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Generating Revenue in Turbulent Times - 2/26/2013 -

Making money in the association world is not equivalent to selling your soul. Here’s how some of your colleagues are boosting sales and revenue in harmony with their organization’s missions and goals.

By Abby Puchner

The association industry is experiencing a period in which generating revenue is becoming increasingly difficult. In 2013, experts predict a 7.8 percent decline in association publishing ad revenue, according to Steve Schanz, executive vice president for Fox Associates. To leverage this, he told attendees at Association Media & Publishing’s recent Business of Association Publishing Conference in Chicago that it’s important for organizations to explore more creative ways for generating revenue during periods of financial instability.

Schanz then introduced three content leaders, including Jerry Stoeckigt, executive director of sales for the American Hospital Association, who explained that it’s common, as creative people, to feel like accepting advertising revenue is a way of "selling your soul.” But association publishing professionals must get past that point, he says, and face that advertising revenue plays an important role in the industry — even accepting that it adds value to members. "Don’t go straight to ‘we can’t do that,’” he says.

He explained that "not all advertising is created equal,” detailing the benefits and drawbacks of the most common types of advertising, including print, online publications, websites, sponsorships, custom media, and social publishing. Unlike the common perception from members of the media that print is sure to completely collapse in the near future, Stoeckigt says the medium is still "very viable” and will be around for years. He adds that if a good print product already exists, it’s easy to repurpose it for online use—and every organization should.

For sponsorship and custom-publishing opportunities, Stoeckigt recommends using white papers, hardcover inserts, hardcard flaps, comprehensive, easy-to-navigate education centers, custom surveys, benchmarking information, and custom newsletters. No matter the presentation, though, he reminded attendees that the most important element remains the content. "If it’s right, advertisers will definitely pick up the tab for that,” he notes.

Co-speaker Sean Soth, president of Adaptive Media Networks Inc. and owner of Hi-Fidelity Media Inc., started by differentiating between "sales” and "revenue.” The former is a "dirty word,” he says. People cringe at it. "Revenue is what we want our sales to become,” he explains. He encouraged focusing on the organization’s unique selling point—and not letting go. "Everyone has something unique to share,” he says. "Every industry has great tales to tell to get advertisers’ support.”

First, step back and analyze your current assets, Soth advises:

  • How are they positioned?
  • What is the most successful tool in your publication portfolio and why?
  • Are there opportunities to "freshen up” what you already have?

On the flipside, he says, it’s also important to understand what a sales cycle looks like and see things from an advertiser’s point of view. The ideal situation is to match what advertisers are trying to accomplish with your goals. "We’re here to remain revenue-relevant,” he says. "We have to understand what advertisers are trying to do.” To do this, Soth says it’s best to work backwards by starting with what your advertisers and members want.

Dan Goldberg, director of marketing and communications at Turnaround Management Association, rounded out the presentation by discussing recent changes he made to increase revenue in TMA’s journal-publishing environment. The biggest was creating a digital copy of his organization’s journal. "This opens up a lot more advertising options,” he says. The move also means a larger audience— members as well as nonmembers. Goldberg also discussed the success his organization had transitioning to a third-party sales team experienced in association sales, which streamlined the process and allowed his organization to meet 123 percent of its 2012 annual conference sponsorship goals.

For a few of TMA’s conferences, Goldberg shared how he reduced costs by adding a mobile app that served as the primary content resource versus printing program books. He also recommends selling sponsorships to appear in the weekly member e-newsletter, as well as partnership packages that bundle advertising and sponsorship opportunities. "This is great for us as well as our partner’s marketing plan,” he says, adding that journal advertising revenue increased immediately.

Abby Puchner is editorial assistant for the Million Dollar Round Table. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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