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Weighing the Custom Publishing Proposition - 9/25/2012 -

Here’s how one association uses custom publishing sponsorships to boost revenue without negatively affecting its brand.

By Kerry A. Sullivan

"It’s the thing everyone struggles with, but no one will discuss publicly,” says Lou Ann Sabatier, principal at Sabatier Consulting LLC.

With that observation, content leaders Sabatier and Sarah Loeffler, manager of specialty publishing, Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), launched into their presentation titled after that not-to-be-mentioned concept: "Re-Thinking Revenue.”

This September Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn drew association editors, marketers, designers, and communicators for a look into the success that Loeffler’s association has achieved by offering custom publishing sponsorship options to companies she calls "super fans” of HFMA.

"They understand that through sponsorships, they can be better positioned as industry thought leaders,” Loeffler says.

Custom publishing sponsorship connects the HFMA’s members to practical, how-to advice; maintains an objective tone while building awareness in the field of what others are doing to address industry challenges; and educates readers about processes—not the tools to implement them.

Loeffler distinguishes HFMA’s business development function, which sells custom publishing opportunities, from its advertising sales function, which sells advertisements and advertorials in the association’s flagship publication, hfm Magazine.

The "softer sale” of custom publishing works for companies looking to spend money primarily to support what the association is doing, she says.

"Business development is clear on goals,” she says. "If an organization seeks control over editorial messaging, it will be encouraged to submit an article for consideration under our peer review process—with possibility for rejection.”

Freelancers write HFMA custom publishing content, which appears in the association’s publications, including its flagship magazine. Pages with sponsored content are graphically differentiated from objective editorial through the use of designated fonts, shading, and separate pagination. Examples of custom publishing projects—all of which represent opportunities for the association to generate new streams of revenue—include:

· Six- to eight-page educational reports containing objective content on topics of mutual interest;

· Four-page roundtable reports based on virtual or live meetings;

· Research that combines output from the HFMA annual conference kiosk survey and live roundtables;

· Conference summaries based on invitation-only, full-day meetings prior to the annual conference;

· White papers;

· Microsites; and

· Conference e-media packages.

Pricing is based on the cost to purchase a page of advertising in hfm Magazine and the cost to produce the content, with "reasonable revenue.”

Loeffler underscores that a custom publishing piece is not a partnership and is not an ad. "Protecting your brand”—the association—is pivotal, she repeats throughout her presentation. In selecting projects for custom publishing, she recommends associations keep five rights in mind:

1. The right to publish in an issue of the association’s choice;

2. The right of final approval over content;

3. The right of final approval over design;

4. The right to final selection of all sources; and

5. The right to make reprints of the piece, requiring the sponsor to order reprints from the association.

Ultimately, an association editor’s goal should be to minimize an intrusive reading experience. Staffs must weigh editorial interests when deciding whether or not to accept a custom publishing sponsorship—no matter how attractive the revenue may be. Data about an association’s membership can help to inform this decision.

"Your membership database can fuel non-dues revenue,” co-content leader Sabatier notes. "It is from data that you can learn, build, scale back, and adapt revenue generating programs and services to your organization.”

Lunch & Learn attendee Alex Perroy, director of business development at TGD Communications, found it interesting that in-depth marketing practices from the corporate retail world are emerging as essentials for associations. "Concepts such as deep member data mining, true value propositions, and accurate pricing for the marketplace are being adopted by associations to create strategic revenue generating opportunities—in conjunction with terrific designs, of course,” he says.

Kerry Sullivan is managing editor of The Police Chief, published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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