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If you are not running events or expanding your existing events, you are leaving a lot of money on the table

Done right, events can be the highest ROI of any revenue-raising activity you undertake, writes John Wilpers.

Why kill yourself for pennies when you can work just as hard but make a lot more money at the end of the day?

How? Run events, especially e-learning events.

Vogue India wedding invitation ()

Many magazine publishers are discovering that events can be the revenue source with the highest return on investment. And e-learning events offer even more lucrative margins due to significantly lower overhead and longer revenue-producing lives.

“Everyone is getting into the [events] game because it is good business, and it definitely has better margins, when done right, than the regular equation of journalism and writing,” TechCrunch COO Ned Desmond told The New York Times. Some publishers are seeing 20 to 30 per cent of their total revenue coming from events.

“There’s money in this business,” media analyst Ken Doctor told MarketPlace.org. Advertisers who might be hesitant about advertising in print see more and different value in sponsoring events, Doctor believes.

Not only is the money good, but events also deliver much more.

Events do so much more than drive revenue 

Events also: 

  • Boost exposure
  • Diversify revenue sources
  • Are much harder to disrupt than other revenue sources
  • Deepen connections with audiences and sponsors
  • Hike circulation
  • Beat the competition to ownership of a niche
  • Expand relationships with businesses and institutions that may add more to a publisher’s coffers over time
  • Attract advertisers who might not advertise in the magazine’s media
  • Break news
  • Raise the magazine’s stature among consumers and key players in a niche
  • Reward subscribers with special access
  • Give magazines “face time” with their subscribers and potential subscribers
  • Have high growth potential

And if you’re looking for revenue opportunities, events offer a virtual smorgasbord of options for advertisers, instead of just banner or print ads. Event advertisers or sponsors can be offered:

  • Pre-event promotions
  • Sponsorship of separate sessions
  • Digital advertising
  • Program advertising
  • Pre-roll advertising on videos
  • Sponsorship of streaming event video
  • Event signage
  • Booths

60-second pitches to the audience 

With all these strategic, marketing and revenue opportunities, what’s not to like about events?

For whatever reason, though, many publishers don’t even do events, or they do the same old events year after year, not creating offshoots of profitable events or not creating new brand-related events, never mind launching profitable e-learning events. 

And there are all sorts of different types of events you can run depending on your niche, your audience, and your expertise:

  1. Corporate/Industry events
  2. Education and training workshops
  3. Galas and awards
  4. Lifestyle expos
  5. Cultural events.
  6. Social events
  7. Idea festivals
  8. Political events

Events can drive revenue long after the event itself

 Another benefit of events is that they can live on and on and on. 

“There is a great opportunity to engage those customers who did not physically attend an event or conference,”  according to Doug Murphy, President of Thought Industries, a technology company working with leading publishers to build e-learning businesses. “There is so much rich programming generated at conferences and events that can be repurposed and offered to attendees who may have missed a session or to people who simply could not make it. 

“Event content can be leveraged in a variety of ways,” said Murphy. “Capturing videos from sessions or keynotes or working with the subject matter experts and speakers to create a more enhanced learning experience as part of their participation.  All of this content can be quickly and cost-effectively transformed into valuable online learning experiences that can be sold or delivered as part of an ad sponsorship.”  

“Additionally, an online experience can build an ongoing relationship with your attendees — an important business practice,” Murphy said.

If you’re a publisher looking for inspiration, there is no shortage of examples of all sorts of successful events to use as a springboard to find what works for you. 

Here are some inspiring examples of successful events

Look no further than the 2015 winners of FOLIO's FAME Awards, honouring the best events in the magazine media industry. The 15 categories alone testify to the breadth and depth of the event niche in magazine media publishing.

Sunset Savor the Central Coast ()

For example, Sunset magazine won for an annual event they launched just six years ago in a niche you would think was overcrowded: Food and wine. And they did it in the central coast area of California where there was already a slew of food and wine events. But Sunset’s 2014 four-day “Savor the Central Coast” event drew 10,000 people paying an average of US$313 each. And those 10,000 attendees made sponsors very happy with almost two-thirds of them interacting with the sponsors in some fashion. 

Sunset secured 150 regional vintners, master chefs, and restaurants to offer tastings and interactive seminars. Sunset also procured four major national sponsors — Buick, KitchenAid, Torani (high-quality syrups), and San Luis Sourdough (bread), as well as 16 local sponsors. All told, the event generated almost $950,000 in print and digital revenue as well as $130,000 in sponsorship feeds.

Create your own awards, then charge people to come

Glamour Women of the Year Awards ()

My favourite event genre, though, is the awards or recognition dinner. You, as a respected authority in your niche, can create a “Best Of” event out of whole cloth. Where nothing existed before, you can conjure up a competition and awards process that will garner a great deal of attention, news, and revenue for your magazine. 

Take Glamour for example, the 2015 FAME winner in the Awards and Recognitions Event category for their “Women of the Year” gala dinner. Back in 1990, Glamour recognised that not one of the dozens of magazines focused on women was honouring women of achievement. Glamour appointed itself not only the arbiter in determining the women of the year, but also the organisation that would charge people a lot of money to come to the event honouring those women. 

Glamour executives were probably thrilled at the turnout of 250 people for the first awards dinner in 1990 at New York City’s iconic Rainbow Room.

Then the event grew and grew and grew. In 2014, 3,000 executives, movie stars, athletes, activists, singers, designers, academics and more attended the “Women of the Year” awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Fortune most powerful women event ()

Taking a page from Glamour, Fortune launched its own women’s event a few years later, “Fortune’s Most Powerful Women”. Their event is both more exclusive and more expensive: In 2014, attendance was limited to 400 attendees who shelled out $8,500 each for the privilege (a stunning $1,000 price hike from the year before!). Two hundred and fifty people on the waiting list wished that they could have paid that steep admission fee. 

Milking an event for all it’s worth

But Fortune went beyond what Glamour does: Fortune not only live-streamed the conference (more sponsorship and advertising opportunities), they also offered consumers back-stage glimpses via Twitter and Instagram (yet more sponsorship and advertising opportunities). Fortune then archived the live-streamed videos on fortune.com (even more ad inventory), where they have since garnered hundreds and in some cases more than 10,000 views.

No fools, the folks at Fortune launched a sister Most Powerful Women conference in London three years ago. Then, at last year’s MPW event, Fortune announced:

  • A daily MPW e-newsletter (“daily dish” in their words)
  • A Most-Powerful-Women-focused channel on Fortune’s website, and
  • A piggyback conference “MPW Next Generation” starting in 2015

Now THAT’s milking an event for all it’s worth!

The next frontier for event innovation: e-learning

The next frontier for magazine events is e-learning. While online webinars and DIY digital training have been around for a long time, magazines are late to the party. But not too late.

Inc. magazine has called online for-profit courses “one of the top eight niche markets”, forecasting that branded e-learning would remain a lucrative market for several years. The global eLearning Market is expected to reach $107 billion by 2015, according to Christopher Pappas, founder of The eLearning Industry's Network.

Online learning (e-learning) works for both B2B and B2C publishers alike.

“We see online learning as a logical extension of our mission and, in our case, an initiative that builds upon our core competencies as a digital-only publisher, from content creation to targeted marketing,” Alex Ford, CEO of Praetorian Digital, the leading digital-only media company in the safety and security market, told FOLIO.

“Unlike advertising sales, which are incredibly tough to make recurring, online training provides stable, predictable recurring revenue with great visibility for revenue and sales planning,” Ford said. “Doing it right means having great content with tracking and reporting of data, which isn’t easy. But it can be incredibly sticky once achieved — with high switching costs, renewal rates in the 80- and 90-per cent range and contracts that renew automatically.”

Rodale U example ()

In late February 2015, for example, health and wellness publisher Rodale Inc. announced the launch of Rodale U offering immersive learning experiences for consumers through paid online courses. Each class offering will be presented by one of the company’s portfolio of world-class brands, including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention, Runner’s World, Bicycling, and Organic Life. 

Developed in partnership with online learning company Thought Industries, Rodale U runs courses using video, text, slideshows, audio, social and instructor interaction, quizzes and workbooks. Courses will be led by in-house experts and editors from the Rodale family of brands. 

The courses currently available are: 

Rodale and Thought Industries plan to roll out another six over the remainder of this year.

Where live events involve a lot of logistics, additional personnel, and space rental, e-learning “events” have few incremental costs, according to Rodale president Scott Schulman. He says Rodale already has the talent and infrastructure in place, and can create the video and other content in-house using internal talent. 

Prices to the consumer may drop, according to Schulman, as Rodale adds more courses and can offered bundled packages. Or, he added, as sponsorships are sold, reducing the registration fee.

Why does e-learning work so well for publishers?

“Magazine media publishers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this rapid growth in the personal and professional learning segment for three very specific reasons,” said Barry Kelly, CEO of Thought Industries.

  1. Publishing organisations have significant volumes of rich content that can be easily transformed into learning products
  2. They have established marketing and distribution channels to promote and offer online learning
  3. Publishing companies enjoy loyal audiences who trust their editors, contributors and staff as credible sources for learning or how-to content

Assets such as images, videos, ebooks, articles, blogs and other artefacts when organised and curated effectively become powerful learning objects, said Kelly. 

Another enabling factor is technology. There are so many tools to get to market efficiently and cost-effectively that fewer people than ever before are required to launch and maintain a learning business these days. 

There is also a robust industry of online learning enablers to help publishers build and launch successful online learning businesses. These companies help publishers create learning content, train their teams and work with them to expand their digital learning business.

So, if you are not doing events, or not building on your successful events, it’s time to get started. And, if you’d rather not hire someone to run and sell the events, bring in people temporarily on contract, give them some incentives, and if they succeed, bring them on board later.

But don’t delay. Someone else might be looking at your event turf and get there before you. It’s a lot easier to be first.

More like this

A closer look at Rodale’s new online learning platform

Why are publishers investing in online learning?

The rise of online learning and its opportunity for publishers

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