Beyond Display: How to Creatively Monetize Your News Website

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, legacy news organizations were already looking for new streams of revenue. 

Local advertising forecasts by firms like BIA Advisory Services predicted contractions in advertising spending that would present new industry-wide challenges over the coming year. But of course, nobody could have predicted the widespread pain that businesses in every sector would feel in light of the current pandemic.

As news publishers grapple with how to achieve profitability in the “new normal” we find ourselves in, many are struggling to sell advertising to local businesses that are themselves facing massive losses. According to a survey by Digiday Research, 85% of publishers say they anticipate a loss in ad revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses that are shutdown or struggling to pay their employees have cut off all advertising. That’s forcing news organizations to think beyond display advertising as they search for new opportunities for monetization.

With the single biggest revenue driver for legacy news companies seeming to have stalled, at least temporarily, publishers are seeking out creative solutions to monetize their websites until their advertisers’ budgets return to pre-pandemic levels.

Incentives for Advertisers

One of the more creative options being pioneered right now is happening at Vice Media Group. The company recently announced that it would be offering free advertising across its websites to local businesses experiencing challenges due to COVID-19. The initiative, which is being dubbed “Locals Only,” involves placing ads in geo-targeted local rotations on websites owned by Vice Media Group.

Vice is a global media company, but its local advertising idea could easily be adapted for smaller news publications, as well. During a time when many local businesses are struggling, offering ad placements at free or reduced rates could be a highly-effective strategy for bringing new advertisers into the fold. Depending on the results they see, those businesses could easily be persuaded to continue their digital campaigns once their advertising budgets have returned.

Paid Directory Listings

Although Vice is taking the long view, other media companies are looking for more immediate results. For publishers who are willing to get creative, community calendars and directories can quickly be monetized by selling listings to readers, nonprofit groups, and local businesses through self-serve portals.

Paid directory listings and calendar listings add up quickly for a news publication. Small businesses and community organizations will often jump at the chance to have their events listed in an online directory. And because the fee for paid or promoted listings is usually less than traditional display advertising, most businesses will still be interested in participating, even while they continue to pull back on overall ad spending.

Getting creative with this strategy means mixing in free and paid listings. For example, a publisher with a summer camp directory might post basic listings for free, but charge a fee to camps that want to add images or external links to their listings. Publishers can also charge businesses for prominent placements in an online directory or community calendar.

That sort of creative thinking is key for news publishers that hope to increase revenue during this challenging time. Being willing to leverage content in new and innovative ways can lead to big wins.

Newsletter Advertising

Given the growing number of media companies that send out weekly email newsletters, it makes sense that this would be an area that’s ripe with opportunity. Publishers can generate additional revenue based on the content they have already published when they sell advertising in their email newsletters. Newsletter advertising is popular among businesses even during the pandemic, since it has been shown to generate excellent ROI.

With the Broadstreet platform, publishers can add advertisements to newsletters through RSS merge and “static” zone code. The “static” zone code tends to be the preferred method among news publishers. However, because email clients don’t allow for javascript, there are certain features that publishers can’t use for their newsletters.

The larger the size of the audience, the more the publisher can justify charging for newsletter advertising. As with all of these strategies, creativity is the key to success here. Publishers who leverage their existing audience database have the most to gain by monetizing their site in this way. 

If your news organization is swimming in red ink and you’re looking for a creative way to get back into the black, try these four strategies on for size.

Creative Ways to Monetize a News Website

In summary, there are several ways to go beyond display advertising and monetize your news website and jumpstart revenue. Start with the following, but don’t be afraid to step outside the box and try something new. Especially now, creativity is a must to survive and thrive.

  1. Offer a special incentive to bring new advertisers on board
  2. Charge businesses to have their events included on a community calendar
  3. Sell premium listings in an online directory
  4. Run display advertising in existing email newsletters

Want to read more on ad sales best practices and tips to generate more revenue with the resources you already have? Visit our ad sales training library for access to a multi-video series on key elements of ad sales, plus downloadable templates and documents to support your efforts.

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