After two years of financial struggles and employee layoffs, the women’s lifestyle publisher Refinery29 is now starting to capitalize on the success of its live events to turn things around. Here’s how the company is growing its pop-up series, and how other digital publishers can turn live events into a reliable source of revenue.
Like so many other digital lifestyle publishers, Refinery29 has struggled to grow in a tough ad climate. Rather than focusing on subscriptions and reader membership programs, Refinery29 is looking to live events as a way to generate revenue outside of online advertising.
Although Refinery29 has been hosting live events since 2015, the company recently announced that it is growing its pop-up series—dubbed 29Rooms—and expanding into international locations. The move comes at a time when Refinery29 is looking to grow its non-advertising revenue. Thirty-percent of Refinery29’s revenue comes from sources outside of digital advertising, including ticket sales for 29Rooms and other related events, but that figure could be much higher in the future.
Refinery29 isn’t the only digital publishing company looking to expand its live events programming as they decrease their reliance on other forms of online advertising. A number of popular magazines, including Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure, and Wired, are leveraging live events in the same way.
Let’s take a closer look at what these publishers, and others, are doing right and how they are making their live events successful.
Maximizing Ticket Value
The amount that a publisher charges for tickets to a live event depends largely on the demographics of the attendees. Refinery29 charges $40 a pop for tickets to its 29Rooms events, which are frequented by millennial women.
Publishers can charge more for tickets to an event geared towards corporate executives than to an event geared towards teenagers or twenty-somethings. Publishers need to understand the demographics of their audiences in order to correctly price their events.
Finding Premium Brand Sponsors
Sponsorships are one of the keys to success for live events programming. Executives will pay a premium to attach their brands to high-end events. With paying sponsors on board, publishers can decrease the price of tickets for attendees. This has the added benefit of increasing the number of likely ticket buyers, thus giving sponsors even more bang for their buck. The more prominently a publisher displays sponsor logos, and the more people who attend the conference or live event, the more sponsors will pay to participate.
Leveraging Sponsorship Deals
Most sponsors will pay to have their logos included on promotional materials, like brochures and step-and-repeats. They may also be willing to donate product, which can be particularly useful depending on the type of brand sponsoring the event. For example, at the Vulture Festival (an event put on by New York Magazine) sponsors Eli, Fiji, and Stella Artois gave away beverages to attendees. Another sponsor, the Viceroy Hotel, invited on-stage panelists to stay at their property.
Keeping Costs Low
Soliciting product donations from event sponsors isn’t the only way publishers can reduce overhead costs. In fact, many successful live events have been organized on shoestring budgets. City and regional magazine publishers will often host meet-and-greet events with readers as a way to boost engagement and promote subscription packages. Newsroom tours are another popular option that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Think of these types of events as field trips for adults. Readers pay for the privilege of getting a behind-the-scenes look inside their favorite publications, along with the chance to meet reporters and let them know what topics they’re interested in reading more about.
Turning Events into Digital Content
Looking to squeeze every ounce of juice from their live events, publishers have started recording the original programming and publishing that content in the form of podcasts, e-books, and videos. On-demand videos from summits and conferences are particularly popular right now, as attendees look for ways to share what they learned with colleagues back home.
Bundling Deals for Advertisers
Although most of this list involves strategies for decreasing publishers’ reliance on digital advertising, there are a number of ways that publishers can also use live events to strengthen their existing relationships with advertisers. For starters, publishers can offer discounted, or even free, sponsorship opportunities for businesses that advertise on their websites for a certain period of time. These types of deals are a great opportunity to sell advertisers on larger packages, as well.