How Local Media Earn Extra Through Events

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 26:  Newspapers are displayed at a newsstand October 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California. A report
SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 26: Newspapers are displayed at a newsstand October 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California. A report by the Audit Bureau of Circulations reveals that the average daily circulation of U.S. newspapers fell 10.6 percent in the six month period between April-September compared to one year ago. The San Francisco Chronicle had the largest decline with a drop of 25.8 percent to 251,782. The Wall Street Journal surpassed USA Today as the number one selling paper in the U.S. after USA Today had its circulation drop more than 17 percent to 1.90 million. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Local and regional media houses are using their events strategies to earn extra revenue and build their brands. Is this alternative profit generator worth closer consideration from struggling news outlets?

Here are some things you might not know about editorial events:

The Economist has a global operation devoted to organizing conferences that pulled in £10 million last year.

The Chicago Tribune will produce more than 100 events this year, with up to four happening in a week.

Swedish regional newspaper Norran was able to double sponsorship revenue from one client through events.

Philadelphia startup Technically Media generated 40 percent of its revenue from events this year, up from only 12 percent last year.

Commercial Benefits to Reaching Out

In a recent look at efforts of news organisations to extract revenue from audience engagement, I highlighted one use case focusing on events from Swedish regional newspaper Norran. The paper's former editor-in-chief Anette Novak (@anettenovak) expanded on that for this post, explaining that she saw an editorial events department as "one of the units within a media house that has the best chance at growing its revenues."

Anette's Novak's three major benefits of hosting editorial events
1) Brand building

2) Relationship building (both with private and business clients)

3) Staff training (if you are used to meeting crowds, talking in public, you are less prone to sitting in the newsroom -- it's out in the streets that we find the news)

The events Norran hosts are very community-focused and perhaps a bit unorthodox, including "love-bombing" schools in the area with sports equipment -- "to make 'la rentrée' a little bit more fun," and inviting local hockey teams to teach the immigrant community how to skate. They form a strong component of Norran's larger strategy to offer what Novak says Google and Facebook never will, the nice-neighbor or girl-next-door relationship with readers.

We changed our vision in 2009; the old one was that we should always be first with the latest news from the local scene. Now it says that Norran connects people and ideas and together we strengthen the region.

An Extension of Publishing

For paid daily Chicago Tribune, events offer an opportunity to better engage with their readers and "have a connection that goes far beyond the written page, the website or the mobile app," Joycelyn Winnecke, the paper's vice president and associate editor, explained to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

In 2010, the Tribune launched Trib Nation, an events unit similar to The Economist Conferences but actually run out of the newsroom, which organizes everything from intimate author talks to the stage show Chicago Live broadcast on the radio. Much like Norran's ice skating lessons that provide a service aiming to improve the lives of it readers, the Tribune has a series of workshops under the TribU name, on topics like the art of growing blog readership, or the basics of Twitter. There are five different event series in all organized under Trib Nation, the full list can be found in an article on INMA by Winnecke.

"We really see this an extension of our journalism and as a new platform for 'publishing,'" Winnecke told WAN-IFRA.

This extension of journalism is not only effective at engaging readers, attendees consistently say they find the programs enriching and appreciate the Tribune for hosting them, shares Winnecke, it also provides parallel revenue to the traditional advertising + circulation model. Just as ads run in the newspaper and readers buy the paper, so do sponsors support the events and attendees pay for tickets. Perhaps most encouraging of all, Trib Nation is a profitable business, with an expected revenue in the high seven figures for this year.

The Value in Taking Online Conversations Offline

Technically Media, the technology news startup founded in 2008 by three graduates from Temple University, has an unexpected approach to generating revenue, considering its focus on tech communities in Baltimore and Philadelphia. I spoke with Brian James Kirk (@brianjameskirk), a co-founder at Technically Media, who explained that in a search for revenue models, the online publisher learned quickly that display advertising was not what resonated with sponsors or customers. "In such a web-connected world, people want real-life experiences, connections, and introductions," Kirk shared. And thus a strategy emerged around organizing conferences to connect corporate sponsors with local entrepreneurs, beginning with Philly Tech Week in 2011.

In a recent Nieman Lab article by Adrienne LaFrance (@AdrienneLaF), Kirk estimated that event revenue accounted for about 40 percent of the startup's annual total, and was the primary factor in making it a profitable business. When asked if there was something particularly unique or innovative about Technically Media's offer to sponsors, Kirk responded "we love that we can very clearly point a sponsor to its impact on growing those connections [in the tech community on-the-ground]."

Apart from the typical branding that comes with any event sponsorship, the startup's two websites (Technically Philly and Technically Baltimore) also offer an added editorial impact through their coverage of the local events. And so Kirk has found a model he thinks attracts sponsors precisely because they "understand that they are supporting a journalistic enterprise that shines a spotlight on the community."

From Local Startups to International Publishers, Events Are Working

While news media worldwide struggle to adapt their business models and innovate to fill the gap left from declining print advertising and insufficient online advertising, a diverse array of old and young media outlets have found a viable strategy in organizing events. The types of events differ along with the media who host them: The Economist organizes prestigious conferences full of thought leaders with high ticket prices, regional newspaper Norran hosts skating classes for immigrant communities, metro daily Chicago Tribune arranges "conversations about the future," and online publisher Technically Media hosts free-to-attend events to spotlight the local tech scene. What's more, the benefits cited by these media go beyond simple revenue to actually improving their core product. As Winnecke puts it, "it really brings the reader deeper into the process and ultimately makes our journalism more relevant."

However, organizing events does not generally fall into the average editor's skill set, and clearly the task takes a considerable amount of time. So, it is important for media to determine whether the advantages of an events strategy (monetary or not) are sufficient to justify the costs in time and manpower. The editorial team must have sufficient support from the commercial side for marketing and sales if events are to be successful, and staff enthusiasm is essential.