8 Ways to Increase Digital Ad Revenue by 50% or More

Companies need to take a serious look at their digital ad programs, make needed adjustments, and prepare sales teams for success. From fixing inventory and pricing to launching programmatic audience extension, here are eight tactics worth considering.

I recently received a fantastic email from a single title B2B publication that I work with: “As of today, we are on track for $452,380 in digital revenue alone. This is a 66% increase over last year’s digital revenues of $271,798!”

How did they do it?

We took a serious look at how the team was approaching digital ad sales, removed programs that weren’t working, reworked their products, delivered more value to their advertisers, and simplified the program. The publisher, editorial, and sales staff got behind the changes and their advertisers obviously responded positively.

Now they’re getting ready to launch some new digital products for next year.

With the fall sales season coming up quickly, now is also the time for you to take a serious look at your digital ad programs, make needed adjustments, and get your staff ready. Here are eight tactics that you should consider.

1. Simplify Your Digital Advertising Program

When I look at most publishers’ digital ad programs, they’re too complicated and have too many products. Ask your ad reps to give you a quick recap of your digital program. If they can’t quickly and easily do this, then you’ve got a problem.

A good rule of thumb is that if you’re not selling out any specific product 70% of the time, you should consider eliminating it. Use that inventory to bolster the value of other digital products. Or get rid of it altogether to reduce site clutter and the number of emails you send – and to improve the performance and value of your other products.

Simplification of your digital products is the best way to help your ad reps sell more and to deliver more value to advertisers, making them want to buy from you again and again.

2. Fix Your Inventory and Pricing

When your advertising program is simple, you can ensure that each product has enough inventory to provide excellent value to your advertiser. This is absolutely critical. If you don’t provide true value, you may sell an advertiser once, but you won’t sell them again.

And when you put enough value into each digital product, you can then adjust your rates accordingly. If you do it right, your base digital ad product should roughly sell for the same price as a full-page ad in your print magazine and deliver comparable value.

Adjusting inventory and pricing also allows you to control supply and demand. If you have too many products that aren’t selling out, there is no urgency on the part of the advertiser. But if you consolidate and simplify your products, you can charge more, deliver more value, and create urgency among advertisers to get access to your limited opportunities.

3. Get Rid of the Frequency Rate Card

Frequency rate cards are a legacy of the print-only era. They were designed to give advertisers a discount if they spent more money with you. But today, we sell print and digital (and more). All the frequency rate card does is silo print and disincentivize advertisers from buying digital.

Consider ditching the rate card and replace it with an overall spend discount. Have a base, 1x rate for everything print and digital. Then, give tiered discounts based upon total advertiser spend instead of just on the number of print ads they buy.

This incents advertisers to spend more money with you regardless of the medium.

4. Consider the Digital Sponsorship Model

I’ve covered the digital sponsorship model before, but it’s worth reiterating here. In the sponsorship model, you take all (or most) of your web and email inventory, package it together in a single price, and limit the number of sponsorships you sell.

You bring a ton of value to your advertisers, can charge a premium, and completely change the nature of discussions with advertisers and agencies. Instead of you competing for limited ad budgets, your advertisers compete for the limited sponsorship opportunities on your site.

It isn’t for everyone, but I’ve seen many publishers (especially in niche B2B markets) increase digital revenue by 50-200% after implementing this model.

5. Develop an Inbound Marketing / Lead Nurturing Business

Lead generation is something that most publishers already have in their arsenal. But very few publishers take it to the next level and develop a true inbound marketing/lead nurturing business. Yet this is where advertisers are moving their budgets.

In a lead nurturing business, the publisher leverages its content expertise to help the advertiser develop a very compelling lead magnet. They use their own website, email, and social channels to market the lead magnet, but also remarket to their audience on programmatic networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc) to drive even more people to the lead magnet.

And you don’t stop after the initial registration. You then upsell people into requesting direct contact with the advertiser through an email drip sequence and other methods. This help turns “prospects” who access the lead magnet into qualified, sales-ready leads … a huge difference!

As a publisher, you either become the best inbound agency in your market or be prepared to watch other ad agencies or competitive publications take market share away from you.

6. Launch Programmatic Audience Extension

Your advertisers are already running programmatic advertising on Google/YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, and other networks. They’re just not doing it with you. But with programmatic audience extension advertising, you can position yourself to recapture a good portion of this business.

The concept is relatively simple. Use your website visitors, social media followers, and email subscribers to create remarketing audiences on various programmatic networks. You then sell programmatic campaigns to your audience targeting your specific audience on those networks.

For advertisers, this is a much more targeted demographic than they could otherwise get. They also get the added benefit of leveraging your brand equity.

For publishers, this taps into new budgets and opens up new inventory that you don’t have on your own website. I have seen programmatic audience extension add hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for publishers, often at 70% margins or higher.

7. Educate and Communicate with Your Advertisers

As I’ve written about previously, it’s critical that you align the advertiser’s objective, creative, and success metrics before, during, and after their campaign. Doing this on a regular basis helps set proper expectations and improve repeat business.

I often see advertisers who want clicks or leads but give the publisher a branding creative. They’re then upset when they don’t get enough clicks. Or the advertiser will say they want a branding objective but are still upset about not getting enough clicks.

As a publisher, you must align the client’s campaign objective, the tactics used in their creative, and the metrics they’ll use to evaluate the campaign. This happens at three critical points: when making the sale, when they deliver ad creative to you, and after the campaign.

Some publishers even do a webinar for their advertisers to help reinforce the importance of direct response versus branding campaigns and aligning campaign objective, creative, and success criteria.

8. Keep Digital in Front of Your Sellers Regularly

Finally, keep your digital products in front of your sellers on a regular basis. Every month dedicate a portion of one of your sales team meetings to review how well products are selling and inventory that is still open.

Talk openly about financial performance and key metrics. Discuss what’s working, what’s not, and what you’re hearing from your advertisers. This helps answer several questions:

  • Do my sellers need more training on certain aspects of our digital business?
  • Do I need to better educate my advertisers and their agencies?
  • Do I need to eliminate or modify our digital deliverables or pricing?
  • Do I need to restructure my sales team to better sell under-performing products?
  • How can I help my sellers better overcome advertiser objections?

Talking about digital sales openly and bluntly also keeps digital at the forefront of your sales team’s mind. It’s a level of accountability and keeps your digital products from accidentally “falling off the radar.”

I hope these ideas were useful. If you have any questions about them or how to implement them in your market, please feel free to contact me and let’s chat about your specific situation.

How to Sell $38K of Subscriptions in 10 Days

If you’re a paid circulation magazine, you know that selling subscriptions online can be a challenge. However, I’d like to share an example of one publication that recently sold over $38K of subscriptions in just 10 days — and the subscription campaign strategy we used to do it.

If you run a paid circulation magazine, you know that selling subscriptions online can be a challenge. However, I’d like to share an example of one publication that recently sold over $38K of subscriptions in just 10 days — and the strategy used to do it.

The magazine we’re talking about isn’t a huge, national publication like Consumer Reports or America’s Test Kitchen. It’s actually a relatively modest, regional lifestyle publication and a member of CRMA (City and Regional Magazine Association).

The publisher’s website isn’t geared at all to drive subscriptions. They have no paywall in place, no digital subscription option, and no way to easily create effective landing pages. They also have an email/marketing automation system that is difficult to use at best.

Yet the team there overcame all of these challenges and, together, we ran a very successful campaign that generated $38K of subscriptions at an initial subscription price of only $11.

A Huge Boost in Paid Subscriptions

The magazine I worked with typically sells 10 subscriptions per day through various channels. However, during the campaign, that average jumped to 69 subscriptions per day … nearly 7x more. Look at the data and you can clearly see the day the campaign started and ended.

Subscription Campaign Success: Chart 1

In the 10 days prior to the campaign, the publisher sold $1,995 of subscriptions. During the 10-day campaign, however, they sold nearly $7,546 of subscriptions. So how does that equate to the $38K I mentioned above?

The publisher’s subscriptions include a non-optional, auto-renew program. That means that they don’t have to re-sell these subscribers every year. Thus, each auto-renew subscription is actually worth approximately $56 over the lifetime of the subscriber.

When you look at lifetime value, the magazine normally generated $5,620 in LTV revenue over a typical 10-day period. But during this 10-day campaign, they generated over $38,000 in LTV revenue … a 7x increase.

Subscription Campaign Success: Chart 2

How the Subscription Campaign Worked

The campaign offered a 50% discount on the normal annual subscription price and made it very clear that the offer was only good for 10 days. This combination of a steep price discount and the urgency of a limited time helped contribute to the campaign’s success.

But the other major factor was how well the publisher drove awareness of the discount and the limited time through all available channels that the magazine had: email, ads on their website, and social media. They also spent $1,000 in Facebook/Instagram advertising targeting a specific demographic in their geographic area as well as re-targeting website visitors and Facebook page followers.

Unsurprisingly, email was the biggest revenue driver accounting for 50% of the directly attributable sales. Ads on the publisher’s website drove 25%, with social media and Facebook/Instagram ads combining for the remaining 25%.

The Campaign Was Part of a Larger Strategy

It’s critical to note that this campaign was part of a larger audience development strategy that we’ve been working on for a while. The campaign wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful as an isolated subscription sales effort.

The audience development strategy focuses first on building their email list. We create high-converting lead magnets that are promoted to their target audience with Facebook and Instagram advertising. Once an email address is captured, the person is then presented with an opportunity to subscribe to the magazine.

This allows the publisher to quickly build up their email list for free. They make as much money in year-one subscription revenue as they spend on advertising. When you take into account auto-renew lifetime value, the publisher actually makes money while building their email list.

Why is this important?

Their new email names converted at a higher rate than their old email names. The publisher’s pre-existing email list was larger than the new, lead-magnet-generated email list. But the new names converted to paid magazine subscribers more than 3x better than pre-existing names.

What’s Next?

While this campaign was off-the-charts successful, it’s not something that can be done more than a couple times per year. If you do it more often than that, you will condition your audience to wait for a big sale and campaign response rates will fall off dramatically.

Working with the publisher, we plan to do this type of campaign a couple times each year. In the interim, we’ll continue to build out their email list rapidly. They’ll add more evergreen lead magnets and will continue to promote them via Facebook and Instagram. We’re also testing the response rate of other programmatic networks like Google, Taboola, and Bing.

This strategy works with paid circulation publications, e-commerce sites, or membership sites. It can even be adapted for controlled circulation publications with some modifications. It takes work, patience, the right tactics, close monitoring, and perhaps some system changes. But the right combination of ongoing email list development and focused, intense subscription campaigns is a powerful combination for any publication.

Why Your Next CEO Might Be Your CDO

The primary job of a CDO is to help a company become more fluent in digital channels and infuse a digital DNA into the culture of a company. The end goal is to have all departments feel as comfortable in the digital medium as with print and events.

I’ve been a Senior VP of Digital, Executive VP of Digital, and Chief Digital Officer (CDO) the bulk of my 25-year career. I’ve served in this role for B2B, enthusiast, and book publishers … and in privately-owned, private-equity-backed, and publicly-traded companies. I have always said that the “Chief Digital Officer” is merely a temporary role, so a recent article from FIPP discussing CDOs becoming CEOs caught my eye.

In a media company, I believe the primary job of a CDO is to help a company become more fluent in digital channels and infuse a digital DNA into the culture of a company … from content and production, to audience development, marketing and sales. You might even have a fully separate digital department during this transition time to help execute the strategy while the rest of the company is learning and still focused on the traditional parts of the business.

The end goal of a CDO is to have all departments and personnel feel just as comfortable in the digital medium as with print and events, and to look across all potential channels options for the best ways to serve their readers and advertisers. A company has turned the corner when the digital innovation no longer comes from the CDO and the digital department, but from the “traditional” editors, sales, production and audience development teams. If this culture transformation is successful, the responsibilities for digital will be re-integrated into their rightful departments within the company.

When this transition happens, a CDO is no longer really needed to lead digital innovation or execution. Instead, the role of the digital team changes to more of an IT function focused on customer-facing technology: hosting, web / app development, systems integration, data management, and internal user support and training. The CDO either must shift to more of an CTO/CIO role overseeing digital technology and operations or find another CDO opportunity elsewhere.

There is one other option, however … the CDO could transition into the CEO role.

If you have been a truly successful Chief Digital Officer, you have a unique perspective on the entire media company. Typically you have worked closely with the CEO and CFO and been involved with C-suite and board-level strategy, decision-making, and communication. You understand the financial and business dynamics of the company, not just for digital, but for the legacy parts of the business as well. You have a clear picture of your customer base, what drives revenue, the cost factors, the competitive landscape, and your key business partners and vendors.

You have also interacted closely with all departments of the company. You’ve learned how editorial, production, ad sales, ad operations, marketing, and audience development all work, understand how they fit together, speak the language of each department, and have heard their needs and ideas. You’ve had to communicate a vision that they understand, believe in, and can rally behind. Leadership and communication skills are critical.

But a good CDO is also so much more than just a digital technology advocate. They realize that, while digital is critically important to the future of any media company, it is only part of the picture and must fit with the rest of the business. The goal isn’t so much to drive digital specifically as it is to grow the entire business.

Given all of this, the Chief Digital Officer is perhaps more uniquely equipped to take on the role of CEO than any other person within the organization. Certainly there is even more that a CDO would need to learn to successfully make the transition. But I believe that what happened at Hearst with Troy Young taking over as CEO and Jeff Litvack taking over as CEO of AdWeek are bell-weather moments for the publishing industry. Personally, I expect to see even more examples of CDOs becoming CEOs in the coming years.