By: Stewart Wills
The last nonprofit I worked for had the lofty goal of advancing science for the benefit of all people. But, although fully invested in those aims, the CEO also had a mantra: "No money, no mission.” And for those of us on the editorial side of the house, the need to support both our organization’s mission and its revenue goals has indeed sharpened the incentives to think creatively about launching sponsored-content opportunities with our ad sales colleagues —while still maintaining brand value.
In a terrific talk on the last day of AM&P’s 2016 Annual Meeting, Sarah Loeffler, director of Custom Media for the PMMI Media Group, offered a wealth of ideas on how to do just that.
A Few Tweaks
Loeffler joined PMMI, after its 2014 acquisition of Summit Media Group — a merger that formed the subject of the 2016 AM&P Annual Meeting’s kickoff plenary session. Putting those event- and content-marketing-driven cultures together, she admitted, sounds "kind of strange.” But it’s enabled PMMI to develop a portfolio of custom-publishing ideas for its 700-plus industry members that goes well beyond advertorials.
In addition to the desire to find new non-dues revenue sources, Loeffler notes, the drive to develop niche custom-publishing concepts stems from an increasing appetite for such channels among advertisers. "Display ads are great and they serve a purpose, but companies are wanting to be seen as thought leaders,” she says. "It’s no longer enough to just have products — companies want to be seen as having expertise in that product area. ”And members want to hear those voices as well, Loeffler adds. "Ideally, you’re gaining in both areas.”
Toward that end, Loeffler’s talk laid out a list of practical ideas for association publishers, many of which could leverage existing efforts. "I think you’d be surprised,” she says, pointing out that a lot of associations are already doing things that don’t currently have revenue attached to them, but that could, with "a few tweaks,”prove ripe for sponsorship. And she stresses that "it’s OK to say no” in cases where projects might harm the association’s brand — since that brand’s strength, after all, is a key reason advertisers are interested in these channels in the first place.
Loeffler shared a diverse array of ideas for custom media that she’s led at PMMI and other organizations, noting the level of effort in each case:
1. Native advertising. These include simple, freelance-written business profiles of 1,000 words or less that have proved extremely popular. One way to keep things manageable, Loeffler notes, is to use templated questions; another is to limit the opportunities for review and tweaking by the client, making sure the ground rules are well understood in advance.
2. In-newsletter native elements. These are sponsored-content links within e-newsletters that resemble generic content links but that point to online-only sponsored content. Loeffler points out that the e-newsletter channel allows a lot of additional metrics — and "the advertisers love that we can give them really detailed information.” These tend to work, she says, when the e-newsletter list size is large enough to provide value and to support those kinds of analytics.
3. Roundtables. At industry meetings, Loeffler notes, it’s often quite manageable to "pull aside some VIPs” to discuss a topic, have the sponsor pay for a lunch, and build a sponsored industry-roundtable feature out of the discussion. "Members love this,” she says — especially if they are themselves invited to participate as VIPs. But she warns that while a great way to come up with good content, these events do have a bit more of a "hassle factor” than some other ideas.
4. Virtual roundtables. Editors can also engage in one-on-one interviews with VIPs, Loefflersays, and knit those interviews together into a "virtual” roundtable article.
5. Conference summaries. Since association publishers are "covering conferences anyway,” conference summaries offer a great potential opportunity for adding sponsorship revenue, Loeffler says. Such summaries can often attract multiple sponsors, with the sponsorship consisting simply of adding corporate logos on the last page in a sponsor area.
6. Conference thought leadership. Niche meetings and working groups, Loeffler observes, often spawn whitepapers, incorporating polling, quotes, and additional reporting that can afford similar sponsorship opportunities. In this case, the sponsors are often identified as "distribution sponsors,” to make it clear that the content represents the association’s own effort and thought leadership.
7. E-books. Loeffler describes electronic-only tactical briefs of from 12 to 40 pages, involving a mix of repurposed editorial and advertiser content under joint branding and marketed through an e-blast and other channels. "These are really good,” she says, "if you’re working with a sponsor who you know has good content,” and the pieces have commonly involved only "a little bit” of editorial cleanup work.
8. Playbooks. These products, Loeffler says, might be a good bet for organizations that create e-learning content, how-to manuals, and similar materials as part of their ongoing business.The playbooks are online how-tos on various topics; sponsors can sign on to sponsor the playbook for a year, with the option of renewing. These offer some intriguing opportunities for tracking and lead generation, Loeffler notes. And even for organizations that don’t have those kind of tracking capabilities, she adds, it’s good content and "should be sponsored.”
9. Research. Ongoing research, Loeffler says, is another area where "you’re doing it anyway,” and there’s a great opportunity to monetize it through low-key sponsorship and secondary branding.
10. Custom research. A bit more involved and sophisticated, according to Loeffler, but another potentially fruitful area for some organizations, is actually running research and business intelligence for customers, leveraging the association’s audience.
To cover the"And Then Some” part of her session title, Loeffler put several other ideas on the table including custom video and quick video interviews (with a simple sponsor pre-roll); sponsored webinars (especially for things like case studies), which she said can be "hugely, hugely popular”; sponsored reports, with joint advance agreement on the editorial approach and with a Q&A sidebar for the sponsor; ghost-written corporate whitepapers; and more.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Of course, not every idea she floated will necessarily work for all comers. "Start with the easy ones,” she recommends, "and get buy-in” before moving to more complex projects.
Loeffler underscores the need for strong project management using templated approaches when possible to keep things simple and clearly laying out responsibilities and timelines at the outset to keep expectations clear. "When you start these projects, everything is wonderful; that’s when you want to get agreement on the hard things,” she says. Because "no matter what happens, it’s never going to go the way you planned.”
Author: Stewart Wills