That media houses need to expand their revenue streams is not in dispute. How they do it, though, is a whole other chapter in the story of the evolution of print and digital media. One thing is for sure, though, and that is events, if done professionally and if they tap in to what business and the public want, can deliver all sorts of useful dividends, writes Glenda Nevill.
On Thursday, the Daily Maverick is hosting its annual The Gathering, a talkfest showcasing some of the best business and political brains around, interrogated by some of the most incisive media brains in the business.
CEO of the Daily Maverick, Styli Charalambous, says The Gathering is a “huge boost” for the online publication. And, he adds, the line-up of speakers “ensures it’s pretty much the main focus of the news agenda for the day”.
“Along with the social media coverage that goes through the roof, traditional media coverage for the event helps elevate the brand a little more each year and reach people we can’t with our non-existent marketing budget,” Charalambous says. “I think these two elements combined, being the extensive media coverage and high-profile speakers, showcase the value of the Daily Maverick brand as an important cog in the media landscape. And it’s a great extension of who we are online: non-conformist, entertaining, enlightening and maverick.”
It’s a view borne out by publisher of The Media Online and The Media, Sandra Gordon, who says events such as the annual MOST Awards and her decade-long Women in The Media event, add “immense value to the brand and reputation” to the print and online publications, as well as to the media agencies and media owners who take part. “For instance I used to get asked to present at conferences, breakfasts and so on. Digging a little deeper you find they are using your good name to attract other speakers and an audience. These are what I call ‘wild card operators’ who know little about the industry and care even less about reputation,” she says.
Charalambous believes events for media companies are going to become increasingly more crucial “as the ability of advertising revenue to support the business wanes. The real question is finding the one that fits the brand, is profitable and doesn’t compromise the ethos of the organisation”.
In July last year, Times Media Group – which hosted the annual Alan Paton book awards – took the step of buying the Future Group, a publishing company but more, a group that hosts a series of annual events from Redzone roundtables, the MTN Radio Awards, the Future of Media Conference and the annual AdForum. At the time, (now outgoing) TMG managing director, Mike Robertson, told Bizcommunity, “The acquisition adds strengths to our market leading products and will enable us to pursue new revenue sources. The aim with our publications is to provide knowledge that enriches readers’ lives. Future Group has a proven track record in creating events that do exactly the same thing”. The group declined to comment on the industry for this story, saying they didn’t want to reveal their strategy.
While events can be money-spinners, there is the danger that badly managed ones can damage reputations rather than build them. Gordon says they must be “relevant and thoughtfully conceived” while aligning with your brand.
Charalambous believes events such as The Gathering take “a couple of editions” before breaking even. He says the Daily Maverick is fortunate to have crossed that hurdle – even with the added burden of hosting what could be seen as a political speaking conference. “Most corporates treat us like Ebola carriers when we come asking for support, so we’re lucky and grateful to have sponsors like Nando’s who give a cluck,” he says. News channels eNCA and Al Jazeera came on board as the media sponsors.
Gordon created the MOST Awards and the Women in The Media event as developmental projects and personally invested in them before looking for partners and sponsors. “In this way I could test their validity before asking for support. If properly done events mean big business,” she adds.
Gordon says owners of radio stations have long realised the benefits and values of events as brand extensions. “Look at 702, Kaya and Jacaranda – walks, runs, cruises and music shows. They draw listeners closer to their brands and can make money or at least break even. Print media clearly view events as an alternative revenue stream, they are hard work but can be very rewarding,” she says.
For the Daily Maverick, The Gathering has delivered new contributors, investors and staff. “It’s a nice way to say thanks to the many people who’ve helped us along the way, and of course we use it as tool to showcase the event for future potential sponsors,” he says.
Gordon says events don’t necessarily deliver more advertising. “This is not usually the core focus as advertising is offered as part of the sponsorship package. Many clients I have spoken to are looking at native advertising and to ‘own content’ and events can prove very beneficial to them. The down side is that clients will be tainted with the same brush as the organiser if the event is not done credibly and well,” she says.
Eventing is no quick fix, though. As Charalambous says, it is “hard”. “I used to joke that putting on something of this nature is the closest a man can come to experiencing childbirth, considering the times we couldn’t’ afford professional event producers. But even if they aren’t profitable they can still be seen as successful because of the marketing value that can be achieved, as long as they aren’t just another event on the overdone speaking circuit”.
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