Spring 2014 | Vol. 14, No. 1
Associations Tapping Digital & Social to Grow Media Revenues
New research provides much-needed data and benchmarks on how associations
generate revenues in media and publishing
“Diversify!” may be the mantra for Wall Street brokers, businesses large and small, and now associations as well, according to the latest research conducted by our nonprofit arm, the Angerosa Research Foundation.
Generating revenue to support association media has long been a challenge for association publishers and executives. Tapping nondues revenues holds the promise of expanded opportunities for new media and programs. To supplement more traditional avenues, many associations are exploring digital and social media, as well as conference innovations.
According to our Foundation’s Association Media Nondues Revenue Trends & Metrics study, print still attracts the majority of revenues, but digital is increasing to support broader content delivery. The report, now available, suggests the future looks promising for advertising and sponsorship revenue expansion as associations provide new ways for business partners to market to key audiences.
Highlights of the data generated from 141 association professionals include these key findings, and more:
• Nondues revenues account for 46 percent of total association revenues on average, and nearly half (48%) of association executives report that nondues revenues have increased over the past three years, while about one third say they have remained the same.
• Advertising and sponsorship revenues are generated primarily from e-newsletters (73%), print magazines (68%), print journals (21%), and conference-related programs (65%) as well as newer media: webinars (39%), digital magazines (38%), online buyer’s guides (21%), apps (21%), and online directories (17%).
• Associations generate an average of $1.268 million annually in all media revenues.
• Advertising and sponsorships sales in print media still represent the bulk of media revenues—73 percent v. 27 percent for digital—but digital revenue is slowly expanding in digital magazines and journals, e-newsletters, online directories, webinars/e-learning, and conference programs/newsletters/videos. Print revenues come primarily from magazines (mean annual revenue of $369,949) as well as journals, newsletters, directories, and buyer’s guides.
• While not all associations allow advertising on their websites (48% allow), these portals can generate significant revenues. Total annual mean revenue reported for the primary association website is $58,290 and $29,908 for related microsites/consumer sites.
• Associations continue to broadly embrace the use of social media. Nearly all use Facebook (91%), followed by Twitter (86%), LinkedIn (75%), webinars (59%), YouTube (57%), blogs (42%), Flickr (20%), podcasts (19%), Google+ (14%), custom-designed channels (13%), and some other type of social media (10%), which includes Pinterest, Vimeo, and Instagram. Social media-related revenues are limited, but webinar sponsorships average $16,431 annually.
• Book sales average $338,649 from print sales and $113,525 from e-books sales, a number sure to continue to grow.
• Associations make available a mean of two apps to their audiences. Most associations (96%) do not sell their apps but make them available for free.
• Media-related sales organization and structure is critical to revenue generation, and increasingly associations are moving to a more integrated approach for media/sponsorships. Most manage sales in the communications (27%), marketing (21%), or publications department (21%), using in-house staff (36%) or outside reps/contractors (29%).
As with any new initiative, organizations are working to overcome barriers to revenue expansion. The most significant challenges our colleagues face, according to our research, are a lack of staff and other resources, budget constraints, sequestration and Federal budget issues, lack of overall strategies and integrated planning, and push back from members and/or boards who dislike the commercial aspects of nondues revenue generation. Despite this, media professionals remain optimistic and are testing new options such as international partnerships, new publications, paid advertising on Internet TV, data services, grants, virtual job fairs, and expanded licensing of content.
One of the biggest benefits of this kind of research is that you can use it to measure your organization’s practices and performance against industry-wide benchmarks. Visit this link for more details or to order the report.
Just Push ‘Play’
Tapping the benefits, challenges of video
Last year was big for video: The New York Times debuted a concept for article trailers; instant video app Vine acquired millions of users; and photo-sharing app Instagram introduced video—the list goes on and on. While few associations have branched out into instant video-sharing apps, many maintain a YouTube channel to communicate and engage with members and the general public. There are major benefits—and challenges—of using video to reach members, so consider these:
Getting Members’ Attention
Video is seen by many as just another tool in the communications toolbox, and “every form of communication has its plusses and minuses,” says Patrick Mirza, multimedia producer for Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Taking video as an example, you can hear someone in his own voice. When you read someone’s writing, you sometimes wonder, ‘Were they kidding?’ or, ‘How did they really intend to come across?’”
Video allows viewers to absorb information more directly because they are hearing the speaker in his or her own voice and seeing facial expressions. “With some of the videos we’ve done, it’s really surprised me how quickly you can convey something,” says Mirza. With ads and alerts vying for viewers’ attention constantly, your video—including its title and description—must be sharp and to the point in order to have an effect—let alone for viewers to push “Play.”
Helping to Sell Complex Concepts
For many associations, video can help empower members to act and get involved. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has been using video to support its policy efforts on Capitol Hill as well as its communications, including bimonthly Transportation Builder magazine, for more than 12 years.
“We had this concept a few years ago that we wanted to get across to the Hill—the Three Cs: critical commerce corridors—and we developed a video to explain how this concept would work and why the government should embrace it,” says Beth McGinn, director of public affairs and new media at ARTBA. “We were trying to get members to picture this big transportation concept, a large-scale national policy idea,” and video was a perfect medium to break down a complicated concept and make it more digestible—and easier to communicate.
In 2013, the association started a student video contest, challenging entrants to create a video that demonstrated the value of transportation infrastructure. After gaining traction on Twitter and the association’s website, the competition received as many as 60 submissions. It was a great way not only to engage members but also to involve the younger generation in a conversation about the industry’s future.
Challenges To Consider
While video offers many benefits, there are many challenges involved as well. In addition to the struggle with frequency, “you have a lot less flexibility in what you produce than you might with a written piece,” says Mirza. “You can call up someone in Alaska in 10 minutes and get great information from him; I can’t send a video crew out there in 10 minutes.” But, says Mirza, part of the job is being creative with how you work around those constraints. Pairing audio interviews with additional graphics in video form is one way SHRM works to add a little flexibility into these projects.
Getting all of the pieces together for a video is always difficult, but one of the biggest challenges is keeping it short, says McGinn, who tries to keep all of ARTBA’s videos shorter than two minutes. “There’s so much information you want to get across at times,” she says, but when it comes to videos, most people are looking for short and sweet.
Of course, creating compelling content with limited time and resources is hard for organizations of all sizes. “The main challenge for us is time,” says Sarah Grano, director, public relations, at the American Bankers Association (ABA), which is in “the early stages” of using video and still experimenting. At ABA, a dedicated team is responsible for producing, editing, and distributing videos in addition to those staffers’ full-time jobs, so it can be difficult to juggle everything and keep projects on track.
Not to mention, once the video is complete you must decide how you will distribute it. In some cases, “what you’re trying to provide is content that is meant exclusively for your membership, [but via YouTube] you’re providing it to anyone,” says Mirza. “So it raises the question, ‘Why am I paying for my membership if I can get it for free online?’” It’s about matching the right delivery vehicle to the right message, he says. “I think you have to be careful of confusing a strategic decision and a technical decision.”
How is your association using video? Tweet us @strattonpub!
The Holy Grail of Profitability
Many seek it, some find it, and most view it as the ultimate goal for print publications
Despite the downward ad trends that plagued publications up until about a year ago, associations continue to derive significant revenue from print and digital publications. In fact, according to the 2014 Association Media Nondues Revenue Trends & Metrics report, published by the Angerosa Research Foundation, Stratton’s nonprofit foundation, nondues revenues from media/publishing account for 46 percent of total association revenues. Average print media revenues are $369,949 among association publishers.
Given that significant revenue, it’s not surprising that about half of association publications generate a profit after direct expenses and salary allocations, according to the 2005 Association Publishing Benchmarking Study, also published by the Angerosa Research Foundation and supported by Association Media & Publishing (AM&P). Recently, a discussion about magazine profitability dominated the AM&P listserv, with most of those association professionals who weighed in commenting that their magazines do indeed generate a net profit.
ACC Docket, published by the Association of Corporate Counsel, is one of a number of association publications operating in the black. The magazine has long turned a profit, according to Kim Howard, CAE, publisher. When she joined the organization in 2006, ACC Docket “changed our workflow, processes, and vendor partners so that we became even more profitable. Our business model has not changed drastically, but like everyone else, we have added digital and mobile advertising options.”
In the Black
But generating that revenue is never easy, and neither is keeping expenses in check. “Gone are the days when dues and advertising dollars just flow through the door. If we don’t stay ahead of the publishing trends and the membership, publishers will end up left behind,” Howard notes. “Publishing is a huge bottom line expense in any association, and you never want to be in a financial situation where the board thinks that cutting or downgrading your publication is a good financial solution. Our publications are oftentimes the only tangible touch that a member receives, especially those who are not active. Emails are easily dismissed, but your publication is not.”
In the Red
But at some organizations, where advertising is harder to come by but the need to communicate with constituents is just as great, subsidizing publications to offer a valuable member benefit makes sense as well.
At the American Anthropological Association, Amy Goldenberg, PhD, who serves as managing editor of Anthropology News, has been working with her team to build advertising revenues. In the meantime, however, “the association is committed to Anthropology News, both print and online, because it continues to be a key member benefit. We know this because of regular readership and association-wide surveys. But it’s also reinforced in between surveys from participation by individual members, like if they contact us to see why they are missing an issue, or they have a response to something that was published.”
Making the case for print—in a tight budgeting environment—is a battle association publishers constantly fight. Anthropology News continues to innovate, seeking opportunities to trim costs on the way to meeting its budget goals. “We’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last few years, namely switching from a nine times a year print newspaper with additional online content, to publishing online first, and printing best-of pieces along with traditional newsletter content in a bimonthly print edition,” explains Goldenberg. “In communicating these changes with members, many people sought reassurance that we’d still be printing generally. They reiterated what our last reader survey had shown: Anthropology News connects our wide membership and remains highly valued by our members.”
Headlines: Sell the Sizzle with the Steak
Top trends for grabbing readers’ attention
Today’s readers have their choice of where to get their information—from print and digital magazines to e-newsletters, blog posts, social media, and more. Headlines are the lure to draw readers into your communications vehicles. So it’s essential to write headlines that will pique their interests, selling the sizzle as well as the steak.
Consider these trends and tips for headline writing.
Trend #1: Convey key takeaways and keywords. The most effective headlines convey an article’s key takeaways, ensuring that any article published electronically will be searchable by the most relevant words. “If you were to only read the headline, would you be able to get the gist of the article? A good headline does that and leverages keywords to grab readers’ attention,” explains Joleen Ong, marketing and publications director at NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network. Most of NTEN’s publications are online, and Ong notes that it’s “good practice to create all headlines with the same criteria in mind.”
Though it can be challenging to summarize the article in one short headline, Ong says this strategy is “similar to Twitter with the 140-character limit. Think about what categories or tags you should include to ensure maximum visibility and acknowledgment.”
Ong believes strategic headlines are key to meeting readers where they are looking. Being strategic with your headlines can set you apart. “It’s the difference between being on page 1 on Google, v. page 2 and beyond. It can ensure that the important content you put out there is optimized to be read by as many people as possible.”
Trend #2: Always rewrite print headlines for digital. In print, where readers may spend more time with the publication, headlines can be more intriguing, creative, and in some cases longer than in digital publications, where the reader is quickly scanning for key words.
Editors at Associations Now, published by the American Society for Association Executives, typically write creative headlines that complement the design of a magazine article for the print version, then rewrite those headlines when they post the article to the magazine’s website. The print version features shorter headlines, according to Julie Shoop, vice president and editor-in-chief. In print, “we are likely to go for a catchy phrase that’s conceptual and ties into a piece of art, then write a longer deck clarifying what the article is about,” she explains. “Readers are more likely to linger over a piece of art in print.” The “package” of headline/deck/art is used to draw readers to the text.
But that visual strategy doesn’t translate well to the web, where the art and design features may disappear—and where search engine optimization plays a significant role in attracting readers. So Associations Now articles in digital format are retitled to feature “more straightforward headlines that would convey well online,” says Shoop.
Trend #3: Incorporate hashtags into headlines. It is becoming increasingly common to see hashtags in headlines—particularly blog post titles but also in magazine and newsletter headlines and even book titles. This strategy can help you capitalize on Twitter search traffic, says Steven Shattuck, vice president of marketing at Bloomerang. That’s a large audience: More than 2 billion searches per day are conducted on Twitter.
Adding a hashtag symbol to a word or phrase makes it searchable. Using a relevant or popular hashtag in a headline makes it easy to send it out via Twitter, which may encourage your readers to share your article with others.
Lauren Jonas, director, social media and e-messaging at National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), has included her association’s conference hashtag in blog post headlines for stories related to sessions at the NSTA conference. While Jonas says her organization has just begun to adopt this approach, “we may do it more in the future as it gets more understood that readers can search on the hashtag for related content.” She envisions using a #STEM hashtag in headlines for articles related to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics movement—a particularly hot topic at NSTA.
Hashtags can serve an important purpose, but consider these words of caution from Shattuck: “By placing one or more hashtags directly into a blog title, you’re giving Twitter users a choice between clicking that hashtag or the URL to the post itself. This can drive traffic away from your content and into a Twitter search where users will be exposed to competing content.” So try including a hashtag—but be careful which hashtag you choose.
Consider the Context
Whether you’re writing a headline for a print magazine or a daily blog post, a strategic mindset will help boost readership. Ultimately, context is king, says Shoop: “Consider the context of the venue in which the information is appearing, and the context of the audience who will be reading it.”