January 24, 2020

Content Strategy & Events — One Way to Think About the Funnel

I’ve been thinking a lot about content strategy from the perspective of launching new events. A lot of publishers see events as this panacea for generating diversified revenue without stopping to ask a simple question: does my audience need this event?

Events are great. They are a physical representation of your brand, they bring together some of your most loyal readers and, if done right, can generate strong margins for the bottom line.

But events are also risky. They come with inherent fixed costs that you can’t get rid of even if you want to cancel the event. Venues, especially hotels, are notorious for locking you in and, come hell or high water, you’re paying the bill. Or, if you do have a cancellation clause, the fee is egregious.

One of the ways I believe you can minimize the risks associated with doing an event is to think about it from the perspective of a piece of an overall content strategy—and in many cases, the most expensive piece. Before you invest in doing an event, step back and identify the audience and see if you’ve been serving them in other ways first.

Let’s use a hypothetical target audience of commercial real estate investors who are learning about opportunity zones. I created this loose funnel to illustrate how I think about this.


The end state is that event. It’s the major monetizable outcome that we all want. We’re going to charge $799 for a one-day event, have a few sponsors, and if we succeed, we’ll generate $279,000 in revenue. After costs, we’re left with $150,000 in profit.

The thing is, while we might think that commercial real estate investors want to know about opportunity zones, does the audience trust us with the topic? Maybe commercial real estate investors aren’t our target audience just yet. A third option is that we haven’t quite zeroed in on the audience amongst the overall audience, so we don’t know exactly how to market to them.

Whatever the reason, each of the possibilities in the previous paragraph are weaknesses that could interfere in our ability to profitably host this event.

The way to reduce the risk for this event is to give your audience an opportunity to self select what their needs are. Here’s how I’d break it down…

Free content — Starting the funnel

The first thing to do is take a look at the content you’ve already published on the site related to opportunity zones. Over the past 3-6 months, is that content showing more or less engagement relative to other stories that you’ve published in the same time frame?

If the answer is no, that it’s performing weaker than other content, perhaps you’re not doing a great job with that topic and the desired audience. And if you have no content, then it’s time to get focused and start having your editorial team cover that topic.

There are two goals here:

  1. You’re showing the audience that you’re now going to be a resource about this important topic
  2. You’re funneling the users to a newsletter about the topic as well.

Each of the stories tagged to “opportunity zone” should have a very clear call to action to sign up for a newsletter that is also about opportunity zones. This model is particularly helpful because the user is self selecting. They’re telling you that they explicitly care about the topic. On the other hand, a general “real estate” newsletter wouldn’t really tell you a ton of information about your audience.

It’s no secret that I feel newsletters are core to any media company, so a key metric that you should be tracking on your editorial is the number of people that sign up for a newsletter. If you’re producing specific content that is getting more organic sign ups than other types of content, you might be onto something.

Newsletter & Reports — Middle of the Funnel

You’ve now converted a decent percentage of people to the topic-specific newsletter. The conversion rate should be pretty high because you’ve created a conversion event that is related to the content that the user was already reading.

The first purpose of getting the newsletter subscriber is to simply have a relationship with them. Now they don’t have to seek you out; you’re bringing them the information they want.

In an earlier piece about how to do newsletters right, I wrote:

I believe that, to do a newsletter well, it’s important to think about it as its own standalone product. Said another way, if your audience could only engage with your newsletter, how would you create it?

This is actually how to think about launching a new media company. A newsletter is a standalone product that can be a good place to start, especially in the niche world.

Treating the newsletter as a standalone product means you’re serving the newsletter audience the right information—where it was published doesn’t matter. This remains one of the big problems that many media companies struggle with; they would rather have a weaker newsletter than drive traffic to a possible competitor.

You’ll know if you’re doing a good job. Open rates and forwards are good indicators that people are valuing what you have to say.

At this point, you’ve approach a fork in the road and need to pick a direction…

The first is that you can announce an event. At this point, you’ve demonstrated that people trust your brand with the topic, so it’s possible that a percentage of your audience will fork over cash for the event.

The second is that you dive even deeper with the audience and product produce an in-depth report about the topic. In exchange for more information about the reader, they can get the report for free. If you don’t want to give the report away for free, you can use it as a bolt on to the ticket price. I’ll explain about that in a minute.

Launch the event — Bottom of funnel

At this point, you have an engaged, self-selecting audience. Your top of the funnel news has resulted in many of your users to sign up for the newsletter.

Now you announce the event. The message to your audience is straight forward.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a ton of interest in these new, tax-friendly opportunity zones. With how big of an opportunity this is, Real Estate Media Company is excited to announce the launch of Opportunity Zone Investment Summit, a one-day event for investors and entrepreneurs looking to understand how they can take advantage of this market.

At this point, though, the people on the list know that your publisher knows enough about this topic to support the event. So, when they see the price of the ticket, they’re not as likely to balk. In marketing talk, we call these people warm leads versus going completely cold.

Because we’re a multi-revenue stream business, you can take this announcement one step farther and announce the report along with the event. Normally, you’d price the report at $499. In this instance, you dangle an add-on to the event. If the subscriber buys a ticket to the event, they can get the report for only $299.

On its own, you’re not earning $200 per report. On the other hand, you’re earning an additional $299 per attendee to your event, which expands the revenue from $799 per person to $1,098. If we have 300 people coming and each of them takes advantage of this, your revenue goes from $239,700 to $329,700—an extra $90,000.

Why I like this model

This model feels right to me primarily because it gives you multiple steps to check your assumptions about the audience. Let’s say that you start producing additional content about the topic and no one engages with it. Your journalists are doing their job, but the audience just doesn’t care.

At this point, you can reassess whether this is the right approach. In this case, launching a paid event that’s going to cost you six figures to put on is probably not a smart play.

On the other hand, if you start producing additional content about the topic and engagement goes through the roof, it gives you actionable data.

The same can be said with the newsletter and the report. If no one engages with the newsletter or, you launch the report before the event, and no one buys it, you might know that your audience isn’t prepared to trust you with their credit card. That’s also good to know.

Here’s the other reason I like this model… If you do all of the work listed above, by the time you announce the event, your audience is going to be incredibly excited to attend. I’ve seen some publishers announce an event and be sold out a few weeks later simply because they did a great job warming the audience up with fantastic information. Had they started cold, I don’t know if they would have been so successful.

Getting ideas for events

In some instances, you may have no idea what kind of event to throw. Your engagement data can give you ideas.

Just start going through the stories published on the site and pay attention to what categories are getting the most engagement. You want to see if there are any changing trends. Here are a few possible trend changes:

  • Your journalists are writing about the topic more often than they used to
  • Stories are getting more reads, more shares, or longer time on page
  • An increase in newsletter subscriptions on those pages versus others

If you’re seeing more happen in this category, it might be time to start moving users down a self-selecting funnel with the ultimate goal of putting on an event.

Summing up…

For many B2B publishers, events are a core revenue stream that helps fund the rest of the operation. To make these events easier to execute, though, focus on the engagement data on site and lead the user through a funnel.

This will reduce your risk and increase the likelihood the event is a success.