Thoughts after Revenue Two Point Zero: You Need a Revenue Office, Not an Ad Department

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The background

College news organizations need to move beyond advertising. Now.

Hold that thought.

Some background: The topic of generating revenue to sustain news organizations has begun to consume my thoughts about journalism. There are a number of reasons why, but this mostly came after a little meetup last Saturday in DC called RevenueTwoPointZero (Rev2oh on Twitter).

This isn’t the first time our humble CoPress crew is talking about the business side of journalism. Namely, check out Joey Baker‘s post from December, “But we make all our money from newsprint!”.

But why? Aren’t we just about technology and college news sites?

No. That’s a main theme, but we would be remiss if we left revenue off the table. It’s hard to run a news site without money, unless you’re an exception.

Actually, one of our three main goals directly relates to making money: We want student news organizations to generate more online revenue by having full control over their sites.

Getting back to my opening thought…

The reality

College news sites have mostly been playing catchup to the pros. OK. “College students still read campus newspapers,” according to a 2008 Alloy Marketing study. No real harm done by being late to the video game, for example.

Student media are also looking to the Web as a way to generate revenue, mostly through different forms of advertising. This could mean banner ads, contextual ads, floating ads, video pre-roll (cringe), pop-ups (double cringe) or something else. Nothing innovative, from what I’ve seen. Nothing that’s resulting in a possible paradigm shift, such as the buzz from Russ Stanton’s LA Times onlne revenue revelation.

“But we’re getting along OK online, right?” you might ask. Probably. But the point is that we cannot wait until we need solutions to devise and implement them. Unlike some metro papers, college publications can’t afford to lose a million a week (scroll down halfway).

We need to be proactive. We need to be at least two steps ahead.

The proposal

And those first two steps are really not hard. It’s could be as easy as changing the mindset of the business office and bringing in new people. OK, the first one can be really hard.

In the context of college media, where print revenue appears to be holding up better than the big metro papers (with exceptions: “College papers cut staffs, Friday editions due to lagging ad sales”), there’s still plenty of room to grow online advertising. With this in mind, “an estimated 1-2 percent of total revenue for many college media outlets — if that,” says CICM’s Bryan Murley.

Beyond that, there’s an immense opportunity for generating revenue in other ways, which is the second step. That could be anything from offering consulting on how clients can more effectively reach the 18-24 demographic to selling baked goods in the student union.

So who’s responsible? Everyone on your staff, from editorial to business. That doesn’t mean news reporters will be selling ads, just that everyone should be part of the solution. Contributions could be as simple as brainstorming or as hands-on as consulting in ways that don’t conflict with one’s news role.

“But I’m not a business major!” Rev2oh comprised only non-business people. Participants had a variety of backgrounds, but it was primarily a design-oriented group. At least one person asked why there weren’t any business/advertising people. Alan Jacobson, who organized the event with SND president Matt Mansfield, basically said: They’ve had their chance, they haven’t done enough or haven’t been successful and now it’s up to us.

That doesn’t mean you should “go it alone,” but you don’t need that crowd to get stuff done. In many cases, I’m sure they would provide excellent insights.

Just like we need to take lessons from outside of news in order to improve news, we need to take lessons from outside the normal news organization business office to keep the money flowing.

The idea

We need revenue, not just advertising.

I like many of the ideas Steve Outing has discussed (check out his business model-related posts). Instead of rehashing them here, I’ll just say that all of the following thoughts developed after listening to him on the Journalism Now podcasts and after hearing a number of similar ideas from the small business group at Rev2oh, namely Scripps Interactive’s Jay Small.

  • Your college news organization’s newly renamed “Revenue Office” no longer focuses solely on advertising, nor does it serve a single customer — your news organization. It should offer specialized services for off-campus clients.
  • This could include everything from helping them establish a Web site and online brand to helping them promote their product or service on campus.
  • Regarding setting up a site, there is certainly demand. I couldn’t find reliable statistics, but it’s safe to say that many small businesses in college towns could benefit by having (A) a Web site, (B) a freshly redesigned site, (C) a more interactive site, (D) presence on appropriate social media and (E) better presence on social media, for example.
  • Another idea would be to have the revenue office offer research and data that would help the client, from student surveys to conducting focus groups. Basically, as Outing and Small separately referenced, this staff would be like an advertising/marketing department for the client.
  • An important note: they would NOT be public relations.

There are so many possibilities, but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel as a starting point. Yes, we need to look for new models and think outside the box, but we can start by adapting existing models in different fields.

I’m going to be speaking with The Miami Hurricane‘s business manager about these and other ideas soon. The adviser for the yearbook asked me to meet with those leaders to discuss ideas. I implore you to do the same, even if it’s just to get the conversation started.

Final thoughts:

  • Open your mind.
  • Listen to any and all ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail.
  • Read Alan Jacobson’s initial posts on Rev2oh. Contact him. Find others like him. Their out-of-the-box thinking will open your mind. I certainly didn’t agree with Alan on every subject, but within half a day I saw the business side of news — and the possibilities — in a whole new light. He and Matt didn’t simply put us in a different pair of shoes. We were in a whole different outfit.
  • Live long and prosper.

UPDATE: Check this out, Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet.

Link-tastic

Here are some links to help provide more context and background on Rev2oh:

The results on Rev2oh site:

More details about the results on SND Update:

Other related links

Links that were passed around before and after:

Podcasts about revenue for news

7 comments

  1. Great post, Greg.

    One step I’d like to see that I don’t hear anyone talking about (although you did allude to it) is implementing these concepts of “new media” to the revenue side. And I’m not talking about video and flash ads.

    On the editorial side, most of us see the value in things like live streaming/chats, podcasts– so why can’t we implement those same ideas to the business side? It’s a new kind of advertising. It’s conversational and transparent.

    Watching a real estate agent chat directly with students about the forecast for the housing market after graduation says a whole lot more about their brand than a banner ad ever could.

    The only question is the ethics of it: Can you sell content that looks like editorial content? Or does Web 2.0 change those rules?

  2. Greg Linch says:

    Absolutely. I see two options for using Web 2.0 tools, such as a live chat:

    -It could be hosted on the site you set up for the client
    or
    -It could be hosted on the advertising side of your site, something discussed at Rev2oh:

    http://revenuetwopointzero.com/solutions/small-business-solutions/small-business-solutions/

  3. Christopher Keller says:

    Brilliant article. I could not agree more with every point.

    As the faculty newspaper adviser, the Fall 2009 semester will mark the first time I will not fill my advertising editor position.

  4. Greg Linch says:

    @Christopher Could you explain in more detail the situation with the advertising editor?

  5. Joe Moore says:

    Excellent post indeed… this should keep me busy the rest of my night!

    After briefly skimming your article earlier today and thinking about it, I’m already thinking of ways for our paper to earn some badly-needed revenue.

    We get funds from student fees, but the past two years there have been major screw-ups from past people, along with the fact that our business manager two years ago just never paid our printer. We’re just about out of debt from that one (luckily), but we’re still struggling.

    As managing editor for my paper next year (in addition to working to create a real web team), this is my number one priority. One of things I thought of is to buy a new domain, install WordPress MU and start selling website hosting to campus organizations- websites that they don’t need a web person for! It would also give us another opportunity as a place to advertise.

    I’m really looking forward to pushing all sorts of crazy ideas! :)

  6. [...] News organizations of all sizes and levels need to get rid of advertising departments and introduce revenue departments. What a great idea.  It is all about paying the bills to do journalism.  Ads alone probably [...]

  7. [...] Found an interesting story online on the economics of news — linked from a fellow college journalist’s Twitter account — about new business models for college newspapers. [...]

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