Sponsored content helps drive 10% boost in ad revenues at the Globe, says internal memo

A recent memo from Boston Globe Media’s chief commercial officer paints a rosy picture about advertising at the Globe. According to the memo, from Kayvan Salmanpour, ad revenue will increase by more than 10% in 2021 as compared to 2020. I’d like to see a comparison with 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, but growth is growth.

Much of Salmanpour’s message, provided to me by a trusted source, concerns sponsored content — that is, story-based advertising produced in collaboration with the Globe’s sales staff. Such ads send some media critics reaching for the smelling salts, but they don’t bother me as long as they’re properly labeled. The Globe’s sponsored content comes with multiple disclosures.

I also chuckled at Salmanpour’s reference to the Globe’s advertising partnership with the Red Sox. I’m pretty sure the paper has an in with the Sox; I’ll get back to you if I find out otherwise.

Still, this is good news for the Globe and, thus, good news for readers. Along with its success in digital subscriptions, the paper is growing and hiring. And it recently achieved labor peace as well.

The full text of Salmanpour’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

I’m excited to share some of our year-end advertising highlights and achievements with all of you. Before I dive into the specifics, the most important and meaningful observation I can share is that Boston Globe Media is a truly special media brand. We have a unique ability to tell powerful stories in creative ways, and our clients value the deep connection we bring with the communities that we serve. More and more brands are noticing the work that we’re capable of producing and are proactively reaching out to engage us. Over the last 24 months, the advertising team has witnessed a remarkable turnaround, culminating in a pivotal feat: In 2021, the Globe will grow advertising revenue by more than 10 percent year over year.

Honestly, we’re not sure the last time this happened at the Globe — our memories don’t go back that far. But we do know this success is the product of a herculean effort from the sales team, and the result of a smart strategy that has brought the Globe’s advertising business much closer to top players in the media industry.

As we all know, the advertising marketplace has been radically disrupted.  Amazon, Google and Facebook together take up 64% of all digital advertising spending in the US. Many advertisers have shifted to programmatic buys — an automated auction of internet advertising inventory that’s sold at a steep discount. Add in more and more channels and constantly evolving technology like ad blockers,, and you can understand why advertising revenue has been declining.

The entrepreneurial team in the Globe Sales department found a way to adapt and thrive after doing some intense market analysis, innovative planning, investing in the team, and then deploying bold new strategies.

After a deep analytics audit of our advertising business, we calculated that 42% of our clients accounted for just 4% of revenue. On the other side of the spectrum, 65% of our revenue came from just 12% of our clients.  The lesson? We were spending too much time servicing small deals, and we were spending too little time building resources for larger deals. To tackle this, we reorganized our local, corporate, marketplaces sales teams to a system that is aligned with how much an advertiser was spending.  We invested in new technology and structured our advertising strategy around the following:

Tier 1 – Smaller advertising buys/high-volume: We are deploying an efficient, automated process to serve our smaller advertisers at scale and provide a great user experience at optimum pricing. We’re investing in a self-serve platform that will allow for a seamless transition for these advertisers.

Tier 2 – Mid-dollar advertising buys/mid-level volume: We’ve created compelling and complementary advertising opportunities for clients in danger of leaving their Globe mid-tier print spend for good. We are transitioning many of them to newsletter sponsorships, where revenue has increased by 77% over last year. We rolled out paid social posts as a new product and brought in direct sponsorships for newsroom projects. Our long-standing themed print sections have rebounded through clever print/digital combos.

We have created a system that has proved that we can grow revenue, not just sustain it.

Tier 3 – High-dollar amount/low volume: This is the pricing tier that will ultimately be a big factor in our future success. More media advertising departments are functioning like storytelling agencies with a guaranteed audience (they are serving fewer but larger clients and employ a more consultative approach with clients). Many of our deals in this tier are “bundled” multimedia products, so we’ve invested heavily in supporting the sales team with the resources to put these packages together.

Since implementing this structure and investment, the team has closed a number of impressive deals, including a multi-year deal with Harvard Pilgrim, in partnership with the Red Sox. This was the first of many collaborative deals with the Red Sox, as sponsors/advertisers want to be more than just sponsors,  they want to be mission-driven storytellers like us.

I have seen firsthand how impressed the Red Sox team has been with the work that comes out of the Globe’s creative ad dept, Studio B. Every day, we surprise people with our creative branded storytelling (a huge factor in our continued success); Studio B has grown branded content products  by more than 55% year over year, and is poised to grow even more next year. This will be a large factor in Globe.com sales success, as sponsored content makes up more than 63% of the revenue for that platform.

Finally, the ad department and the events team are in sync more than ever, as more of our deals become bundled multimedia packages that involve media, branded content, display, event sponsorships, and email. It has not only allowed us to increase our deal sizes, but also showed to the market how we can adapt to a client’s needs. Events has grown from a lower volume, smaller deal size enterprise to an operation in which the programming, sponsor collaboration and revenue has us playing with the majors.

Events revenue grew 81% over last year as previous clients returned to do more with us while 68% of event revenue this year is from new advertisers.

One of the best parts, however, is that 75% of this revenue came from events featuring our journalists — the heart of what we do as a news media company.

You may have noticed what’s not in this memo so far — any mention of the pandemic. Yes, the economic impact of Covid-19 dramatically impacted our print business, as it did across the industry. Our goal for 2022 is to hit our original budgeted number of 2020 (again, growing year over year), and yet the composition of that number will be so much healthier than it was back then.

Ultimately, I am most proud of this department’s mindset shift, especially under intense pressure of the revenue challenges of the local news industry. There are too many people to thank here, but a big credit to the sales executive team who are such exemplary leaders, the sellers who are such a great representation of our department and brand, and the sales support team who work so tirelessly everyday to make sure the train is running ahead of schedule.  

We are, without a doubt, a mission-driven team, and we are driven by the fact that we are contributing, through revenue, to the world-class journalism produced by the Globe newsroom.

Thank you to our editors and newsroom for keeping us inspired to do our work.

Best,
Kayvan

Kayvan Salmanpour
Chief Commercial Officer