Develop a Revenue-Generating Sponsored Digital Content Program

Here are some tips on how to make digital advertising supplements both an educational benefit to your members and a nondues revenue generator for your association.

I graduated from college with a degree in magazine journalism right before the Great Recession shook up the publishing world. Some of my favorite magazines, Gourmet and Domino, shuttered; so did the city magazine where I worked at the time—all because of dropping ad revenues. Although I had known the importance of advertisers prior to this, I really felt their significance during that tumultuous period of unemployment and closing magazines.

Just as with the for-profit world, advertisers and sponsors are integral to associations and their publishers, but often they don’t get the credit they deserve, says Sabina Gargiulo, senior director of industry relations at AH, a company that provides professional services to associations.

“I think it’s important for associations to understand that oftentimes your corporate supporters, your academic supporters—whoever your supporters are—that oftentimes they have really, really great education and content to share,” Gargiulo said. “A common pitfall I see a lot is that [associations] just see them as the vendors, and that the vendors don’t have anything to say.”

But Gargiulo argues that many sponsors do have some valuable insight and knowledge to share. Lately, Gargiulo has been doing a lot of work with associations and their sponsors on creating custom digital supplements. These pieces, which contain content created by a single sponsor or advertiser, not only provide useful information to members but also serve as a steady stream of revenue for associations. Here are a few tips from Gargiulo on how to go about creating them:

The emphasis is on education. Digital supplements shouldn’t read like advertisements or commercials. They should be educational, and it’s important that “the supplement be on a topic that is of mutual interest to both the sponsoring company and the association,” she said. An association should never put something like this out if the topic has nothing to do with what it represents or what its members are interested in.

Delivery methods can vary. “Traditionally speaking, a supplement is an educationally content-driven piece that comes secondary to a primary publication,” Gargiulo said.  But that doesn’t always have to be the case. They can also act as standalones and be delivered as PDF files or published on digital publishing platforms, such as issuu, as a flip book.

It’s a partnership. While the content should be developed and come from the sponsor, since these supplements may also have the association’s branding on it, it is important that the association gives some oversight. This will help ensure that the supplement’s message is clear, that the voice is right, and that it’s something the association is happy to be affiliated with. Sponsors and associations should also collaborate on targeting the right audience for the digital supplement. In addition, associations should consider developing guidelines for advertising supplements that they can share with sponsors from the start.

Continuing education is a possibility. In industries like medicine and teaching, professionals are supposed to rack up continuing education credits to keep their licenses. In some cases, reading these supplements may help members earning continuing education credits, which will give them an incentive to read and sponsors a greater ROI.

Metrics are important. In choosing your delivery method, you’ll want to consider that flip books and digital publishing platforms will allow you to track different metrics, which are always helpful to both the association and the sponsor in seeing how many people downloaded or read the supplement.

Good news for associations is that these sponsored supplements can serve as an additional nondues revenue stream. For associations with a large number of members who are desirable to sponsors, there’s high revenue potential. “Pharmaceutical companies would pay big bucks for something like this,” Gargiulo said. As for medical and IT sponsors, if they find that your association has a highly coveted audience, Gargiulo says the association could bring in upward of $10,000 to $20,000 per supplement. And for associations with a smaller amount of members, there’s still some decent revenue potential. Part of it relies on associations pricing these sponsorship opportunities correctly.

How are you leveraging your digital advertising supplements for the benefit of your members and your association coffers?


Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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