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Replacing ads with sponsorships

I love discussing common challenges of producing a magazine with other publishers. One topic that always comes up is advertising, or rather, the need for third parties to help fund the production of the magazine. For most small publishers dealing with advertisers is considered a necessary evil — a small sacrifice in editorial freedom to make the larger vision possible.

Unless you are an established newsstand magazine like Monocle, Frankie or Vogue getting high-profile companies to advertise in your publication is really hard. It’s much more likely that you end up working with smaller companies that, on one hand, are often much more accessible and passionate about your product, but on the other hand don’t have the creative manpower to come up with high-quality artwork for their ads. Art directors spend hundreds of hours creating a beautiful experience for their readers, so it really hurts when cheap ads disrupt that experience by shouting about some product or service the reader ought to purchase.

When I started Offscreen I was trying to come up with a system that is less intrusive. I replaced annoying quarter-, half- and full-page ad slots half-way through an editorial piece in the magazine by presenting eight companies (sponsors) in a very subtle, unobtrusive and unified way in the center of the magazine:

I don’t make a secret of relying on those companies. They help make Offscreen possible. In fact, they now cover pretty much all of the production cost of an issue.

This idea worked out surprisingly well for everyone involved. It really does create a win-win-win situation.

Reader

After the first issue went out and people started sending me feedback, I received lots of comments about how nicely designed and beautifully integrated the sponsor pages are. In fact, many readers told me that, for the first time ever, they read every single word of a magazine from cover to cover — including the ‘ads’. I get a sense that most readers don’t just not mind them, they actually find them valuable. If they haven’t heard of one of the sponsors before, they are very much inclined to check them out because they trust Offscreen and know that I won’t feature companies that provide no value. At best, my readers consider the sponsor pages a catalogue of suggestions. At worst, they flick through them acknowledging the fact that these companies made the magazine possible.

Sponsor

What more can you hope for as a sponsor than an audience that actually sees (and I mean ‘look at and read through’) your promotion. Instead of being part of a desperate, in-your-face shouting contest, the tone of the ads is subtle and thoughtful — an approach that creative people clearly appreciate. It takes a certain type of company to ‘get’ that and I believe our readers give our sponsors a lot of credit for that alone.

Publisher

Besides the obvious financial support, having those sponsors in the magazine serves another purpose. I’m very much proud of the quality of companies that support Offscreen. These are products and services I recommend to my family, friends and colleagues all the time and not just because they give me moneys. I made a conscious effort to create a brand that is associated with companies that people in our industry trust and have high regard for. It adds value to the magazine in non-financial terms that is difficult to measure, but is as (if not more) important than the pay check.

One thing I learned and what I find quite fascinating is the realisation that you can make something less intrusive and less ostentatious, and people actually pay more attention because of it.

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