Blog Index

Part 1: Emerging practices from revenue forum bundle local and niche publisher secrets for success

Emerging practices across revenue streams

Sustainable Journalism Forum -- Visit Page for Day 2

Check out some of the participants who joined in to share their take. The sum of the parts offered in this emerging practices module surfacing over two days of top notch conversation.

Click on a headline to see the comment in context of the full conversation. Want to see more comments from a particular participant, see a person’s website, or follow them on Twitter? Each name links you to that person’s JA profile, with background info, expertise and ways to connect.

Also check out How-tos of Business Basics, culled from the same two-day forum, Philosophical Discussions in the thread and Quoteable Moments for a chuckle or a moment of inspiration.

Revenue streams topic index

Advertising: Beyond the basics

Mix ads with other
We pursue (1) Advertising – it’s the gateway for small business (2) Sponsorships – medium companies and organizations can sponsor entire content channels such as Environment; (3) Ancillary business services, principally photography and websites (two things we’re already doing to publish the news site). Key insight: one revenue stream alone will not support your hyperlocal. – Hal Goodtree, Cary Citizen

Offer many options
We are getting much better and offering integrated programs for our underwriters. Sponsorship of events, online branding, sponsorship of tweetchats, branding on special reports, invitations to private dinners. That provides greater value. We also do most of our business in annual programs, rather than monthly. That gives us money up front and also more time to work with the underwriter to make sure we provide value. – Bob Buderi, Xconomy

Sell site-wide
We have taken a broad approach offering categorical sponsorship, sitewide underwriting as well as a more traditional “banner ad” type product. – Andy Dragt, The Rapidian

Define your own terms
We sell fixed placements, not impressions for our ads—we don’t promise CT etc. – Susan Mernit, Oakland Local

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Advertising: Building relationships

Sell community, not click-throughs
I tell them that they’re connecting with a dedicated group of people who live and work in the area who will appreciate their support a local media outlet. It becomes an issue of getting them out of the “numbers” game and into one that show them how community will help them in the long run. – Andre Natta, The Terminal

Learn what they know
We find our advertisers are unsophisticated about traffic, for the most part, but care about click through and shared values. – Susan Mernit, Oakland Local

Ask your advertisers to advertise you
We’ve asked our advertisers to include the subdirectory url for their local shopping site in any print advertising they do for now. That gets them exposure to their products and it gets us exposure – Emily Lowrey, Magic City Post

Match your mission
If we run a story on a corrupt sanitation official there is a good chance he has family members who own or work at various business in the city. Given this, we did not take ads from any local advertisers… What changed is that we over the past four years we have developed a reputation for getting our stories right…we don’t just take an ad from anyone with money. They have to be people who support the mission of the site. – Robert Cox, Talk of the Sound

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Advertising: In-house or outsource?

We are part of the IDG ad network. They sell the ads and take a big cut. We rarely sell direct…it is hard to justify the time of the sales staff for the return. – Bob Buderi, Xconomy

I currently use Google Adsense. In the past I have learned that you need a certain level of traffic before selling ads directly. – Brian R. Hook, B.R. Hook Consulting

Local Yokel
Local Yokel is competing against Google AdSense and pays us monthly based on impressions. What has been good for us is that they are serving up ads from national companies like Hyatt, GM, McDonalds and so forth. When we put them on our site and local businesses saw those ads we started getting calls asking about how to advertise on Talk of the Sound. – Robert Cox, Talk of the Sound

Buy Sell Ads
I am familiar (and use) Buy Sell Ads – and they take 25%. We have been very happy with the process/app though, particularly and pleasantly surprised how advertisers keep allowing the automatic re-up. – Jeff Lennan, Red Hot Penguin

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Advertising: Targeting

Ads can create credibility
Relevant ads create credibility with your readers – like it or not. I also would add that readers enjoy and appreciate useful advertising – emphasis on useful, as they define it. – Joe Michaud, business consultant

But you need big numbers
You can do the math pretty easily and see how hard it would be to sell a slice of your audience for a premium. For smaller sites, demographic information is most valuable to tell the story of who your audience is. Good information helps support your pricing. – Joe Michaud, business consultant

Or go niche
It is just very very hard to monetize traffic. I think small publishers have to accept that fact and work to build instead an elite audience, or very specialized audience. And then you can show underwriters and sponsors that you have a fantastic audience that they want to reach–and they are willing to pay a fair price for that. – Bob Buderi, Xconomy

Don’t bother with banners
This is an idea I’m looking at implementing. – Ikaika Hussey, The Hawaii Independent

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Advertising: What’s the worth?

Question your assumptions
Too many publishers assume that because advertising has been a part of the revenue to support news mix before that it will continue to do so. Even sites with large numbers – i.e. HuffPo & YouTube – have found it hard to capture significant premium revenues from display. – Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network

Know audience expectations
Advertisers are often local people who sell things to local people. Not having advertisers on your site is a gap. – Rusty Coats, Coats2Coats

Know trends in the field
I am not suggesting that sites – especially hyper local sites not pursue advertising for this very reason. What I DO think that publishers need to be aware of is a) that there are a number of well financed competitors that are fighting for local advertising dollars (both traditionally and non traditionally) and that b) that as a result local businesses are getting more sophisticated and c) its going to increasingly be a dogfight so be prepared to tackle this revenue stream wholeheartedly, with dedicated resources and a good plan of attack. – Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network

Focus on yield
Sponsorships of over $6,000 and large grants of over $50,000 are *most* worth the effort, but they’re harder to come by. The biggest issue with local ads is cost of sales, so we try to have a very affordable offer and sell 3 months or more at a time. – Susan Mernit, Oakland Local

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Community engagement

How to measure it
When you’re confident you can walk into almost any establishment and shout “Hey, raise your hand if you’ve read Sheepshead Bites?” and two out of three hands go up, you’re doing just fine. – Ned Berke, Sheepshead Bites

Content from your community
Gathering content from our audience (through the Public Insight Network — and our partnership with the Miami Herald accounts for a good three quarters of our content. – Dan Grech, WLRN

Content can build community
We recently wrote an article about the new medical director at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon — which concerned the future of nurse practitioners and physician assistants — that story has generated more readers virtually on its own. I believe that stories such as this can create a larger untapped audience — and have lasting appeal — because those same people will now look at our site for what else we produce. – Diane Lund, The Lund Report

The Chamber community
One of the best investments any news startup can make is joining their local chamber of commerce. The newsmakers of the community are usually very active and new businesses looking to grow their customer base (advertising prospects) are there as well. Time (and money) spent at networking events gives you a chance to cast your vision to people you might not normally meet. You wont get any return on this investment if you dont show up to as many events as you can, however. – John Garrett, Community Impact Newspaper

The civic community
By design, we launched in 2008 with absolutely zero promotion. We just started posting stories and waiting to see how people would react. I began to attend every community meeting I could find — neighborhood associations, civic groups, government meetings. I also began walking a great deal in our downtown, meeting people, stopping in stores, introducing myself, handing out my card. Not only did I make a lot of contacts and build readership but I lost weight too. – Robert Cox, Talk of the Sound

Capture offline life online
Rolling out new features each month indicates an active area that understands the desire of the community to engage online in like manner that it does in real life. How many restaurants have held a video cookoff with the Grand Prize featuring the winner on its menu for a week? – Mike Green, media innovator

Turn on the video
Beyond revenue, customer video deepens engagement on our platforms from an audience perspective. – Emily Lowrey, Magic City Post

Tools to try
phpfox as a platform to experiment with building hyperlocal community engagement platforms…also see… – Mike Green, media innovator

Respond and engage
We always thank our fans for retweeting and mentioning us, and we respond to their comments on facebook too. – Emily Lowrey, Magic City Post

Engage and fundraise
We will be starting the educational week of our social media fund drive on April 16. Check out our website then. Has anyone else tried this approach? – Carol Shirey, Grand Rapids Community Media Center

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See what others offer
We borrowed the idea from Ben Ilfeld at Sac Press: we can help clients with their FB pages, twitter, metrics, marketing for an event–with a different team than does the reporting, obviously. – Susan Mernit, Oakland Local

Social media savvy
We have found…that many small business do not have a web site at all…We offer a package where for $1,000 we will reserve their domain, set up a basic wordpress site and then connect Facebook, Twitter, et al and get them started. Included in that is a one month ad in a secondary position on the site. We have sold over a dozen of these in the past year and several then became regular advertisers. – Robert Cox, Talk of the Sound

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Content sales

Believe your work is worth money
The movement of nonprofit investigative sites over the past four years began with all of us giving it away. We came to the obvious conclusion in the summer of 2010–18 months into our venture–that giving anything away is not a business model but rather a road to bankruptcy. We began talking with editors across Massachusetts, explained that we were planning on launching an investigative reporting subscription service and we put a value on our stories. They all agreed to pay–on a sliding scale. In 2011, our revenue from content sales was about $80K. We launched the service with foundation underwriting and we believe, over the next two years, we can keep it profitable at that level and more as we go forward. – Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Own the story
The key to monetizing deep content is to own the master narrative. That is, become the voice of authority (through your coverage, of course) on a subject matter – and work diligently to hone that subject matter so that it isn’t too horizontal. Deep coverage is vertical. Readers and underwriters appreciate the focus – and that helps weed out who is NOT your audience or underwriter community. – Rusty Coats, Coats2Coats

Content v. traffic
It just seems near impossible for a small site to charge for its content, unless it is premium reports, that kind of thing. You might be able to do it if you are really specialized, but then you won’t be able to charge much, usually–and you will undercut traffic and make it harder for other revenue sources to work. – Bob Buderi, Xconomy

Create a research arm
We’ve explored the possibility of doing research for hire but as we’ve discussed it in great detail we became concerned about the ethical landmines and the impact on our own brand. We’re still exploring and hope to reach a consensus on a client who we’d be comfortable working with. – Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Find a print partner
We have a great relationship with an online only partner We publish some of their content in a weekly column in The Oregonian newspaper. The column is about openings and closings in the neighborhood retail world (a storefront piece). In print they essentially become a freelancer and we pay them for that. We don’t put the column online at all. Then NeighborhoodNotes republishes all their material at the end of the month for their own business roundup post (which they’ve been doing since before this arrangement). When they post their content, we excerpt a small bit online and link back to them through the ONN network model. It’s a full circle. We are able to pay them for work that they are going to do anyway. And we work within a freelance framework in terms of budget and workflow on our end, which is much more predictable for us in terms of estimating our own ROI. I’d like to see if we can expand this model to other partners. – Cornelius Swart, Oregonian News Network

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Rule #1: Ask
“Please support our site” is less resonant than “No one covers BLANK more than, and here’s why: Example, example, voice of other supporter, testimonial, award.” – Rusty Coats, Coats2Coats

Rule #2: Let people know the many ways they can help
More folks may want to pay than we realize but perhaps we need to let them know of the many ways they can support us. They could be the voice that convinces a business to advertise on the site or sponsor an event… we added a donation button in the sidebar…It’s surprising when folks find out just how easy it can be to give and support…There are more click-throughs than donations though. – Andre Natta, The Terminal

Track donations closely
Implement a CRM tool and load it with your donors, just as you’d add your underwriters or advertisers. It’s a good way of growing the business and keeping your donors loved – you know when to touch them, what their interests are, etc. Bonus: There are free CRM tools… If you Google “CRM Evaluation Checklist” you’ll get a great head start.
Rusty Coats, Coats2Coats

Even rare readers might contribute
In many cases we see customers who are not regular readers of our member organization’s content support them without reading or viewing their content regularly. This also speaks to the need of having a clear and authentic view on a market and the ability to articulate your value accordingly. – Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network

Thank publicly. It’s cheap!
Even some of our critics now give us donations — we don’t publish their names but may start offering this as an option. – Diane Lund, The Lund Report

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Keep them casual
We’re planning a meeting down at our local brewery for our most active fans in the next month, and we’re going to buy them a beer and talk about content and what they’d like to see. The most popular ‘events’ we’ve had so far are: Cash Mobs (getting everyone to shop the same business on the same day to get them an infusion of cash), tweet ups and one big one – we booked the Alabama Shakes to play our launch party about a week before they hit it big. We just loved them, but we’ve been able to share in that love of them with our local fan base who came to the party for free… In terms of social media, we always thank our fans for retweeting and mentioning us, and we respond to their comments on facebook too. – Emily Lowrey, Magic City Post

Use them to raise cash
Several local bars asked us to do fundraisers there — organize events and either get booze companies to give cases away or the business itself gives us a portion of the take from the bar that night. We’re even doing them for the Kickstarter — they just pledge the money instead of cutting us a check. – Jeremy Sapienza, BrooklynBK

Get your message right
Events can be a great way of getting people together and then asking them to support your efforts – rather than charging admission. – Rusty Coats, Coats2Coats

Track attendance for advertisers
We’re about to relaunch our #bhamchat hashtag in some interesting ways and push for a monthly happy hour-type event. We’ve seen the largest bumps in our traffic leading up to the event and sustained increases in followers and supporters – currently much more than what we see in terms of an increase in advertisers. I’m hoping I’ll be able to demonstrate to potential advertisers/supporters the type of community that surrounds the site by letting them see who shows up to the events. – Andre Natta, The Terminal

Get event sponsors
Events are also great sponsorship opportunities. – David Hirschman, Street Fight

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Giveaways, contests & schwag

Not worth the investment
We shy away from giveaways & contests. Both are good marketing opportunities, but can require significant cash and time. Wish I could give away 10,000 t-shirts. Not going to happen this year. – Hal Goodtree, Cary Citizen

Partner and save $
Not so much cash if others pay for the giveaways and co-brand them or even are offered as premiums, such as the npr model…Also there are some giveaways that are really cheap. Solar powered wordprocesser, i.e. pencil… Had a calligrapher do something that could be xeroxed on parchment suitable for framing (and framed for high value donors). – Beth Wellington, journalist and community organizer

What advertises you?
We’ve had more success attempting to sell t-shirts to the folks in our community. They feel as though they’re helping us get the word out while supporting us financially at the same time. – Andre Natta, The Terminal

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Memberships & subscriptions

For membership, become a nonprofit
You need to go through the laborious task of becoming a non profit.
Many 501c3 designations for journalism sites are on hold at the moment by the IRS. That doesn’t mean, however, that it can’t be done. – Brian R. Hook, B.R. Hook Consulting

Make your pitch
We are…going to try and encourage our readers to pay an annual membership fee — right now the majority of our funding does come from our readership — it varies anywhere between $25-$500 with the average contribution around $100 — if everyone gave us such a contribution every year, we’d have no problem maintaining our site and hiring qualified journalists — but convincing people to pay isn’t that easy to do. – Diane Lund, The Lund Report

Know your goal
We have an established member-supported business model, which means that people are generally tolerant of us going on air and begging for money. It’s important to keep in mind that we have a low conversion rate: just 10 percent of our listeners become members. And our audience numbers go through the floor during pledge. But despite this, our business model has proven quite recession resistant. Membership numbers and donations actually have gone up during the current economic crisis, in part because I think listeners value our service even more in a time of economic uncertainty and media retrenchment. And this membership model is really well suited to the social web. – Dan Grech, WLRN

Make some stuff subscription
News is the freemium content, but if I want access to the premium stuff I have to subscribe to get: Daily local deals, live online audience Q&A in the Ask the Mayor (Superintendent, Editor, etc) weekly forum (see, access to the weekly video yard sales, vote and comment on the weekly $100 Talent Showcase, access to local innovative ideas and events, local blogs by subject matter experts, video letters to the editor … and more. Subscriptions tell local advertisers that users are paying to engage in parts of the platform. And local merchants can participate in the rotation of locales where the weekly Man on the Street interviews (or Woman) occur and the daily deals … and more. – Mike Green, media innovator

Subscriptions buy more than content
We’re reincorporating as a for-profit co-op so that we can sell shares without dealing with the securities process. Our team is approaching core readers and asking them to purchase subscriptions and stock in the company; subscribers get discounts at local advertisers and ability to recommend stories, and shareholders get a share of profits. – Ikaika Hussey, Hawaii Independent

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Who shares your audience?
Different niche subjects lend themselves to different monetization strategies, I think. If you’re a local health blog, it may make sense to partner with a bunch of local hospitals to start a wellness affinity program or something, where people pay an annual fee for special benefits or discounts… – David Hirschman, Street Fight

Land a university home
Here’s my advice for news sites seeking university affiliation: assess your landscape, draw up a proposal indicating what you’ll need in terms of resources and spelling out what you’ll be bringing to the table. Then negotiate for the best deal. – Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

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Think brand
We chose to be based at Boston University for several reasons. It is the strongest journalism program in Boston and the students here can be a terrific resource for assisting us with story research. But, as it turns out, the university provided us a platform for revenue generation that we never anticipated. The Boston University brand is a very strong one and provides us a brand through which we can create and market our training programs. Those training programs now account for about 25 per cent of our revenue and we anticipate that growing substantially. – Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Serve the next generation
We see the most growth potential in our training for high school students. It started 3 years ago with a $15K gross, grew to $110K gross last year and we expect to bump that up over $150K this year. The international program has room to grow but because most foreign journalists can’t afford $4-5K (including travel), we need to move towards marketing to major media outlets internationally rather than to individuals. We’re working on that. – Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Get training grants
We do funded training for local non-profits and small community groups–but we also do training ourselves that we charge for–small bits of $$ usually. We also partner with the local Small Business Development center and do training with them–we have quite a local reputation now, but the price points are low. $35-75 per call. – Susan Mernit, Oakland Local

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Underwriting defined
Here is a simple outline of advertising vs. underwriting There are many, but I use this one, because it’s from a community radio station in Hawaii, so it’s like a learning vacation. Coats, Coats2Coats

Why that’s important
A key point for nonprofit publishers specifically is understanding the nuanced implications of the differences between advertising and underwriting as the IRS see it. Simply put, any promise of performance – i.e. x number of click throughs or impressions, is advertising and MAY be considered by the IRS as unrelated business income. Display space “thanking” an “underwriter” for their support – a la NPR – should be permissible. – Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network

Create custom buy opportunities
We try to slice and dice our content and offerings in ways that appeal to underwriters and advertisers. So, Xconomy has six city/regional sites: Boston, New York, Detroit, SF, Seattle, and San Diego. Underwriters can support a city, but they can also choose to support a channel: Life Sciences, Health IT, Startups, and Cleantech. Further, they can support multiple cities or multiple channels, with ever bigger discounts for ever bigger deals. – Bob Buderi, Xconomy

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