Papers shouldn’t shy from for-profit events
The key in organizing for-profit (and pro bono) events is to keep your commercial and ethical priorities straight. The Post, which aired its errors here, goofed not by trying to charge for an event but rather for trying to charge for the wrong kind of event.
Off-the-record power breakfasts, lunches and dinners are among the things that make the world go ’round. Nothing is going to stop them and nothing should. Publishers and editors should keep attending them. They just can’t charge for showing up.
The legitimate way for newspapers to serve the public interest and make a buck is to host events that afford multiple opportunities to generate news and profits at the same time.
If the issue is health care, as it happened to be at the salons scotched at the Post, then there was a huge opportunity for the newspaper to organize a one- or two-day event where prominent experts and interested parties could mingle to mull the issues.
Unlike almost any other organization in the nation’s capital, the Post could draw quite a crowd by leveraging its singular stature as a prominent, neutral and respected brand. The strength of the Post name, the depth of its institutional Rolodex and the persuasive power of its well-connected staff would ensure a glittering array of participants, including potentially The Prez himself.
The gabfest couldn’t help but make plenty of legitimate news, overcoming the reservations of even the most skeptical journalist.
The Post could do well by doing good, too. It could make money by selling sponsorships; charging admission; selling pre- and during-event advertising, and marketing post-event media including web, print and video accounts of the proceedings (which would contain advertising, too).
With health-care bound to be a big story for a long time, the Post could take the opportunity to launch a subscription-only product that would provide timely and actionable information to lobbyists, politicos, academics and wonks who want to follow the legislative sausage-making today and learn how to land their fair share of the federal largesse bound to be dispensed in the future.
The same formula could be employed by the Post and other media companies across the land on topics ranging from autism and economic development to green living and college hunting.
The latter ought to be of particular interest to the Kaplan division of the Post’s parent company and/or our friends at U.S. News and World Report, which have made lovely niches for themselves in the business of connecting aspiring students with institutions of higher learning. If the Post and U.S. News got together, they could produce compelling college fairs to market across the country in partnership with local publishers and/or broadcasters.
College fairs may not produce blockbuster news stories, but they could generate some additional profits to hire a few extra reporters who might. Meantime, well executed, high-profile public service events can’t help but burnish the reputation of the mainstream media as they seek to underscore their relevance to readers and advertisers alike.
With advertising sales bound to be underwhelming for some time to come (and the big-three classified categories unlikely to ever fully recover), publishers need to think more expansively than ever about how to bolster their top lines by leveraging their brands and their still-formidable market reach.
Well conceived events are one of the most efficient, least risky and most obvious ways to do it.