4 Ways Media Companies Can Diversify Their Revenue Streams

Keeping up with a changing industry

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Media companies need new avenues that aren't solely focused on advertising to make money. Getty Images
Headshot of Scott Gerber

The media industry is undergoing a fundamental shift: business models, audiences and revenue sources aren’t what they used to be, and media brands will need to innovate in order to survive and thrive.

Today, the most urgent discussions in publishing circles revolve around revenue diversification. Both b-to-b and b-to-c publishers striving to take their businesses profitably into the future must start investing in new and innovative real estate. This will help them preserve what matters most: the high-quality journalism that is at the center of their ethos. Specifically, there are four key areas that they should be investing against.

Build out brand extension units

Every media brand stands for something, but many haven’t fully realized the potential, elasticity and value that their brands possess.

Brands must think about what brand affinity really means outside of traditional content-driven offerings.

Some notable exceptions are Time Out, the global media brand that helps readers explore their cities, which launched several Time Out Markets and offer physical food and cultural markets that curate the best a city has to offer under one roof; CNBC and MSNBC expanded their footprints on the retail front with branded newsstands in major U.S. airports; Time Inc.’s Real Simple capitalized on its cache with readers with branded products, such as cleaning supplies; and Better Homes and Gardens has one of the oldest and highest performing brand extensions in the industry. These are natural brand extensions that don’t require journalistic resources but they leverage brand authority to create new avenues of growth.

Develop b-to-b membership programs

A growing trend among publications is to put their content behind paywalls, but not everyone will win at that game. Brands must think about what brand affinity really means outside of traditional content-driven offerings.

Even b-to-c publications must think about b-to-b markets and how they can serve as almost “the association of record” for various b-to-b verticals that fit into their brand ethos. Then they can build revenue by offering businesses a utility belt filled with different benefits that they can use depending on lifecycle needs, which can be delivered by working with trusted partners. For example, a home decor publication might offer a special certification to interior designers or a beauty brand could create webinars for salon owners.

Acquire new real-world real estate and digital communities

There’s certainly a time and place for publications to acquire or invest in innovative technology in order to expand. But there’s also a strong case for acquiring tried and true businesses with track records of connecting key constituencies, either digitally or through real-world events.

Expanding into new verticals that are compatible with their ethos and that play to their core sales, operations and marketing strengths will allow brands to be entrenched from day one. For instance, it would make sense for a beauty magazine to buy a fashion or beauty conference, rebrand it or become the top-billed media partner, tap into the b-to-b segment of the industry and have a new business base to deliver value to.

Communities and their assets, like conferences, events and digital communication forums, create new real estate for media companies to engage, amplify and monetize. A digital community may benefit from a print magazine or a conference-based community may benefit from smaller event activations throughout the year. In other words, new real estate begets new real estate that can create more value for users and more touchpoints and sales opportunities for media companies.

Build more accessible branded content programs

Most branded content programs today concentrate on the largest companies in the world. That’s because sales teams are predominantly structured around the needs, sales cycles and procedures of advertising agencies or big company CMOs. As a result, publishers miss out on opportunities for long-tail value and recurring revenue by targeting smaller businesses with products at lesser price points that still offer significant value.

Publishers often think in terms of event tickets or conference participation for smaller businesses, and the full value of that market is often left unrealized. But several media brands have launched highly vetted, invitation-only networks of executives and professionals who have, as a member benefit, the ability to publish native content. This is not a media buy for amplifying corporate content but an opportunity for credentialed thought leaders to work closely with their in-house editors to publish valuable expert content that educates and informs readers. Oversight is strict, ensuring quality and relevance, and the price points make sense for this market and provide recurring non-advertising revenue that can be retained and grown.

There’s no such thing as a silver bullet, but media companies must strengthen their business models and create new, non-advertising revenue streams to create avenues of engagement, strengthen their P&Ls and help shore up the foundations of the properties they are committed to preserving.


@scottgerber Scott Gerber is CEO of The Community Company.
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