Multiple revenue streams-Beyond Advertising

By Kathleen Majorsky 

Advertising is an important source of revenue for independent sites, but as sites grow it is important to explore different revenue streams.

Ben Ilfeld from Sacramento Press and Howard Owens from The Batavian shared their own experiences in generating multiple streams of revenue.

Howard and Ben giving their talk about multiple revenue streams.

Key Take Away # 1: Multiple revenue streams are not always passive revenue streams.

Indie publishers are already stretched in day-to-day operations of running their sites.  It’s important to consider how much work a publisher will manage when starting a new revenue stream.  In the case of Howard, his talent pool for helping with managing extra revenue streams is limited.  A challenge he faces is balancing content management and traditional advertising activities in addition to the work of adding another revenue stream to his two-person operation.

Key Take Away # 2: Play to your strengths when it comes to adding additional revenue streams.

This is a lesson, Susan Mernit learned with her staff at Oakland Local. Oakland Local’s strengths are events and social media consulting.  In the past year, Oakland Local has increased social media services and education to their community and encountered great success in building the assets they already have.

Ben agrees with this strategy.  Sacramento Press also uses social media consulting and web development as an extra revenue stream.  If there are people on your team who are good at social media or web development services, use those people to offer advertisers those services.

Key Take Away # 3: Multiple trickles of passive revenue have the potential to create a flood.

One of the challenges voiced in this session was the need to find passive revenue streams.  The ideas that were tossed around like working with ad networks, local.com or text-link-ads might not bring in a ton of money, but collectively it can be helpful.

What other non-advertising revenue stream ideas do you have for your site?

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Team building for newsrooms

By Virginia Citrano
“The people you hire will either help maintain, make or even break your business.” Emily Lowery, founder of Magic City Post and ShopBirmingham.com, opened the Block by Block 2012 session on “Building Your Team” with some stark words of caution.

Lowery and co-presenter Joe Michaud of Local Interactive Strategies stressed that, to build an effective team, publishers must define their business’ values and make sure that the people they are considering  hiring both understand and commit to meet those values. “Everybody on my team knows our elevator pitch,” said Lowery.

Publishers will need to take the time to find the right relationship, to train new employees and to make sure that the new employees meshes with your existing team. “When you bring a new person in, you have to go through the process of rebuilding your team again,” Lowery says.

To create an effective team dynamic, publishers must first understand their own style of management and its impact on the organization. Given how much independent publishers are doing, the management style for many can be laissez faire. “If you are too hands off,” Lowery cautioned, “chaos will ensue and someone will take over.” The polar opposite is  autocratic, but GenYers don’t want to work for that culture. Then there is democratic management. “If you let people buy into the processes they will be a lot happier,” said Lowery.

“The most effective manager can rely on all these strategies,” said Michaud. “The trick in the evolution of a manager is to know when each one is appropriate.”

People often leave companies because there is a mismatch of values. At Magic City Post, Lowery asks questions relating to those values when she is hiring to see where candidates stand, and she makes sure that new candidates meet with every member of the team before they are hired–a minimum of 7 times.

It is also imperative to have a good training program in place and written documentation on business processes, particularly for employees on their first job. Lowery said her company has a team charter, which defines the group’s goals and how they treat each other.

Michaud advised holding a monthly meeting with the team to review what has happened, and what needs to happen. “It affirms that you are all in this together,” he said.

And be sure to think creatively about  benefits. Lowery gives her team–all of whom are independent contractors–a share in locally grown food and a yoga or gym classes. She also stocks the office fridge with their favorite snacks and employees.

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Tech Tools for Community Publishers

Breakout session: Round 1

Tech Tools for Community Publishers– Moderated by Kenny Katzgrau and John Crepezzi,  owners of Broadstreet Ads, an interactive ad platform. Both are coders and developers. John was formerly lead engineer for Patch. Kenny was formerly with Yahoo Ad Exchange.

These tech tips will improve the performance of your site.

Site load speed is important. You can speed up your site by being aware of what kinds of things slow your site down and how to avoid them.

1. Use an ad server. Don’t serve ads from your CMS.  Good free adservers are  OpenX and Doubleclick for Publishers. Every time your server has to serve up images (such as banner ads) it increases stress on your server, slows your site down.

2. Page caching & minifying. Think about the stuff that’s behind the page. Every plugin you install involves javascript or CSS running behind the page. Every javascript tag requires your server to go to another server to download the javascript.

Page caching saves (caches) your site for a period of time so that your entire site doesn’t have to be pulled up each and every time.

Also you don’t need to load all your CSS and JS files separately. This throws a lot of overhead your server doesn’t need. You can minify your site — combine and load JS and CSS files all at once.

3. Turn off everything you’re not using. Don’t leave plugins and modules you’re not using “turned on” or enabled.

4. Use other platforms to serve things up on your site: YouTube or Vimeo for videos, Disqus or Facebook comments.

5. Don’t have user signups unless absolutely necessary. It makes it hard to migrate to another CMS.

6. Have a development site on your local machine — a clone of your live site — so you can test everything before putting it on your live site — avoid screwing your site up – or worse, breaking it.

7. Subscribe to Pingdom, a free site monitoring service that notifies you if your site is down. You can get notifications by email or SMS message..

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More buck for your bang; There’s a big bag of tech goodies out there to boost your advertising revenue

Now that online publishers are finding some success in advertising revenue, it’s time to think about how to get the most buck for your bang. And since we’re on the internet, we don’t have to muck around in the do-more-with-less sandtrap. “We can do anything!”

That’s the motto for John Crepezzi and Kenny Katzgrau, both of Broadstreet Ads, who moderated the “Tech Tools for Community Publishers” breakout session this afternoon. Turns out there’s a ton of free goodies out there for your website, all you have to do is identify a need, then go looking for the tool.

For starters, if you’re going to sell advertising — and you should — get an adserver. Better yet, get a free adserver — OpenX, DFP. There are others, but the simple options can serve your needs. Also, clean your room. If you’re not using a tool or a widget, get rid of it. Drilling down, take advantage of functions you can use outside your website template, such as MailChimp for newsletters, FaceBook for comments. Keep your site lean and speedy.

There are good strategies, such as “widgetizing” your website. From what I can tell, is creating a number of handy open slots on your website where you can quickly plug-in and unplug without redesigning and rearranging all the furniture. And then there are the practical considerations; take advantage of a continuous monitoring service, like Pingdom, which will send you an alert the minute your website goes down. Better to get an email from Pingdom than an angry phone call from an advertiser or reader.

My main take-away, simply stated by Kenny Katzgrau; “We haven’t even cracked what online advertising is.” I get the feeling that Katzgrau might argue the sky is more limited than advertising and generating revenue on the internet.

Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief

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Eleanor Cippel on how to close the deal

by Denise Cheng, MIT Center for Civic Media

Eleanor Cippel is the Corporate Managing Director Sales for E.W. Scripps. She was one of the coaches for Super Camp last year. She was today’s presenter to an undivided room for the second morning session.

Sales and editorial have traditionally been divided in American newsrooms. In today’s shifting terrain, this means entrepreneurial journalists often feel nervous about selling. As a one-woman session at BxB12, Cippel highlighted some of the most common concerns that BxB attendees voiced at last night’s dinner.

To begin, a few BxBers shared lessons learned from working with ineffective sales reps. Cippel’s own team is a mix of salaried and commissioned sales staff. If sales reps are out getting things done but there are few results, Cippel believes the problem can always be traced back to one of three things, all of which are coachable:

  • Confidence – Are they confident as a seller?
  • Competence – Does the person know how to get through a deal?
  • Belief – Do they believe in the product?

Part of the support is in setting the tone, creating structured and explicit time in the schedule. Cippel blocks off some time for administrative and research tasks. She sets weekly goals for calls and door-to-door knocks. She also holds a couple of “power hours” each week in which staffers gather to do nothing but set appointments.

“The more calls you make, the more biz you get, and so help me god, that is the truth,” she said. Those who do not make enough calls tend to waffle based on feedback from their few clients/potential clients, but there’s not enough evidence that support the client’s feedback for change to the sales package. She advised BxBers to use a CRM, and if not, then collect call sheets. “Make sure the data you’re getting is from a reasonable sample size. You wouldn’t follow a market sales study with a  sample size of five people,” she said, emphasizing that business owners shouldn’t make decisions about their business without digging in more.

Most sales reps are hired on commission, and it is important for them to see what they’re able to make. In motivating sales reps (regardless the size of the team), Cippel gives a few pieces of advice:

  • Ask sellers to determine their personal earnings goal for the next 12 months
  • Work the numbers backward to figure out how much they have to sell to get there
  • Have the reps design their 100-day plan of action that sets the model for the year

But the key to fabulous sales is not just having a high volume of appointments or a committed group of representatives. It’s about establishing a relationship with your advertisers. Before beginning, do research on your potential advertisers. Figure out where you can fit into the game. If you are not the dominant media player in a competitive local market, don’t sell like that. If you’re trying to position yourself better than others, you’re telling the advertiser that they made a bad decision.

“It’s the equivalent of telling them their baby is ugly,” Cippel said. She urged publishers to help advertisers understand that their decision is a good one for the reasons that they made it, but that they should consider spreading their ad dollars around to reach a wider audience, what she calls “stealing shares.”

Cippel advocates a consultative/trusted advisor sales approach. In a competitive market, business owners are constantly being called on by sales reps, so why would they choose you? Cippel then showed a graph that visualized how low a seller’s credibility is when walking in cold because the value of your product has not been established, nor has the reasoning for price. The value proposition has to be clear.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t about you … Advertisers want to meet an objective or a goal. Advertising works as a collective. Advertising should work together in synergy whether they’re buying from you or not,” Cippel said. “Virginia [Citrano of MyVeronaNJ] last night said the solution [to advertising] isn’t necessarily me, but those solutions include me.”

Develop the right combination of ideas and solutions to help advertisers achieve their goals, Cippel said. What publishers should be hoping for is collective lift for all advertising solutions, themselves included. By analyzing the advertising budget and needs of an business, you can help them optimize their current dollars to reach a wider audience.

“Any good prospect or advertiser you have on board with you is a seed for a referral. It’s a warm lead, and it’s far easier to work with a warm referral than a cold call,” Cippel said. She also emphasized the importance of setting expectations. Cippel once sold a coupon campaign to a pop-up golf course to buy a coupon campaign. She didn’t fully understand what they would count as an accomplishment and set reasonable expectations from the beginning, so when they got 69 coupons redeemed from a circulation of 4,300 households, the golf course manager was upset. This was a phenomenal result, but Cippel could not have said anything after the fact to convince the manager of that.

Another difficulty for publishers is closing the deal. Publishers are already sticky in their communities. As journalists, they know how to get a story out of someone, to ask the right questions.

But, Cippel says, “This is a sales call. They are never going to be more enthusiastic, they are never going to be more willing to flirt with you they are never going to be more willing to do what you’er talking about doing than at the moment that you have them excited. You have to ask for the money, you have to ask for the order.”

Raw notes over at the MIT Etherpad, and an archived recording to come from RJI.


A typical week for Cippel’s team.

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Photos: BXB 2012, morning sessions

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Photos: Block by Block 2012, Day 1

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Lessons from Block by Block Super Camp – An experiment in business mentoring

By Janet and Rusty Coats

When local independent news publishers gathered for the first Block by Block Community News Summit in September 2010, we heard two recurring themes:

First, publishers told us just how much they had needed to connect so that they could learn, share and provide each other much-needed moral support.

Second, publishers told us they needed help figuring out how to sustain their sites and themselves financially.

At The Patterson Foundation, we took those two ideas and married them for an experiment in testing how a combination of peer learning and business mentoring might help build the groundwork for more financially stable independent news operations.

That’s how Super Camp was born.

Partnering with Knight Digital Media Center at USC Annenberg, The Patterson Foundation developed a curriculum for a year of intensive business mentoring for a dozen Block by Block sites. The goal? We had two:

• To get inside the inner workings of both for-profit and non-profit sites and learn what methods can best help those publishers improve their business practices.

• To take what we learn from working with those publishers and apply it more broadly to the community.

Our year of mentoring began with a 4-day session at the conclusion of Block by Block 2011, and it concludes with here at Block by Block 2012. What we’ve learned in this year has set the agenda for this year’s BxB sessions. It also formed the core for the Oct.  18-2- Community Journalism Executive Training program (CJET), a partnership of the Investigative News Network, Knight Digital Media Center and The Knight Foundation.

We’re hopeful we can continue to build on the success of Super Camp. And we want to share with you some of the headlines of what we’ve learned and how they might help you in your own business.

Super Camp publishers celebrate at the end of Block by Block 2012.

The Lessons of Super Camp

Build a realistic, actionable plan. We’ve attached the starter questionnaire used at Super Camp. Writing these answers and sharing them with advisors, and peers can solidify mission, roles and priorities. If you don’t like this format, find one you do – and use it.

Set milestones in manageable chunks. These should be big enough to challenge you, discrete enough to get done. The important part is setting deadlines for each small step on your way to the overall goal.

Lifeguards make a big difference. Find a mentor, coach or advisor who will hold you accountable to your goals and action plan. Writers need editors; business leaders need mentors.

Be the boss. Your role is to lead the business; as publisher, you are CEO. Learn to delegate duties as much as you can and to hold people accountable to their role in helping the business succeed.

Diversify revenue streams. Regardless of your tax status, relying on a single source of revenue – whether it’s foundation grants or banner ads – is a foolish bet. Conversely, don’t chase every dime. Define your revenue wheel.

Balance your budget. You will not get to sustainability if 90 percent of your expenses go to content and 10 percent go to “other.” Some sites will not become sustainable because they are designed not to be.

Sweat the small (legal) stuff. Business structure documentation, taxes, personnel records, insurance and other administrative middleware seems like a real pain in the ass – until the moment you are sued out of existence.

Metrics matter. How people are using your site helps you improve the site’s user interface, educate your social media strategy and gives you concrete facts to tell donors and advertisers. Bonus: They come with pretty graphics.

Investors are not donors. Investors invest because they want a return. That means a piece of your annual profit, to be paid back with interest, or to own a large chunk of your company. Forget this, and they will own it all.

Grants are great – but also distracting. Some non-profit sites build robust, diversified business plans and then abandon them to chase grant funding. This does not mean grants should not be pursued, but that time spent pursuing them should not obliterate all other pursuits.

Act (locally) like a business. Many publishers ignore opportunities to join local business groups, which are teeming with experience, networking opportunities, story ideas and new advertisers.

Hold for the sale. Don’t talk yourself and your customer into a smaller ad spend, contract or donation. When they lean forward, hand them a pen.

Utilize tools to track customers. Whether it’s a full-blown CRM (Customer Relationship Management) such as SaleForce.com or just a spreadsheet, these tools help grow existing clients into bigger ones.

Be clear on expectations for employees and contractors – and be clear on the legal differences between “employee” and “contractor.” More time spent training new hires means less time cleaning up messes later. This goes doubly true for when hiring friends or family.

There is difference between being a business and running a business. Running a business means it runs when you are away. It has clients who do business with the brand, not a person. Its owners take an occasional weekend off.

The Super Camp approach

There is training available to help publishers build their business acumen, but it has its limitations. We wanted to move beyond the classroom, to provide ongoing dialogue and support for publishers has they applied what they learned in the marketplace.

Super Camp began with 12 publishers, representing a mix of business models, market sizes and experience. And while all were well-established news outlets for their audiences, all publishers indicated that they needed strategic and tactical tools to help them turn the corner on sustainability.

Our system of mentoring allowed our coaches to develop deep knowledge of the specific issues that confront independent publishers – whether for-profit or non-profit – in building sustainable businesses. Prior to their 4-day session in Chicago, publishers provided deep background on their businesses, including information on finances, sources of revenue and expenses, personnel and day-to-day business practices.

In their 4-day sessions in Chicago, we worked with publishers to create detailed strategy documents create a business plan for their site. They described their customers, competitors and partners, developed a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), analyzed current and potential revenue sources and provided a detailed exit strategy.

We put those publishers into work groups, pairing them with a business mentor who had expertise in sales, relationship management and the intricacies of running a small business. In those groups, the mentors helped publishers create a 100-day implementation plan, designed to bring their business plan to life.

The program was designed to use the Chicago session as a launchpad, with the 100-day plan as a guide for deeper, ongoing coaching. Mentors worked with the publishers through a combination of individual calls, group work sessions and site visits to help them refine their plan, confront obstacles and stay on task.

Coaches communicated weekly to share breakthroughs and breakdowns, and often doubled up to provide publishers more assistance. In addition, The Patterson Foundation provided small-business books and funded webinars with experts in such areas as recruiting and on-boarding personnel. Mentors and publishers communicated regularly on a shared Facebook page, exchanged documents in a shared cloud. This helped us maintain a high level of touch over the course of a year.

Our Super Camp Team:

The coaches:

Rusty Coats – An online media pioneer and executive with experience in both content and sales, Rusty designed the Super Camp curriculum, recruited the coaches, lead our training session in Chicago and served as “coach wrangler’’ during the year-long mentoring process.

Eleanor Cippel — As managing director of sales, business development and operations for the E.W. Scripps Company, Eleanor is responsible for leading sales initiatives at the community level and driving new strategic opportunities that grow revenue through a diverse offering of advertising products.  In her consulting work Eleanor works with publishers to guide business, sales and revenue strategy.

Emily Lowrey — Emily owns and runs Magic City Post in Birmingham, Ala., that pairs intensely local news with a shopping platform that includes e-commerce, newsletter marketing and marketing services for local independent businesses.  Prior to Magic City Post, she was the Director of Online Operations for the Buffalo News, and before that she led a team that helped GateHouse Media grow digital revenue more than $60 million in their first two years.

Joe Michaud — Joe  began his journalism career on the content side of newspapers and magazines before moving to the business side of online media in 1995, when he helped launch MaineToday.com. Affiliated with three newspapers and a TV station, MaineToday was recognized as a pioneer in original online content, community engagement and successful online business models. Since 2008, Joe has been advising media companies and entrepreneurs as a business coach and consultant. He volunteers as a mentor in Maine’s entrepreneur training program, and has his own startup, ConcertRat.com.

Partner Organizations

The Patterson Foundation has provided financial and logistical support to the Block by Block community beginning with the first summit in 2010. TPF is focused on working through collaborative partnerships to create new realities, seeking to reach beyond single acts of philanthropy to create a ripple effect of change.

Knight Digital Media Center, at USC Annenberg under the leadership of Vikki Porter, has been one of the leaders in teaching journalists and journalism entrepreneurs the skills they need to succeed in a digital age. KDMC’s pioneering work in its Boot Camp programs deeply informed the Super Camp experience..

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Block by Block: Community News Summit 2012 – how to find us online Sept 13-15

BlockbyBlock Community News Summit 2012
Spread the Word! Coming Sept 13-15.

Block by Block: Community News Summit 2012 is the annual gathering of local indie  online news publishers from across the nation. It will be held Sept. 13-15, 2012 in Chicago at Loyola University. If you can’t be here live, connect with us online.

Follow these LINKS to news from Block by Block 2012

hash #bxb12

Live stream of sessions and presentations from Chicago

Reporting Tweeters

Denise Cheng at @dennetmint

Sally Duros at @Saduros

Kathleen Majorsky at @Mediamaj

Anna Tarkov at @AnnaTarkov

News, announcements, questions? @myBXB

Look for live blogs from sessions here on the BlockbyBlock blog.

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JA Publisher Profile: The Hawaii Independent, a profitable news co-op “rooted in the community…like the Green Bay Packers.”

Ikaika Hussey: “We need an institution that’s going to be here for the long haul. And I think the only way to do that is still the community owned, truly community owned institution.”

Ikaika Hussey helped start The Hawaii Independent as a standard, albeit small, for-profit corporation five years ago. A handful of local investors put their money into the local news venture built by a group of local journalists and community activists, including editor and publisher Hussey. But after several years, Hussey went back to those investors and pitched a switch to a cooperative business model for the news organization.

The change happened earlier this year; he mentioned the plans during the Journalism Accelerator forum on local and niche news sites last February. The JA called him recently to follow up and learned that The Hawaii Independent now offers both subscriptions and ownership, with different benefits, following international cooperative principles and guided by organizational bylaws.

Hussey’s inspirations include The Banyan Project, his belief that independent media must be locally owned, and a vision of community contributors building solid journalism. The Hawaii Independent was profitable last year, and Hussey intends to send all member-owners a check at the end of 2012.

JA: What is your secret to being profitable? 

IH: I do sales every day. (Laughs).

Read the full interview on the Journalism Accelerator, and look for Ikaika Hussey next week at Block by Block 2012.

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