Revenue Diversification for Associations

Welcome to the first of our Winter Roundtable series, focusing on Revenue Diversification for Associations. This roundtable will be hosted by Jonny Kaldor, CEO of Pugpig, and Bibiana Campos-Seijo, VP of C&EN Media Group at American Chemical Society.

Time and Date:

Thursday 19th November

11:00 EST (ending at 12:30)

Key topics:

1. How are you selling native content in your association? Is it working?

2. Are we giving away too much to members? Should we be charging extra for some services?

3. Is there something we can learn from the news media’s success in membership models?

4. Insight and intelligence – do they offer new revenue streams?

5. Talent – should we be hiring people from outside the industry to bring new ideas?


11:00 Welcome, setup and introductions around the table
11:10Quick preview of the 2020 State of Digital Publishing report
11:20Bibi keynote
11:35Roundtable discussion of key topics
12:25Wrap up and close


Watch the session here:

Notes from the session:

Below we’ve written a brief summary of the topics discussed in the roundtable. There were lots of questions, and here are some of the answers…

Events, everybody is shifting from physical to virtual events, so the question is – “if everybody is doing them, how do you stand out?”

One way ACS managed to do this was moving away from a typical “half day event”, and instead putting on a “two day festival”. They had Nobel Prize Winners as guests, and were able to sell the same sponsorship packages they normally would for physical events. Instead of getting 500 in-personal attendees, they were able to get 2500 virtual attendees. So even though the ticket cost was at a lower price, it meant it was accessible for more of their members.

Talent, “are we getting the right people?” Simply put, product managers need to be brought into the newsroom – they can be revolutionary. At ACS, introducing product managers three years ago has led to a portfolio of new products, and a focus on user feedback. The more the users feedback, the better the products become, leading eventually to more users. 

One thing is for sure, you need to continue to focus on your strengths, you have extremely loyal members, and you value quality above all else.

Key topic question 1 – How are you selling native content in your association? Is it working?

Whether you call it native content, branded content or sponsored content, the question remains – are the margins too low? These pieces come with high costs, be that financial or staff effort. Some key takeaways:

  • Keep the pieces small, to reduce the effort needed from staff. It’s an editorial lift, but it can bring in some much needed revenue. Doing a Q&A is an easier way to gain content, choose 5 or 6 key questions and the person you’re interviewing writes the majority of the piece.
  • It’s always going to be difficult to produce more when you can’t grow your editorial team. Channels keep expanding, but the number of staff remain the same. Can you use a freelancer to work specifically on native content? Or look at other media options such as Revmade.
  • Therefore you also need to rely on vendors to help produce content. Just need to make sure it is still quality content and thought leadership. Case studies are a great way to structure the stories, it becomes a problem and solution narrative (not just a sales piece). Present the vendors as the subject matter experts. 
  • The vendors/advertisers also appreciate being presented as experts and not just sellers. They no longer just want an impression in a print ad, they want to grow a positive brand perception. Therefore you can consider charging more for these pieces (than the cost of a 1 page ad) as the space in the magazine is more, and the engagement with the content is higher.
  • Need to make sure the balance of branded content in the magazine is correct. Readers can be suspicious of content trying to hide its true self – advertisement. Therefore transparency with your readers is key, make it clear what is sponsored and what isn’t. Consider an ethics committee to review the balance.
  • With print ad revenue taking a decline, native/branded content can help replace the reliance on ads, and in the process you’re offering your readers a better quality magazine.
  • In the digital magazine, anytime you do a piece on product reviews, consider getting an affiliate link agreement too.

Key topic question 2 – Are we giving away too much to members? Should we be charging extra for some services?

Can you take the Wall Street Journal Approach – “More for more, less for less”. By having one price for all, the question may be  – are you giving away too much? If you could offer different tiers of membership at different price points, you can start to increase the value exchange for your most valuable content to your most engaged and loyal members. Some key takeaways:

  • Within each association, you have many different types of members. Low engaged members and highly engaged members. Understanding how to approach these different groups is key to getting the correct value exchange.
  • You have a lot of data that your members would love to access, can you re-package/re-purpose and offer as an additional member benefit? For example ACS are launching ‘Discovery reports’ for all their current members. But maybe this is something you could offer separately to the membership? As an add-on, but also to non-members for a fee. This can also be considered a lead generation strategy, if they engage with the content enough, they’ll consider becoming a full member.
  • Could you offer access to this content for non members for a fee? Bibi offered the example of CV reviews, could non-members pay for this one time benefit without having to become an annual member?
  • Ultimately to gain new members, you need a way for potential members to get a taste for your content before having to fully commit. The better you can do that, the more successful you’ll be. 
  • Need to understand the difference between a subscriber and a member. Simply put, a subscription is transactional, a membership is emotional. The question becomes, do you always want subscribers to eventually become members?
  • Depending on the type of association, there need to be considerations about the level of restrictions you place on access to content. It’s important your audience understand any potential changes you make to existing structures. Communication is key.

Additional topic question – email newsletters, “how do you get them right?”

How can you use a free email newsletter to help drive membership revenue. A few ideas were mentioned. 

  • As well as offering a weekly newsletter covering all topics, you could offer specific course style emails, users can sign up to an “8 week course” on a specific topic, potentially smaller email list, but likely higher engagement. 
  • Use the weekly newsletter to show a taster of what is in the full member magazine. A short synopsis of the piece, with a link to the full story (that is behind the paywall), or maybe the first two paragraphs. Show your email subscribers all the great content they’re missing out on in the member magazine.
  • Or use a count style system. Instead of only sharing a snippet of every story, allow the readers 5 stories for free every month, they can read them in full, but once their monthly allowance is gone, they’ll hit the paywall.