How Associations Generate Revenue from Digital Media

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If going digital is part of your association’s strategy, here’s some firsthand advice from the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, which turned its flagship print publication into a completely online product — and discovered through trial-and-error how to maintain and grow its advertising revenue.

By Helen Feeser

How do most associations boost revenue? Is it pushing for additional conference registrations? Acquiring new dues-paying members?

At AM&P’s November 18, 2015 Lunch & Learn, Jay Haroon, senior director of business development for the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS), shared how his organization turned to a not-so-traditional approach to generate additional revenue: selling digital ad space.

Presenting in tandem with Shannon Reid of Network Media Partners on "How to Generate Revenue from Digital Media,” Haroon started by addressing RAPS’ reason for transitioning to digital. "We needed to get the best content to our members in the most efficient way,” he said.

This value proposition paved the way for its flagship publication, Regulatory Focus, once a 40-page print magazine, to go 100-percent online in 2012. Unlike RAPS’ transition to digital, which occurred in less than six months, Haroon suggested taking the extra time to map out and effectively communicate the change to members as opposed to the "ripping off the Band-Aid” method his organization took.

Adjusting Your Strategy

But communicating change and getting content online is only half the battle. Managing digital ads successfully requires an adjustment in the strategic marketing approach as well.

In his November 18, 2015 Sidebar article, "Why You Should Manage Digital Ad Sales Differently from Print,” J.T. Hroncich, president of AdBoom Advertising, explains that digital ads hold the marketer more accountable. Advertisers "have greater transparency into their investment, and they can see the value that an impression or click provides,” he says.

Reid and Haroon’s experiences support this belief. They offered two critical suggestions to help guide their strategies to those who may be looking to start selling digital ad space: (1) Know your pricing structure and (2) measure performance.

Developing a Pricing Structure

RAPS attributed a 40-percent drop in ad revenue at the beginning of its digital transition to an ill-conceived pricing structure. Coupled with discounted rates for long-time print advertisers that were carried over, this meant advertisers were paying less than market value for space.

Reid recommended that organizations do their homework by looking at competitors’ pricing structures as one way to avoid initial loss.

It is important to understand that it is a two-way street. Associations must not undervalue themselves but instead recognize they have something to offer advertisers in return: their loyal niche audience. When RAPS made this realization, it adjusted its pricing and sales structure and has since seen a 30-percent increase in ad revenue.

Using Metrics to Show ROI

The best way to justify a higher pricing structure is to demonstrate the value of your publication and its audience. While print ads rely on reader subscription data, in the digital space, advertisers expect to see data to show their ROI. Metrics show advertisers upfront what they can expect.

Page views and time spent on a site are metrics that speak well to advertisers. According to Reid, looking at the two together is important. For example, having 1,000 five-second page views differs from 200 five-minute page views. Depending on the advertiser’s goals, either can speak volumes.

To help boost these numbers and provide data that satisfies advertisers, metrics should be incorporated into your organization’s ongoing strategy. By publishing and pushing daily and weekly email updates, RAPS can gently nudge subscribers to the magazine portion of its site and increase page views.

Determining if Digital is Right for Your Organization

While this approach worked well for RAPS, going digital is not for every association. It is important to figure out if members are attached to the print publication, Reid explained. In RAPS’s case, the association surveyed its members to help make this decision.

So how do you decide if digital is right for your organization? You might start by asking these questions:

  1. Do your members place a high value on receiving the print publication?
  2. How will you tell your members about the transition to digital?
  3. What’s the best pricing structure for you?
  4. What value does your audience hold for advertisers — and how can you best leverage that?
  5. What metrics will you use to demonstrate and communicate ROI?

If your organization does decide to go digital, it will require adjustments along the way. No big change will ever occur without hiccups, but preparing for those challenges ahead of time puts your organization in the best position to profit in the long run.

Helen Feeser is the marketing optimization assistant for the Public Affairs Council, a leading association for public affairs professionals. Association Media & Publishing truly appreciates her volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.


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