No rich relatives? Then you'd better get a roadmap

In the first of two blogs, Richard Walters explains the initial steps a member organisation should take to make money from published content.

‘I made my money the old-fashioned way: I was very nice to a wealthy relative right before he died.’

This strategy may have worked for American magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, but – in the absence of rich, elderly benefactors – how do you make money from association publishing?

In my experience, there’s no single answer – which is fine, because single solutions are rarely a good idea. Just look at how certain sections of the publishing industry have been crippled over the past 30 years by their almost total reliance on print advertising.

Fortunately, membership organisations have multiple revenue streams, so the loss of traditional print display has been less damaging. They also have a distinct advantage over commercial publishers – members: a targeted, paid-for audience.

People want to feel they belong, and membership publications – with tailored, specialist content made available in a platform-agnostic way – can reinforce this strong sense of community. Crucially, in an era of ‘fake news’, they can also help maximise trust in organisations.

In the digital age, people expect to access news more urgently than print publications can satisfy, so the frequency and content of magazines have changed. This has affected who advertises and when.

No doubt about it, print spending has dropped – and, according to PWC, it will continue to fall throughout 2019.

There is an enduring quality to print, however; people like the touch, feel and smell of magazines – so a large market still exists. It’s just that the use of print is changing.

Storytelling is playing a bigger role in content marketing, with brands and associations increasingly telling narratives that resonate with their audiences.

So what can organisations do to monetise this content?

Plot a course

The first thing is to create a roadmap for your content and its journey across different communication channels – your magazine, newsletter, social media, webinars and podcasts, for example.

To do this, you will need to understand what your audience wants, when they need it and how they wish to access it – so learn from your analytics data and usage surveys.

Also be clear about your communication and publishing objectives; how do you want your audiences to feel about you – and what do you want them to do?

Plot everything you are doing – including key themes, campaigns and planned content – to create a clear visual plan of what you are producing and how you plan to share it. This will help identify any gaps, as well as opportunities to create something new.

It will also give an indication of how important certain channels are and if you have the balance right.

Stay focused 

There is often a reluctance among member organisations to carry adverts anywhere but in their printed magazine. They worry that advertising will detract from the professionalism or look of other channels, and that it isn’t appropriate.

With a clear visual plan, however, you can plan a coherent strategy for your advertising inventory and offer.

Rather than lead with a demographic selling approach, focus your sales strategy on companies that sell products or services aligned to why someone wants to affiliate to your association.

This will not only improve your members’ experience – by presenting them with commercial messages that enhance what they are passionate about – but it will also achieve the most revenue in the medium to long term.

While individual member organisations measure success differently, they usually focus on one of four pillars: retention of members; growth; engagement; and increased relevance in their field

All of these contribute to potential commercial success, but relevance is particularly pertinent to growing revenues – and I will talk more about this in my next blog.

Until then, however, I’ll just be hanging out with my great-aunt Ethel…

Richard Walters
is director - commercial
at CPL

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