Don't Leave Advertising Dollars on the Table

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As association publishers continue to struggle with shrinking ad revenue, here are some ideas on maximizing non-dues revenue, including the importance of bringing your stakeholders together to find solutions that benefit everyone.

By Jean Christofferson

It started with a simple question: "Why do our advertisers buy space with us in the first place?” The answer: "Because we (associations) have the audience they want. Seems simple, right? But what's not simple is the path to getting the right advertisers in front of the right audience in the right format.

We're living proof: Association publishers continue to struggle with shrinking ad revenue. It was a major theme at this year's Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting.

In his presentation at Annual Meeting, Sean Soth, co-founder of Webvent Content Networks, gave the example of a client who brought in 50 percent of its revenue from recruiting ads just a few short years ago. Luckily, the client was able to rebound after LinkedIn and other online outlets knocked recruitment advertising out of the equation. And now, that same client is being challenged by mergers and acquisitions that have shrunk the pool of potential advertisers nearly in half.

With shrinking pools of advertisers, a decline in print advertising revenue, advertisers becoming their own content marketers, and the abundance of media outlets, what can associations do to maximize advertising revenue?

Marketplace Economics

WorldatWork, a non-profit association for total rewards and HR professionals, went from selling ads to 10 large consulting firms eight years ago, to three large firms due to mergers and acquisitions. Talk to any attendee at this year's Annual Meeting and you'll hear the same story.

In addition, read any article about publishing today, and you're likely to hear about the "death of print. While publishers are investing more into digital advertising options, the price for digital advertising doesn't match that of previously robust print revenue.

According to the June 2015 "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the future of magazine publishing remains challenging because digital revenue barely counteracts the declines in print. And despite the investment in digital publishing, the report states that print remains most magazine companies primary source of revenue.

In addition, post-recession advertisers are still conservative in their spending on advertising. While the economy has grown, advertising revenue hasn't kept pace.

Profit-Margin Performance

Boosting media sales and trimming away those products that provide little value is more than just evaluating the association's portfolio.

Soth suggests getting back to basics to maximize revenue dollars. "Know your break-even, he said. In other words, association publishers need to know how much it costs to produce the magazine or newsletter. This provides a baseline for how much revenue the company needs to at least break even.

He also suggests that association publishers evaluate profit-busting activity. "We've all been asked to sell a survey that's buried deep on the website, right? Reassess the strategy behind selling this. If it's important, why is it buried? If it's not, maybe it doesn't make sense to seek sponsorship.

Cross-selling is also a great way to increase profits. For example, if the customer purchases sponsorship of a newsletter to a particular targeted audience, look at the portfolio of other products that may appeal based on that targeted audience such as videos, podcasts, events, sponsored content, etc.

Finally, Soth points out that internal stakeholders need to work together. Get all the stakeholders in the room including advertising sales, editorial, marketing, and market research. What are the top problems that association members are having? What can really make a difference to the audience and the advertising customer?

WorldatWork, for example, has started an ongoing series of stakeholder meetings to analyse where the association is falling short in print and digital. So far, the multidisciplinary team has uncovered several areas where the association is not offering what its customers are demanding, and it is developing tactics to remedy the shortfall.

Advertising revenue has become a top concern not only for traditionally invested advertising sales teams, but for editorial, marketing, and the association board as well. Now is the time to assess the associations portfolio and bring teams together to work toward the common goal of increasing non-dues revenue.

Jean Christofferson is managing editor at WorldatWork in Scottsdale, Ariz. Follow her on Twitter @queenofediting. Association Media & Publishing thanks Jean for covering this Annual Meeting session for those unable to attend.

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