Sponsored and Premium Content and Customer Data Fuel New Revenue Streams

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“Where we’ve really seen some stabilization is in becoming a digital-first publisher,” said Jeff Sauls, SVP of business development for American City Business Journals, during a recent session at BIMS titled Revenue Is King: Understanding the Real Moneymakers in a New Marketplace. “Digital for us certainly drives users to the site, about 15 million unique visitors a month. But then we cultivate those into… premium customers.”

Sauls said that they are “seeing strong growth this year in premium subscribers which has been refreshing. We charge the same price if you get us in print. You still like the long form of print or you want to view us digitally, you sync those accounts, and it’s the same price. We’re looking at models to maybe change that down the road. But for now that’s kind of working for us.”

They’ve had success this year informing people, “who sometimes think they’re a subscriber because they’re on the site and get a newsletter from us for free, that there is a paywall,” he said. “That there is meaningful content behind the paywall—that’s really helped us this year in that piece of the business.”

In terms of revenue, “[premium] print is still probably 20% of our business,” Sauls said. “Events is about 30%, one of the fastest growing parts. Digital and print advertising make up the rest.”

Here are six revenue drivers from speakers in this session:

1. Explore sponsored content. "We now produce more positions for native advertising than for banners on our website," said David Steifman, VP and group publisher, Haymarket Media Group. "MediaRadar reported that more than 875 brands purchased native advertising just in October on 100 different sites. That's a 22% increase in native from May to October. For now, it's here to stay. If you haven't rolled out native yet, you should pay attention to it." (Sauls said that ACBJ is still "editorially approving" native. "It has to be about the topic and not the company. We're starting to get a little more flexible.")

2. Even with native, update your sites and stay fresh. "[It's about] giving good information to your audience," Steifman said. "Seventy percent of consumers are interested to learn about products through content vs. traditional ads." Just be sure to follow the FTC guidelines, he advised. Build placement on your sites for native—and change it often. "Ours are not all running at the same time."

3. Use data to propel your business sectors. "We're using data to fuel our marketing services division," said Constance Sayers, president of Atlantic Media's Government Executive Media Group, which reaches 1.2 million public service sectors. "We wanted to study what was important to government buyers when they're making key purchases. We ranked 65 advertisers against those trends." This led to their being commissioned to do brand studies. "When clients know that you have the data, they want it. You can then have user conferences—or new data conferences—and advise them on their content strategy." These new revenue strands allowed Government Executive Media Group to cease their print publication last year and still see 33% year-to-year growth. Sayers said it's the best thing they ever did because it allowed them to focus on what was truly important.

4. Stay open to different content forms. "We're also seeing a lot of growth in the marketing services we're offering," said Steifman. "Blogs and Q&A video are a big part of our native now. You'll see new iterations and strategies of native serving the right content to the right user based on what the client's mission is." Haymarket's cyber security-focused SC Media brand, which Steifman manages, launched a new website this month that is less content-heavy.

5. Report more, and gather more, on people. People columns have allowed American City Business Journals to build a large, user-generated database of content, said Sauls. Each of ACBJ's journals encourages readers to share their information. They now have more than 500,000 user-generated people profiles. "Subscriptions give you the ability to mine this data. It's easy to drill down for new hires, promotions, board appointees, professional recognition. Users can then sort that information by—person, industry, college..."

6. Get better leads. "It feels like we're on the never-ending clown car of leads," said Sayers, speaking about marketers who seek quantity over quality. "We've gotten very careful. Our goal is to try to get smarter. We're working with clients to nurture the leads [we get]." Added Sauls: "We're taking those [kind of] leads to our events business."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…