – can be featured in ad spaces across the whole website to residents browsing all sorts of topics. So, there’s less reliance on homepage signposting to get people to take an interest. A big potential saving on marketing and advertising costs is to be had here.

And the ‘house ad’ space could be used to drive take-up of council services online, promoted as an alternative to residents using more expensive channels like face-to-face and phone. No longer relying on getting people to a specific landing page, a garden waste collection service could be promoted to those looking at school application dates, or paying council tax online could be suggested to social housing tenants paying their rent in another part of the website.

Channel shift like this could cut costs for many services – even more so if house ad space was also used to promote sign-up to email marketing and social media accounts as other more direct ways of communicating with residents.

Plug-in free to national initiatives

There are many schemes coming out of central government that council officers know would benefit their residents. But often requests for campaign support at local level go permanently on the ‘to do’ pile with resources so tight.

With advertising technology, local council websites can be plugged into national campaigns free and with no effort – they can simply run in the ‘house ad’ spaces.

This means local councils have recently been able to show their support for campaigns on cervical cancer screening, electoral registration and the Great British Spring Clean, to name just a few.

Above is a screen grab from Bromsgrove District Council showing how our Council Advertising Network iBar feature has been used recently to encourage local people on low incomes to benefit from the Government’s Help to Save scheme.

The iBar can be installed as a fixture at the bottom of each screen, and in this case carries a simple message to direct people to the Government’s scheme webpage to find out which groups are eligible and also to a short pop-up video summary.

From November 2018 to March 2019 the campaign was running on 18 local authority websites and generated more than 4 million impressions. Wokingham Borough Council alone generated more than 1,100 clicks featuring the ad as a leaderboard (see below).

Boost local businesses

Supporting your local economy is also a great bonus of having advertising on your website. The ‘house ad’ space can be used to promote local businesses to a local audience – making it easier for SMEs to take advantage of digital technology to boost their profile, something to which they may otherwise struggle to get access.

Most council websites generate hundreds of thousands of page views each month, reaching local consumers across all demographics. They are also safe environments in which businesses can advertise as their content is strictly controlled – very important when brands are worried about rubbing up against unsuitable news or dodgy images.

Councils could choose to charge businesses in their area for this ad space – making more revenue for their own coffers – or donate it free. They could also choose to promote social enterprises and charities in this way. Again, CAN provides support to run this advertising free of charge to our network partners.

Understand your residents better

Data is the new oil, but local councils are letting it flow away uncaptured. The cost of collecting and managing data so it can be utilised in a meaningful way is one barrier. It can really sting – licensing a data management platform costs upwards of £70,000 a year.

Having advertising technology on a website, however, gives organisations a way of collecting anonymised information on residents free of charge, increasing understanding of their needs.

Useful demographical data from those who clicked on the link to a council service on the website could be used for better service design, for example. And non-personalised data collected from people who clicked on a campaign ad could be used to optimise that current campaign and to target those with similar profiles for later campaigns on similar themes or appealing to a similar social group.

This reduces waste and inefficiency at a time when council teams are under pressure to deliver more effectively and economically.

And with our Council Advertising Network, there’s no need to worry about falling foul of GDPR and other data consent rules. CAN provides a fully compliant consent management tool free of charge to the councils on our network.

At a time when residents often feel they’re getting less value for their council tax, not having advertising on a local council website is hard to justify.

Read more about how advertising really works for local council websites and contact us with your questions.