Revenue follows audience(s)

By Tom Ratkovich Published November 8, 2015

At the Local Media Association’s Innovation Conference in Denver last month, I had the pleasure of an early breakfast with Bob Gilbert, VP/Audience for Morris Publishing Group. Bob and his colleagues at MPG are undertaking some pretty visionary initiatives.

The eggs were good, but the most ingrained memory of that breakfast was a simple phrase Bob uttered, underscoring the company’s philosophy, culture and business strategy: “Revenue follows audience.”

Now, if you’ve stayed with me this far, I guess that I’m more of a wordsmith than I give myself credit for. But I’m not in Bob’s league. There is more depth, more wisdom, in those three words than all of the blogs I’ve posted in my lifetime. In fact, I’ve written manifestos that try to articulate what Bob laid out in that simple sentence. Its underlying convictions define the strategic priorities not only for Morris, but for all newsmedia companies that seek to remain viable and relevant in a turbulent environment:

  1. Grow your audience
  2. Know your audience
  3. Leverage this knowledge to deliver and monetize relevant communications to your audience

Now I’m in no position to quibble with such brilliance. But I might make one very minor addition that adds further emphasis to Morris’ mandate: “Revenue follows audiences (plural).”

Why the distinction between audience and audiences? Because a persona can belong to multiple audiences for the purpose of monetization. For example, a consumer may subscribe to a daily print product, a daily headline newsletter and a weekly prep sports newsletter – and be a married homeowner with children at home. This consumer is part of at least four audiences – each of which can be targeted and monetized uniquely through subscriptions, display, native, programmatic and more.

And whereas it may be difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully increase total audience, the growth of audiences is a natural outcome of a well-architected media business model through cross-promotion, cross-selling and database development.

I am deeply vested in the future of newsmedia – both as an owner of the Aurora (CO) Media Group and as the Managing Partner of LEAP Media Solutions. Whether it is working to build audiences for AMG or for our client partners at LEAP, it is patently obvious that our audiences are EVERYTHING. So I feel both qualified and compelled to say this:

If we are not investing in building our audiences, then we are strangling our respective businesses – depriving them of the oxygen needed to survive and grow.

Again, I am not simply talking about Total Audience – which can often feel like a futile, costly endeavor to publishers – but Audiences that can be targeted and monetized.

How do you build audiences?

First, you must recognize an irrefutable truth:

The more you know about an individual consumer or persona, the more audiences that individual will belong to.

Once you come to that realization, the road to the growth of audiences becomes a four-lane highway. It is built upon an infrastructure of customer intelligence – an infrastructure that generates it, optimizes it and puts it to use. But that is another manifesto.

Tom Ratkovich is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of LEAP Media Solutions.

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