Events at Independent Media transition from marketing to revenue builder

By Mark Toner

Washington, D.C., USA


For South Africa’s Independent Media, a highly successful high school quiz competition has grown from a marketing venture to a considerable source of revenue. Its initial success in the events space has also opened the door for other, larger-scale ventures with public institutions. 

“What started as a humble marketing initiative — ‘Let’s get youth into the newspaper’ — developed into a highly monetised venture,” says Sandy Naude, group executive for direct advertising and community newspapers. “Where we see opportunities to grow revenue is events.” 

The Cape Argus School Quiz began in 2008 as a fairly typical youth marketing programme — with 19 secondary schools participating and sponsors lined up to purchase newspapers for students to study in preparation for the competition. 

Over the years, more schools and students signed up to participate — 148 teams from 52 schools in 2015. Larger sponsors, including a supermarket chain and insurance company, underwrote the competition and helped it expand to more venues.

As the number of participants grew, the quiz evolved into a round-robin format held over several months, culminating in a final competition held at an opera house in Cape Town.

That setting and the built-in audience of parents and schoolmates led Independent Media to create a career expo in conjunction with the final competition, selling kiosk space in the opera house foyer to colleges and other tertiary education programmes, as well as to career counselors. These expo advertisers also purchase space in a special supplement of the quiz published in the Independent.

What started as a small high school quiz turned into a well-sponsored, well-attended career expo.
What started as a small high school quiz turned into a well-sponsored, well-attended career expo.

Additional partnerships with a radio station and online coverage from Independent Media’s mobile journalism studio have further expanded the quiz programme’s reach. Independent Media has expanded it to two additional provinces, and it is considering a nationwide rollout in partnership with the national department of education.

And that, Naude says, is where events have the potential to become something even more significant. 

As part of a restructuring in 2014, Independent Media divided its commercial sales teams into three divisions: agency, direct advertising, and government. The new government division’s mission is to understand key outreach objectives of different agencies at all levels — local, provincial, and national — and identify opportunities for the Independent to help them communicate with constituents. 

“We are in the media business. The government isn’t,” Naude says.

Through this new division, Independent Media has sponsored conferences for local municipalities and developed non-editorial consumer content about new initiatives such as road services and housing.

While the participating agencies have at times provided small levels of compensation, the majority of revenue from such ventures comes from sponsorships and partnerships with commercial entities. 

Along with working with the national department of education to expand the quiz, Independent Media is also partnering with the national health department on co-sponsored health workshops in less urban areas. Independent Media will bring in additional sponsors, like a medical aid society, to provide services such as remote clinics during these workshops. 

“It’s easier to work with corporates than it is to work with government,” Naude says. “You get a far quicker turnaround if you go and present to a corporate an idea of corporate social responsibility.”

At the same time, however, government ventures have become “a significant side of our business that we will be developing,” she says. ““We all have to do this now, to look at opportunities to build a new set of community to drive revenue.”

Nor does collaboration with government entities diverge from the organisation’s core mission. These ventures, Naude says, “are driven around value for communities.”

With South Africa’s relatively new democracy, there’s still a great need for outreach and basic information, such as how to get a driver’s license, in many regions: “At the end of the day, our readers want something that’s valuable to them,” she says. 

This is one of 14 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Revenue Diversification Beyond Traditional Print and Digital,” released in December 2015.

About Mark Toner

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