Bob Sillick | for Editor & Publisher
It’s not that newspapers’ traditional revenue streams — subscriptions and advertising — are broken. They are simply insufficient to sustain and strengthen the bottom line as newspapers transition from a print to a digital business model.
Newspapers of various sizes across the country have discovered a proactive program of organizing and hosting events and sponsorships. As a result, they’ve increased revenues, created opportunities for local businesses to engage with organizations and the public differently and strengthened the perception of newspapers as the leading supporter and voice of their communities.
The types of events and sponsorships newspapers are utilizing to increase revenues reveal a remarkable level of creativity and vision to appeal to a diversity of audiences:
- A running event to support a local newspaper, literacy and education project.
- A geocaching event to attract visitors and their travel dollars.
- An online holiday Jeopardy® program to support a community program for the homeless and those suffering from mental health and addiction issues.
- A best-of event for local food and beverage vendors to increase their exposure.
Leonard Woolsey is president of Southern Newspapers, a Houston-based, family-owned publishing company with multiple local Texas newspapers, including The Galveston County Daily News, the oldest newspaper in Texas. Woolsey is also the publisher of the Daily News.
Leonard Woolsey, president of Southern Newspapers and publisher of The Galveston County Daily News
He was one of the many newspaper publishers searching for new revenue streams. From his perspective on the community, he noticed that more businesses were realizing the value of sponsoring events.
“When contacting Galveston-area businesses about sponsoring a Daily News event, we discovered it’s easier to capture sponsorship than ad dollars,” said Woolsey. “Often, sponsorship dollars come from a PR or community-support budget, and more businesses want to be recognized as actively involved in their community.”
According to Woolsey, many newspapers with a significant and loyal audience aren’t packaging that strength for advertisers as new exposure opportunities. He said sponsoring businesses aren’t necessarily looking for a return on their investment but to establish a different emotional connection with the community and possible customers. Plus, most sponsors aren’t able to organize and stage an event.
Entertainment at 2021 Parade of Homes, hosted by The Galveston County Daily News, generated almost $80,000 in revenue.
That being said, Woolsey and his team at the Daily News have generated some outstanding ROIs for the newspaper from a diversity of events. For example, although the first Parade of Homes the paper organized and promoted was during the height of the pandemic, it was successful enough to plan the second Parade of Homes during 2021. Woolsey estimates the hard costs for the Parade were $10,000, and it generated almost $80,000 in revenues.
The paper created an event website, printed signs for all homes in the Parade, hired a videographer and other vendors.
“Some may think communities are over-saturated with running/jogging events, but we staged the Press Run to support the News in Education Newspaper, Literacy and Education Project. And ours generated revenues of $50,000,” said Woolsey.
He stated that the Daily News has generated approximately $150,000 in new revenues from events and sponsorships during 2021. They’ve been so successful that the paper has decided to organize and host one per quarter.
“Events and sponsorships have become our fastest-growing revenue stream,” added Woolsey. “I encourage any newspaper to learn from ours and others’ examples, but I also recommend starting slowly, testing the waters and planning a small first event.”
Big results from small-city events
Creating successful events with eager sponsorships isn’t limited to the largest markets. For example, Bend, Oregon, is a small city on the Deschutes River with a population of slightly more than 100,000.
Because of the area’s natural beauty and a draw for tourists, it was fitting for the local paper, The Bulletin, to organize and host the Bend Arts, Culture & Adventure (BACA) GeoTour during fall 2021. Geocaching is a popular outdoor activity with people around the world. Enthusiasts place small containers known as geocaches in urban, rural and wilderness locations and mark them by their GPS coordinates, which others can seek with a GPS device.
Heidi Wright, the publisher of The Bulletin and COO of EO Media Group, the paper’s parent media company, said the paper received a $19,000 grant to fund the BACA GeoTour.
“The event’s goal was to attract tourists from outside the area to attend the event and increase local accommodation, dining and other related spending,” said Wright. “The geocaches were purposely placed near local arts and cultural sites to encourage participants to tour those sites.”
Everyone received an event package that included a BACA GeoTour Passport. It was used to record a secret code word in each of the geocaches they found, which earned the participants points. They also received points for staying at sponsoring hotels and patronizing other supporting businesses in The Old Mill District of Bend. The Bulletin plans to host the second BACA GeoTour during spring 2022.
The Bulletin’s annual pet calendar event proved successful in supporting the Humane Society of Central Oregon. Readers and Bend’s many pet owners voted on 256 photo submissions through four rounds. Each vote cost a fee, which resulted in a total of $15,000, with $9,500 just from the final round of voting.
“As more households welcomed pets during the pandemic, those in the Bend area and pet lovers, in general, showed their generosity by participating in our annual pet calendars,” said Wright.
Henry M. Lopez, digital enterprise and marketing director at the Santa Fe New Mexican
Meet Henry Lopez, the “El Rey of Events”
Self-proclaimed or not, Henry Lopez, digital enterprise and marketing director at the Santa Fe New Mexican, has earned the title. From April through early December 2021, he and his team produced, hosted and promoted 21 online events and a total of more than 50 events for the year.
Lopez says one of the paper’s success secrets is creating most of the events in conjunction with nonprofits, many of which rely on events to generate donations and grants. Most of them, therefore, budget for events, but as Lopez discovered, they don’t have the personnel and promotional experience to stage it and maximize interest.
“Nonprofits’ events need publicity, and that is what a local media company does best. My team has the experience, and we have the production capabilities, such as shooting videos, to provide nonprofits with the tools they don’t have and couldn’t afford,” said Lopez.
“Because of the many events the New Mexican has produced and promoted and their success, each succeeding event attracts even more readers, residents and sponsors to participate and provide the financial support that so many of our local nonprofits need.”
Lopez added that some nonprofits, having seen the positive results of partnering with the New Mexican, come to the paper with an idea for an event and ask Lopez and his team to execute it.
When the “King of Events” calls, even the mayor of Santa Fe and other local government and social services officials respond. Many of them were the contestants of The Life Link’s Online Jeopardy Game, a live, online event on Dec. 2, 2021. All those joining the event could play the game just as they do the nationally syndicated TV program and donate as they participated and entertained.
This was the second Jeopardy event for The Life Link. It focuses on helping the homeless, those with mental health and substance abuse challenges and survivors of human trafficking to improve their health and living conditions.
“We found a company that could provide the rights to use the Jeopardy name, logo and music,” said Lopez. The second Online Jeopardy Game raised more than $10,000 for The Life Link. “As we’ve hosted more successful events and they’ve become more visible in the community, more businesses and advertisers want to be a part of them, although we had very few initially. We’re now closing 80% of these sponsorships.”
Lopez said the paper’s many events for nonprofits have created opportunities to host and promote job fairs and even local political forums and town halls. He and his team are now offering to help other media companies add events to their calendars with training programs.
Chris Stegman, chief revenue officer at The Salt Lake Tribune
Food glorious food
It may not have been how Chris Stegman, chief revenue officer at The Salt Lake Tribune, wanted to measure the success of the first annual Salt City Best Fest with more than 30 food and beverage vendors, but all the food was sold by 7 p.m.
The other happily unexpected measure of the event’s success was the more than 3,000 people who attended, which, undoubtedly, led to the quick disappearance of the invited restaurants’ fare.
“Because this was the first event of its kind in Salt Lake City, the paper’s primary goal wasn’t generating revenue,” said Stegman. “We wanted to promote and provide exposure for local restaurants. The value for the paper was the many new relationships we established with restaurants and the other vendors and businesses. It also was a training ground for future events for our dedicated event team. It will certainly be a model for the future.”
Guests at The Salt City’s 2021 Best Fest enjoy beverage samples. The inaugural event was so successful that they sold all the food by 7 p.m.
The Best Fest was a companion event to the paper’s annual Best of issue. Most of the restaurants and vendors were highlighted there, but others were invited to provide a broader selection of food items.
Not only did guests have many choices of beer, wine and spirits to sample, but the event included six different alcoholic beverage seminars and a sports bar where guests could watch the college football conference championship games. In addition, guests were entertained by live musical performances and could choose a VIP-level experience. A ticket also included a free ride to and from the event on the UTA (Utah Transit Authority).
Stegman was equally focused on careful financial planning for the event since it was a first for the Tribune. That effort allowed the participating food and beverage vendors to be paid at the end of the night.
The vendors were also pleased with the responses from guests, as many commented that the city needs events like the Best Fest. Many vendors said guests enjoyed discovering restaurants they had never visited, but they were now planning to do so.
“With this experience, we are adding two similar events for 2022 with the same mix of food, alcoholic beverages, entertainment and fun activities. One may be more exclusive while the other will be more accessible to a broader audience,” said Stegman.
Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at [email protected].