The Power of Events for Profitable Publishing

Digital media has become all about the head and not enough about the heart. Magazines, newspapers and television have always been tactile and emotional. Once upon a time, a publisher would drop his magazine on a marketers desk and it landed with a thud.  Readers looked longingly at cars or clothing displayed in high resolution on a glossy page. Marketers took pride when they saw their ad on a right hand page far forward.  And, when they had a good ad in a good place in a good publication, they showed it to their boss.

Digital media though is all about numbers and spreadsheets.  Particularly in this age of programmatic, campaigns are run in the ether.  Analysts can produce campaign reports that “prove’ that the ads ran in good places and were seen.  But there are rarely those moments when a marketers “knows” in their gut that their message is touching a real live buyer. And, at some fundamental level, they fear that they are being conned.

The mega-platforms (GOOG, AMZN and FB) are the lords of scale. All about tech. Nothing about touch.

Smart publishers need to use events both as a revenue stream but also to extend their brand and bring their readers and viewers to life for marketers.

I have long been a fan (and investor) in Skift. Their founder, Rafat Ali, has been a friend for a number of years and is one of the publishers that I respect most in the industry. We first met when he was building Paid Content, a leading source of news about internet media. I was an early supporter and investor in Skift, his attempt to revolutionize the business of news about the travel industry.

From the earliest days, Rafat has leveraged the power of events to build the Skift brand and help make Skift very important to thought leaders in the travel industry. He recently wrote this excellent article about how this has been accomplished.

There are a number of other great examples.  Outdoor Project, where I am also an investor and board member, has hosted a series of summer block parties in cities across America for the past few years. In addition to being a profitable revenue stream, these events bring outdoor industry companies face to face with their consumers.  When a marketer is standing on the street outside a hip, micro-brewery surrounded by five thousand customers they feel that their message is getting across.

My friend, Mark Zusman, founder of Willamette Week has also taken an interesting approach to events.  Willamette Week is a respected weekly publication (they’ve even won a Pulitzer Prize) that covers both the news and politics of Portland but also the arts, entertainment and culture. Mark has amplified his brand through two successful events, TechFest Northwest and MusicFest NW. I have watched TechFest grow over the past few years in both importance and sophistication. More than just a platform for egotistical entrepreneurs, VCs and fan boys, the event has offered thoughtful discussions of role of technology in society. They’re bringing interesting and important voices to the table.

My last example is Spirited Media (and, yes, I am an investor and board member).  Through their brands  Billy Penn, The Incline and Denverite, they are bringing vibrant, compelling news to Philly, Pittsburgh and Denver.  Their goal is to create an engaged community of younger readers around these brands and events are an important part of that effort. Through their “Who’s Next?” awards, they showcase the emerging generations of leaders in their cities. Events bring these people, other leaders and top companies together with the news brand as the hub. These gatherings demonstrate the importance and vitality of the media and give the brand depth and richness.

As I often say, the core strategy for profitable publishing is to invest in being important to readers and marketers.  Smart events is one way to accomplish this.