Working Lunch with Ben Ilfeld

Back Article Jun 1, 2011 By Douglas Curley

Ben Ilfeld thinks a down economy coupled with a decline in print advertising is just what the doctor ordered. He and four other co-founders used the scenario to launch the Sacramento Press online in late 2008.

“In early 2009, when we first started to sell ads, the economy was bad and it didn’t look like things were going to get any better very soon,” Ilfeld says. “To survive, most business owners knew they had to do two things: cut costs and increase their online presence.

“Even if you were a marketing director for a large organization, your boss was telling you to slash your marketing budget by 20 percent or more,” he says. “There was also a general feeling at the time that everyone was turning to the Internet for their news and information.”

The environment formed a perfect scenario for an online newspaper committed to delivering Sacramento neighborhood, community and business news, known as hyperlocal. And while neighborhood activists and local business leaders alike quickly and warmly embraced the young company’s editorial product, there was still the challenge of actually making money. But the Press was no pipe dream. Ilfeld had spent years developing a business model that would turn a profit for the company and supply advertisers with customers.

What’s working for Ilfeld is a three-prong approach: traditional online advertising, social media and participation in the Sacramento Local Online Advertising Network (Sloan).

Unlike most traditional print publications, online advertising is only offered at full price. “We never discount,” he says. “We don’t want to undervalue our own product.”

Through social media, the Press engages in two-way conversations between advertisers and the community it’s trying to reach. “We develop a social media campaign that includes an active content calendar, photos and videos,” Ilfeld says.

Through its collaboration with Sloan, Press advertisers have the opportunity to reach visitors to more than 50 distinct websites throughout the region. “This program provides the kind of numbers traditional media buyers are looking for,” Ilfeld says.

“Our high-touch sales approach is simple: We just try to make a deal that will increase business for the advertiser,” he says. “If it doesn’t work, then quit advertising with us.”

Occupation: Ilfeld, 30, is co-founder and operations manager of Macer Media LLC, the company that produces the Sacramento Press ( Launched from an apartment in late 2008, the online newspaper concentrates on local and hyperlocal news coverage in Sacramento. Today, the company has 24 full-time employees.

Personal: A Sacramento native who grew up in the suburbs, Ilfeld graduated from the University of Rochester with a bachelor’s in economics and political science. It was during his tenure on the East Coast that Ilfeld realized there was no good online source for community news on his hometown. He now resides in midtown Sacramento.

Geeks: To make the Sacramento Press stand out in the growing online world, Ilfeld and his four co-founders set out to build a custom, one-of-a-kind content management system. “My passion is the news side, but the other four are software-writing geeks,” he says. “We didn’t grab something off the shelf; we developed a unique software program.”

Lunch: At Red Lotus, one of his favorite midtown hangouts, Ilfeld enjoys braised oxtail chow fun with thick rice noodles, yellow onion, bean sprouts and crispy garlic, “even though my Mom thinks I’ll get mad cow disease.”

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