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live events

Publishers Are Using Live Events to Combat Lagging Ad Sales – Here’s How

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.

Digital Publishing Industry

How Local Publishers Use Live Events to Drive Profitability

As local publishers look for new ways to squeeze every last drop of revenue from their publications, live events are becoming a more attractive option.

Most local publishers already have deep ties within the communities they cover, not just with readers, but with small business advertisers and elected officials, as well. Given those relationships, publishers are in an ideal spot to host and sponsor events like conferences, reader meet-and-greets, and even community festivals.

Ticket sales aren’t the only way publishers are generating revenue from live events. Publishers are also selling sponsorships to advertisers and using live events, like newsroom meet-and-greets, as an incentive to encourage readers to join their paid membership programs.

Although publishers can be tight-lipped about revenue, live events are estimated to account for as much as 20% of total revenues for some news outlets. Live events also deepen the relationships between publishers and local business sponsors, who might be more inclined to advertise on the publisher’s website after partnering on an event.

Here are the most popular types of live events for local publishers to host.

1. Conferences

Conferences are the most obvious and common type of live event for publishers to host. From Recode Media’s Code Conference in California to MediaPost’s Publishing Insider Summit in Texas, it’s fair to say that publisher-hosted conferences have gone mainstream.
Despite the ubiquity and success that digital publishers have had in generating revenue through conferences, there are some downsides to be aware of. Smaller local publishers can have difficulty selling out large venues. They might also have trouble managing the logistics of a conference without hiring a team of professionals who’ve hosted conferences in the past.

Conferences can be lucrative for publishers, but we generally recommend that smaller publishers start by hosting some of the other types of live events listed here before they move on to larger conferences.

2. Business Recognition Events

Business recognition events are an excellent way for local publishers to dip their toes into live event hosting, without requiring nearly as many logistical requirements as a conference.

Business recognition events can be held to honor the best places to work, the fastest growing companies, or the most charitable employers in the publisher’s town. Rather than relying on ticket sales, publishers generate revenue through business sponsorships. What business wouldn’t want its logo on the brochure and signage for an event honoring the most charitable or innovative companies in town?

One issue to consider with business recognition events is that they tend to be low margin, so publishers will have to keep a tight watch on spending to ensure they don’t lose money when hosting an event.

3. Newsroom meet-and-greets

As far as live events are concerned, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than hosting a newsroom meet-and-greet. This type of live event is ideal for local publishers with membership programs, since many readers would jump at the chance to tour the publisher’s newsroom and interact with their favorite columnists in exchange for paying a nominal monthly fee.

Newsroom meet-and-greets don’t have to be formal. All that’s really needed is a newsroom, some refreshments, and a publication’s staff. Local publications that don’t have dedicated office space can host their meet-and-greet events at local coffee shops or event spaces.

4. Local Festivals

Time Out Group, the British publisher of city magazines and travel guidebooks, hosts hundreds of live events each year. This summer alone, the company is planning to host a ‘Movies on the River’ event, with a floating cinema, a silent disco at a London skyscraper, and an event called Battle of the Burger in New York.

Smaller, local publishers often have success hosting tasting events with top restaurants or brewers in their towns. In most cases, restaurants will pay to participate at these events, other local businesses will pay to sponsor them, and attendees will pay for tickets, presenting a trifecta of revenue generation channels.

Because they are such large events, the majority of festivals rely largely on sponsorships from businesses for support. For example, Time Out’s floating cinema event is being sponsored by Rekorderlig Botanicals cider. If hosting a large festival is out reach for a community-focused publisher, there’s also the option of working with a third-party provider on a revenue sharing model.

Live events are rarely enough to sustain a local publisher by themselves, but they can serve as a valuable source of secondary income and they can lead to additional opportunities, like the chance to sell branded merchandise and promote membership programs. Content from live events can also be recycled into webinars and on-demand videos that readers must pay to access.

If you’d like more information about the revenue generation strategies we offer local publishers at Web Publisher PRO, feel free to reach out.