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

What might John Henry’s track record mean for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

You may have heard that John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group are looking to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL. I spoke with Christopher Ayers of WESA Radio in Pittsburgh what Henry’s leadership style at the Red Sox and The Boston Globe might mean for the Penguins.

A weird Red Sox season ends on a down note

Red Sox-Yankees at Fenway Park. Photo (cc) 2018 by Daniel Hartwig.

What a weird Red Sox season. They played way over their heads for three months, were lousy for two and a half months, got incredibly hot and then stopped hitting. They were more fun than anyone thought they’d be on Labor Day. But Chaim Bloom has work to do.

Musts: two additional good starting pitchers (maybe Chris Sale can be one of them), a completely revamped bullpen and better defense. I don’t want to see Kyle Schwarber playing first base again. Maybe they can talk J.D. Martinez into leaving, which would open up the DH position. I’m sure they’d like to, even though he can still hit.

Although it would be a luxury, I’d also like to see them figure out how to get more consistency out of the offense as well. Still, offense is not what’s wrong with this team.

Finally, I was upset when the Sox brought back Alex Cora given his role in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal — and his possible role in a lesser Red Sox scandal in 2018. He proved himself once again to be the best manager in Sox history other than Terry Francona, and he seems to be genuinely contrite.

But to echo one of my Facebook friends, he needs to take the next step and tell us exactly what happened in 2017. His role in all that is still kind of a mystery, even though we know what happened in general terms.

Yes, Curt Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame

Curt Schilling in better days. Photo (cc) 2007 by Andrew Malone.

We have a good discussion under way on Facebook about whether Curt Schilling should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say yes, even though he’s devolved into a terrible human being who’s mocked trans people and joked about journalists being murdered in the years since his playing days ended.

The argument against Schilling, one of the great post-season clutch pitchers, is that the Hall of Fame has a character clause, and there’s no doubt that the Schilling of today is someone of exceedingly poor character. But the clause should pertain to how he conducted himself as a player. Schilling always respected the game, unlike cheaters such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose. With Clemens, it wasn’t just steroids; it was also his adolescent meltdown in the 1990 playoffs. Clemens was thrown out, and the Red Sox lost the game and the series. Of course, that probably would have happened anyway given Clemens’ miserable record in big games.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal wrote a terrific piece the other day about the man Schilling used to be before becoming a deranged right-wing extremist. I was particularly struck by McAdam’s account of Schilling’s leadership in awarding full shares of the team’s 2004 World Series money to low-paid clubhouse attendants and the like. Here’s how McAdam put it:

After the fact, I was told that Schilling was behind the gesture. (For those suspicious that Schilling was the source of this information, he was not). He argued that for the players, the difference between a full share of, say, $300,000 and $250,000 was minuscule, relatively speaking. But by including more non-players in the distribution of full shares, they could impact the lives of so many who didn’t make seven- and eight-figure annual salaries.

Indeed, some bought houses, paid off mortgages or paid tuition bills with that money. And indirectly, they have Schilling to thank.

None of us knows what happened to Schilling. Obviously something went haywire along the way. In some respects his Hall of Fame credentials are borderline, and we can only imagine the unhinged speech he’d give at Cooperstown if he were actually inducted. But that shouldn’t enter into it. He deserves a plaque.

Globe: Comments were killed because of ‘personal attacks,’ not criticism of John Henry

Update: The Globe sent the following statement at 2:21 p.m.:

BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners] uses a third-party service for comment moderation called ICUC. Readers post comments and also flag inappropriate ones for review. If a comment flagged for review doesn’t conform to our guidelines, ICUC will block it.

These comments were removed because they included personal attacks on an individual, which is a violation of our comment guidelines. While our guidelines allow for more leniency against public figures, attacks against a person’s morality (for example, the use of “Liar-in-Chief”) are against our standards.

Based on the “Liar-in-Chief” example, it sounds like the problem was related to criticism of President Trump rather than of John Henry. I’ve done some editing below to reflect the tone of the statement.

Original item (with edits): The Red Sox’ visit to the White House, scheduled for later today, has put The Boston Globe in an awkward position: Globe publisher John Henry is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, and a number of observers have called on the Sox to cancel given that manager Alex Cora, who is Puerto Rican, and the team’s players of color are all taking a pass.

The controversy has spilled over into the comments on the Globe’s website. If you take a look at any of the stories about the visit (like this one), you’ll find multiple examples of comments that have been blocked. We may assume that many of those comments contained racist content. At least three, though, were harshly critical of Henry but otherwise inoffensive.

Two were sent to me by “Sam the Man,” an anonymous commenter who used what appeared to be his real name in communicating with me. I grabbed the third comment myself — it struck me as similar to the first two, and I was wondering whether it would be blocked. It was. Here they are:

From “Sam the Man,” Sunday, 5:17 p.m.: “True that, but I have less respect now for Henry, who has set up a divisive situation by agreeing in that there is now a racial division on the team. Henry should back off, and if he doesn’t he’s no better than Trump butt-kisser Kraft.

“Henry should call the whole thing off. To go is to play into Trump’s hands as well as weaken the team.

“Alex, you are a true leader.”

Also from “Sam the Man”: “John Henry: Call off this trip to visit the Liar-in-Chief. The trip will be manipulated by Trump, will hurt racial harmony on your team, and will send a bad message to our citizens. Be a leader, support your manager.”

From “Thoughtful1,” Monday, 4:54 p.m.: “Note to John Henry: actions speak louder than words. Your newspaper condemns Trump’s divisive policies but now you are going to kiss his ring. You condemned the alleged racism of Tom Yawkey but where you have a chance to make a statement about the bigoted rhetoric of the President of the United States, you have chosen to back off.”

Globe vice president and spokeswoman Jane Bowman sent me this statement earlier this morning:

We value our subscribers who further discussions about stories and topics by posting comments representing a variety of viewpoints. The Globe moderates comments in order to allow our well-informed community of readers to hold civil discussions that move ideas forward in a productive way.

It’s notable that, on Monday, the Globe published a column by Adrian Walker that was quite tough on Sox management. Walker interviewed Sox chief executive Sam Kennedy and pointed out that Henry owns both the Globe and the Red Sox. Walker concluded his column with this:

Henry once spoke of being “haunted” by the legacy left by Yawkey, the last owner to bring a black player to his team. That statement came in the course of announcing the team’s correct and unpopular decision to have Yawkey’s name removed from the home of Fenway Park.

Now the “white” Sox are going to the White House, while their manager and most of their teammates of color sit home in silent but unmistakable protest.

I think someday that will prove haunting too.

I don’t think the Globe’s comments (or those of most other newspapers) are especially well managed. I’ve long argued that if you’re not going to screen every comment before it goes up, then you shouldn’t have comments at all. I think newspapers ought to consider a real-names policy, too.

But if you’re going to have them, you certainly need to take steps to ensure that non-crazy comments that are critical of the paper’s owner don’t get taken down — even if that’s not actually the reason they were deleted.

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There’s a context for what happened to Adam Jones. We need to put a stop to it.

There’s a context for the racial taunts directed at Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones at Fenway Park during Monday night’s game. After all, we had just learned that a Trump supporter from Winchester, one of the wealthiest communities in the state, had written a letter to his community weekly complaining about those “Hate Has No Home Here” signs that have popped up here and there (including in front of our house).

“It is offensive to imply that the rest of us — who don’t have a sign and who don’t think the way you think we should — are haters,” wrote John Natale in the Winchester Star. “That’s insulting.” It was a breathtaking display of cluelessness and insensitivity. And we never would have heard about it if a seventh-grader’s righteous response hadn’t gone viral.

There has been an enormous amount of commentary about the Fenway Park incident in the past few days. Here are three you ought to take a look at.

  • In The Boston Globe (owned by Red Sox principal owner John Henry), columnist Adrian Walker wonders why more steps haven’t been taken to curb racist fans. “Bad behavior can be stopped,” writes Walker. Indeed. As we have been reminded, Boston is one of the most inhospitable cities in the country for visiting black players. It’s disgusting. I’m glad that fans gave Jones a standing ovation Tuesday night, but it shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
  • In the Boston Herald, sports columnist Steve Buckley gives Red Sox president Sam Kennedy high marks for acting decisively but criticizes him for blaming the problem on “an ignorant few.” Buckley’s response: “Every time the ignorant few do their handiwork, another episode of ‘Boston is a Racist City’ gets played out on the national stage.” It may be an ignorant few who drunkenly spew the N-word in public, but something is making them feel empowered to do it.
  • At WBZ Radio (1030 AM), Jon Keller draws a distinction between “real Bostonians” and “fake Bostonians.” The trouble is, though real Bostonians would never engage in racist taunting, they’re not doing enough to stop it, either. Says Keller: “Time for the real Bostonians to do more to see to it that the fakers are exposed, isolated and shamed.”

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Firing the manager: An idea that never made much sense

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Grounds crew before the Red Sox’ 8-7 soggy win over the Yankees. Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.

At the end of the Red Sox’ disastrous 2011 season, Terry Francona—the greatest manager in team history—was fired (and kicked hard on his way out). The excuse: Well, you can’t fire the players. In fact, that’s exactly what they needed to do, and they did it the following year.

So now we come to John Farrell. As Nick Cafardo points out in the Boston Globe, calls that Farrell has to go are being stilled for the moment, but you can be sure they’ll be back as soon as the Sox start losing games again.

I don’t get it. I’ve never gotten it. If you have a manager who has the trust of the front office, why wouldn’t you keep him for as long as he wants to manage—five or 10 years, maybe more? Yes, there are some genuinely bad managers who have to go (Grady Little, Bobby Valentine). Same with general managers (Ben Cherington). For the most part, though, if you’ve got a good manager or GM, keep him.

Some of Farrell’s in-game moves are mystifying, but the team plays hard for him and he handles the pitching staff well—as you would expect, given that he was a very good pitching coach. The Red Sox were wrong to get rid of Francona, who may have needed a season off the field but should have stayed with the team; they’d be wrong to get rid of Farrell.

Globe navigates relationships in Mass. General exposé

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Photo of Massachusetts General Hospital via Wikimedia Commons.

It was interesting to see the various levels of relationships involved in The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team article on double-booked surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital. I count three:

  • Globe owner John Henry was a trustee at Mass. General from 2005 to 2014.
  • The Globe and Mass. General were partners (along with Harvard and MIT) in the recently concluded HUBweek, a series of events focusing on innovation, art and culture.
  • One of the Mass. General patients who believes double-booking resulted in permanent injury is former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks. And Henry, of course, is the Red Sox’ principal owner.

The Globe handled these relationships by disclosing Henry’s ownership stake in the newspaper and the baseball team.

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More important, for those who worry that such matters will interfere with the Globe’s ability to product public-interest journalism, the story is tough and comprehensive. They’re not celebrating at Mass. General today.

Globe appends clarification to Shaughnessy’s column

The Boston Globe on Tuesday appended a clarification to Dan Shaughnessy’s online column about fired Red Sox announcer Don Orsillo, explaining the extent to which his Monday piece was changed after it was first posted.

Shaughnessy, as you no doubt recall, had reported that two Red Sox employees whom he did not name told him Fenway Park workers were under orders to confiscate signs supporting Orsillo. The removal of that line set off a tweetstorm Monday evening given that Globe publisher John Henry is the principal owner of the Red Sox, which, in turn, controls most of New England Sports Network (NESN), Orsillo’s employer. The clarification addresses the sign issue as well as how NESN handled the timing of the Orsillo announcement.

The clarification reads:

Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story made reference to signs being confiscated at Fenway Park. The reference has been removed because the Globe could not independently verify that any signs were confiscated at the ballpark. This story has been edited to describe the degree to which NESN intended to keep the news of Don Orsillo’s departure confidential. The network did not intend to keep the information from Orsillo until January.

A shorter version appears in the print edition, leaving out the bit about the signs since that didn’t make it into print in the first place:

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No doubt the conspiracy theories will continue. But the Red Sox specifically denied that their employees had been given any order to confiscate signs, and Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported Tuesday that he couldn’t find any evidence of it. If any signs were confiscated, presumably we’ll hear about it. I’m sure the Herald or any number of other news outlets (including Media Nation) would love to report such a story.

I think what matters here is that the Globe explained how and why Shaughnessy’s column was changed as Monday evening wore on. Managing editor for digital David Skok (on Twitter) and Shaughnessy himself (in an email exchange with me) both described it as part of the editing process. The difficulty is that, today, there are strong incentives to post first and edit later. As I noted Tuesday, many newspapers, including the Globe, are not as good as they should be at explaining why stories are changed after they’re first posted.

In this case, the Globe deserves praise for transparency.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Shaughnessy defends Globe over deleted sentence

Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote another in a series of tough commentaries Monday about the firing of Don Orsillo, the popular Red Sox announcer who’s been let go by New England Sports Network (NESN). But as the evening wore on, one sentence was dropped from the piece, published on the Globe’s website in advance of Tuesday’s print edition. The sentence read:

Two Sox employees told the Globe that workers at Fenway turnstiles were ordered to confiscate any signs supporting Orsillo as fans entered Fenway.

Jared Carrabis has the before and after:

Given that Globe publisher John Henry is also principal owner of the Red Sox, which in turn owns most of NESN, Carrabis’ tweet set off a storm. That led David Skok, the Globe’s managing editor for digital and general manager of BostonGlobe.com, to respond: “Story was published early, sourcing was weak so the line was removed. Our coverage on this speaks for itself.”

I emailed Shaughnessy. He got back to me immediately, saying, “It’s all part of the editing process that is always ongoing.” When I followed up by asking him how he would respond to Orsillo fans who suspect that Red Sox ownership intervened, he said only: “It is part of the Globe editing process.”

So what to make of this? It is a fact that the Globe has been pretty tough in covering the Orsillo story. Shaughnessy and sports media columnist Chad Finn have each weighed in several times, with Finn citing “NESN’s bewildering mishandling of the situation.” Boston Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley got an exclusive with Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, whose reasoning for replacing Orsillo boiled down to a belief that replacement-to-be Dave O’Brien would be better. But Shaughnessy picked up on Buckley’s column, even linking to his competitor.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I think we should take Skok and Shaughnessy at their word. Far from soft-pedaling the firing of Orsillo, the Globe has been fairly relentless in going after NESN for what can only be described as a foolish move. (Yes, I signed the petition to keep Orsillo.)

Monday night’s mini-drama was just another sign that John Henry’s ownership of the Red Sox is always going to be an issue — regardless of the reality.

More: After I posted this late last night, I received several comments on Twitter and Facebook wondering why the Globe didn’t make some note of the change in Shaughnessy’s column. For instance, here’s Nathan Lamb:

Based on my observations, I’d say that newspapers in general — the Globe among them — are haphazard about acknowledging changes made to online stories until after those stories have appeared in print. The mentality seems to be that everything is a work-in-progress until a tree has been sacrificed to immortalize it.

I don’t know that it makes sense to have a policy that would be 100 percent consistent. In this case, though, the deleted sentence drew enough attention that the Globe ought to have inserted something into Shaughnessy’s column, even if it was a brief note that it had been updated.

Still more: Sounds like the Globe may have gotten some serious pushback from the Red Sox on the accuracy of Shaughnessy’s reporting, according to Deadspin.

And even more: From Mike Silverman of the Boston Herald:

A nasty rumor spread that the owners let the stadium’s security forces know any pro-Orsillo signs were to be confiscated, but a survey of six security personnel at an entrance gate and throughout the stadium said no special Orsillo signage edict was in effect.

A team spokesman confirmed that like every night, signs would not be allowed in or confiscated once they were inside only if they blocked somebody’s view or contained profanities.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.