For newspapers in markets big and small, the secret is out on the revenue potential of staging events.
But few newspapers are turning their events into reliable moneymakers like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
On topics from politics to cybersecurity to sports to transportation to the opioid crisis, Block Communication’s Post-Gazette is engaging its audience with events that routinely attract 500 to 900 attendees—and occasionally so many people the event must be held in Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home stadium.
“They are extremely successful—especially among our older readers,” Lisa Hurm, the newspaper’s vice president and general manager, said.
How successful? Hurm said the events program operates with a 35% profit margin.
A centerpiece of the events initiative are the Town Halls moderated by Executive Editor David Shribman and featuring notable speakers addressing all the topics listed above and more.
These events are free to the public and includes free parking for attendees. The idea, Hurm said, is to attract as many people as possible. The newspaper advertises events through direct mail to businesses with an interest in a particular topic, and to universities. “Some professors will actually give class credit for attending,” she said.
As for monetizing the attendance at events, that’s pretty much limited to a table soliciting subscriptions.
Town Halls are sponsored by a variety of local corporations including Key Bank and PNC Bank. The Post-Gazette gets substantial commitments from the sponsors. PNC, for example, has committed to a three-year sponsorship for five events a year. A series on energy is sponsored by three local utility companies.
“These brands are trying to find a way to connect with the community,” Hurm said. “Especially the energy companies. They want the PR, and they want to feel they are providing something valuable to the community.”
The events have attracted some big names who draw big audiences. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden spoken on cybersecurity, for example, and Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow drew a crowd to the first in a series of one-day presentation on presidents.
Events can get into other disheartening developments of the day such as the scourge of opioid addiction and, most tragically, the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
One of the unique features of the Post-Gazette events program is that it does not involve the newsroom, with the exception of Shribman’s moderating of Town Hall discussions. “We tell sponsors that we can’t promise (editorial) coverage,” Hurm said.
Events are coordinated by the newspaper’s marketing team which finds, Hurm said, “a lot of the heavy lifting is getting the right speakers.”