6 How to build audience and revenue using events As they look beyond advertising and subscriptions for new revenue streams, some publishers are fi nding that organising NEW REVENUE STREAMS NOVEMBER /DECEMBER 2013 events can build audience and increase reader loyalty. The result can be higher revenues. U.S. journalism professor Jake Batsell has found that some news startups earn up to 20 percent of their revenue from events. News startups covering specific niches such as technology or politics are finding the most commercial success in using events, while general-interest publishers are using events to build audience and increase audience loyalty, which also has a positive effect on revenue. At the International Symposium of Online Journalism earlier this year, Batsell summarised the best practices he identified in 100 interviews with more than 20 news organisations: W Designate an event planner. W Seek out sponsors to make money. W Networking is a key attraction for attendees. W Build support in the newsroom. W Provide memorable experiences. W Don’t expect a “golden goose,” a huge revenue generator, “but with an authentic approach, events can produce revenue and audience goodwill – preferably both.” Evaluate the opportunity costs “I think there is an opportunity in just about any market to put together some kind of event that is going to be meaningful to your community, to assemble your community in a way that only you, as a media outlet, can,” Batsell said. Almost every community has key business or cultural groups that can form the basis of an event. Asking the right questions will help you evaluate the opportunity: W Are there leading business communities in your area, such as agricultural, technology, transportation or the media, that you could create an event to serve? W Could you provide these groups an opportunity network? W Do you already have special sections covering these business areas? W Does your community have key cultural dates during the year that you could create an event around? Identifying the most promising business or cultural group or demographic will help you identify sponsorship opportunities and estimate potential income. To be successful with events, Batsell suggests appointing a person who is responsible for the events business. He said, “Ideally, if you have a director of events, that is great, but not everybody can afford that. If your newsroom has a social media manager or community relationships manager, that person might be able to handle events on part-time basis.” In some instances, a journalist or journalists will be involved, to host and/or cover the event. Batsell said when deciding whether to pursue an events-oriented strategy, you should determine the opportunity costs of the staff involved. The opportunity cost is the value of the best opportunity that you have to forego to carry out your event. In other words, does the value, both commercially and editorially, of hosting an event outweigh the value of the staff’s time spent on other activities? Build sponsorships While some event strategies are focused more on building audience numbers, loyalty, or both, most events are developed with a specific commercial goal. For commercial success with events, sponsorships are essential. The bulk of revenue from events is generated by sponsorships, not ticket sales. It is essential to identify clear sponsorship opportunities early, at the project evaluation stage. If you can’t locate enough sponsors, or if sponsors aren’t willing to pay enough to help you earn meaningful revenue from the event, you might either change the type of event or drop it entirely. Batsell says that is why it is essential to have a member of staff whose job, either part-time or full-time, it is to develop the events. “You have to have a point person coordinating these events and seeking sponsorship for these events, because that is really where these events make their money,” he said. “It’s not through ticket sales. It’s through finding a good corporate sponsor who wants to put themselves in front of a demographically desirable audience that a news startup can assemble.” Build newsroom support After analysing your market and weighing the opportunity costs, Batsell said newsroom leaders need to solicit the support of journalists and editors. “There are still many journalists who were trained that journalism and business were separate entities that should never be mixed,” he said. “Of journalists that I encountered at these events, some were very comfortable, more or less serving as emcees at these events and intertwining it with their journalism. Others were not so happy. They saw it as a marketing exercise, and that is not what they signed up for when they went to journalism school. “If I were a news manager of newsroom where there were some sceptics, what I would point out to these journalists is this: ‘Hey, if this can generate more revenue that can save more jobs and pay for more journalism, aren’t we all for that?’ I think some managers are better than others at communicating that goal and underscoring to your staff that being ambassadors for your brand and reaching out to your audience in person is part of the job these days. There may be some resistance to that in the DNA of journalists, but you have to get past that, because it can help feed the journalism.” Batsell found the most financially successful examples were those news organisations that targeted a commercially desirable demographic and gave them opportunities to network. Texas Tribune’s Trib Live Texas Tribune is a non-profit news organisation that provides coverage of state government. It has a number of events, including a regular series called Trib Live, in which Tribune editors and journalists interview newsmakers in front of a live audience. In addition to streaming the video on the Texas Tribune site, it is also streamed on Facebook. It is paid for by a small number of corporate sponsors. “It’s free to the public, but it often produces news content,” Batsell said. “Newsmakers say newsworthy things, and the insiders feel like they have to be there. There are 200 to 250 lobbyists with legislative staff at 7:30 in the morning at the Austin Club, all there convened by the Texas Tribune.” The Texas Tribune makes about 20 percent of its total revenue through events. As a non-profit, the Tribune has a number of sources of revenue and financial support, including foundation support, member contributions and sponsorship. Last year, its revenues were higher than its costs. Mount Pleasant Sun’s Art Walk The Sun newspaper in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, held an Art Walk event in conjunction with the local arts council. The paper set up a satellite newsroom at the event and had staff working there for half-days over several days during the event. It didn’t have corporate sponsors, but it did have a special tabloid advertising section in conjunction with the event. Batsell said events like this were difficult to analyse in terms of success. While it was good for the community, the commercial outcome was more difficult to assess. He said that in cases like this, a careful analysis of the opportunity costs was important in helping news organisations decide whether holding the event was the best use of their resources. While success might be difficult to quantify in every instance, Batsell thinks events can be a key alternative revenue stream for news organisations. “I think that every news organisation needs to explore it, because the opportunities are there,” he said. Report by Kevin Anderson, MDIF Knowledge Bridge www.worldnewspublishingfocus.org The Texas Tribune, a non-profit site specialising in politics, earns 20 percent of its revenue from events.
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