How Associations Generate Revenue from Digital Media
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
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
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)
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:
- Do your members place a high value on receiving the print
- How will you tell your members about the transition to
- What’s the best pricing structure for you?
- What value does your audience hold for advertisers — and how
can you best leverage that?
- What metrics will you use to demonstrate and communicate
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 &
our members who were unable to attend.