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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

How a small-time news site earns money with ad campaigns

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The first step in getting you to pay attention to The Epoch Times is to raise your eyebrows. The dictionary with 60 million words is divided into an unwieldy array of four categories: broadsheets, blogs, social media, and blogs with large numbers of words. (The science-teacher headline here qualifies.) The mysterious technical wizardry at work involves a weird physics of choice and mass, and a group of middle-aged editors eating lunch in the back of the office.

WHAT YOUR CRITICAL MIND MUST CONSIDER

Putting aside the size, where most media organizations’ work is done with freelance copy editors, The Epoch Times transcribes its already-published articles into newly formatted editorial copy, in this case German, for languages other than English, in such an out-of-the-way place that it’s often more difficult for potential advertisers to target their campaigns. It also goes to the trouble of customizing the packaging to fit the logos of advertisers. For instance, lately the company is working on advertising for an outdoor-equipment company.

THE PROCESS

The editorial crew first starts by capturing a “data team” image. This is an internal rolodex of readers, annotated with their names and occupations. Then they take note of potential sites, focusing on those with highest frequency or social media reach.

Sometimes, they notice readers go online for news that’s hot and then call to ask for tips. But typically, a signal that ad buyers or advertisers are interested finds its way into the editors’ work, as does a confirmation email saying an ad is from a current customer.

WHAT THEY TELL YOU

“We’re trying to work more holistically, a little more so than the newspapers,” says Randy Bender, The Epoch Times’ assistant editor of arts and entertainment. “We’re going to this club in Madison Avenue, and we have this guy telling me that we may want to include this phrase [in the ad].”

On Monday, Bender is editing an advertisement for the construction equipment maker Husqvarna. “It’s really nice, because it sounds warm and fuzzy and people find it eye-catching,” he says. Bender will look at previously submitted copy and working with his editor in Germany, he’ll evaluate which phrase in the ad does what — whether or not it’s a strong, two-word phrase in the right part of the page.

There are many tons of ancillary factors that can affect the success of an ad: relevance, the size of the image, whether or not there’s an option to set it at a larger size. But each of these conditions affects the long-term success of the ad.

“Advertisers can’t be narrow in their focus or their campaign,” Bender says.

WEIGHING THE REWARDS

For editorial editors, making sure an ad is relevant to readers is only the first hurdle. Because of the the narrow nature of the audience, The Epoch Times estimates it has to spend about 10 to 15 percent more than a typical online publication on advertisement. It has that figure pegged to the “prevention market,” which is the online advertising rate a brand pays to the publisher, and tries to offset that through guaranteed leads, visits and page views. (Prevention market revenue — it’s their peak; advertisers don’t pony up more and get fewer sales — is almost the same as revenue from advertising as a whole.) There’s also the cost of marketing an ad. For ad campaigns that require a catchy slogan, it takes a considerable staff to research the prospects and develop the campaign.

None of this is totally accurate, of course, especially when it comes to how much of the budget is spent on hard research. But any way you look at it, the promise of hard data and the result of providing it — millions of readers — make this a good investment.

A TIME FOR REWARDS

After reading through his copy, Bender plays with the WordPress theme that runs on his computer and peers at the tiny grid that is the face of the content-planning system. “You might be looking at right now someone writing out, ‘Hey, look at this.’ It’s a hard currency,” he says. “You can break it down minute-by-minute.” He’s appending all sorts of notes to the material, which might amount to “One word here, two words there … where does the font go?” The writers can also assign rules to the grid that will shape the arrangement of the content.

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