Second Street Summit Recap: Day 2

by Liz Huff Second Street

Master the Blues, and You’re Ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Following the blues theme, Doug Villhard, President and Co-Founder of Second Street, reminded us that we must think like rockstars in order to really engage and monetize our audiences. Rockstars are those that incite people to engage and let loose; in turn, this lends itself to full audience engagement. Are you ready to step up to the microphone?


The way to challenge yourself is to go from being good, to great, to rockstar. You have to combine your talent, your audience engagement platform, and your original hits with more engagement types to be great. But to be a true rockstar, you must also tap into your creative genius.

Ballots – The (B.B.) King of Audience Engagement

If you haven’t thought about running a ballot, this sessions challenged you to change that thinking. Liz Crider and Julie Foley of the Second Street affiliate success team took the stage to talk about why they are so important.

Ballots are a monster opportunity to generate revenue, engage your audience, build an email database, and see what your audience cares about. But many media companies are not running a single ballot. If this is you, consider prioritizing and making ballots a year-round strategy.

There are three types of ballots to try at your company: citywide ballots, advertiser ballots, and year-round ballots.

Citywide ballots feature all the businesses across your metro area and your audience votes for their favorites. These have three phases: the nomination phase, voting phase, and winner’s directory. Citywide ballots consistently drive in millions of votes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue – even in small markets.

Advertiser ballots are created and sold to a specific business. The categories in these ballots are directly tied to that business’s products or services.

Year-round ballots can cover niche topics from sports to weddings to food. These can be run anytime of year and will engage different niches of your audience. When planning these ballots, ask yourself “what seasonal, event, or category initiatives are you already planning?”

Behind the Music – Forsyth County News in Cumming, GA

To demonstrate just how successful ballots are, we took a look behind the music of Forsyth County News in Cumming, GA. Publisher Vince Johnson took the stage to talk about how his paper’s 2017 Best of Forsyth ballot made engagement and revenue soar with 230,258 votes and $200K.

They have experienced 100% YOY growth each year that they have run this ballot. This was their third year running the ballot, but their first time adding an event for the winners which had a title sponsor for $20K. This story is a small-town success that has blown us away. Let it inspire you to run your first citywide ballot.

Extended Cut – How to Get Even More Revenue Out of Your Email Database

Jeff Miller, Vice President/General Manager at Entercom/SmartReach Digital, Conan Gallaty, President at WEHCO Digital, and Tim D’Avis, Director of Digital Products at Lee Enterprises, took the stage to help us discover how to generate more revenue from your database by using three monetization models:

There is money to be made through newsletters, direct marketing, and birthday campaigns; but many media companies are leaving money on the table. Your first step is to create a business plan around growing your database and selling your inventory.


Newsletters are a great way to share your content and bring people back to your site on a recurring basis. Tim D’Avis at Lee Enterprises shared that while the bulk of site traffic comes from social media, these visitors view 1-2 pages and do not frequently return. However, their newsletter subscribers are ultimately more valuable, visiting 3-4 pages per visit and returning to the site multiple times a month.


It starts with having a newsletter strategy. Consider what types of newsletters you might send and the frequency you will send them. There are a variety of different newsletters you could send including:

Daily ExamplesWeekly/Monthly Examples
News HeadlinesPromotions/Contests
Breaking NewsFood & Dining
SportsReal Estate

To identify which newsletters make the most sense for your organization, consider:

  • Themes your audience is interested in
  • Verticals on your site you want to drive traffic to
  • Categories that are strong for revenue
  • Topics that allow for workflow automation

When it comes to monetization, you’ll need to decide how many banner ad units you will want to include and where they will be located. Tim D’Avis at Lee Enterprises shared that after he attended the Summit last year, they went back and freshened up their strategy. The goal was to increase the frequency and total number of mailings to ultimately increase ad inventory and revenue, without being a heavy burden on their staff. The 2 changes they ultimately made were:

  1. Create standard newsletters and increase frequency: They chose 5 standard newsletters that all of their properties would send, with a focus on topics that could be automated – and trained their markets on the new strategy.
  2. Integrate new ad units: Lee added 3 new banner ad units; a larger unit at the top that garners a higher CPM as well as 2 smaller ad units.

With these 2 simple changes, they were able to increase their programmatic ad revenue from $10k/month to an average of $50k/month. We’re talking about a multi-million dollar business just from programmatic ad revenue in newsletters! If you sell this inventory locally, you’re able to capture even more dollars.

Direct Marketing

Another way to monetize your database is through direct marketing. This gives your advertiser the ability to access and promote to your list while you retain ownership and control. To drive the highest ROI, make sure your emails are segmented to the exact demographic your advertiser is looking to reach. NEVER send these to your full list! Targeting will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your campaign and reduce list churn. You’ll ultimately want to charge a higher CPM for these more targeted lists.

Jeff Miller from Entercom shared an example from KNRK-FM in Portland that shows just how effective a direct marketing campaign can be. A special concert offer was sent to a “Ticket Offers” list and drove $120,000 worth of ticket sales for Live Nation – which could be directly attributed back to the email send.


When you combine a promotion or piece of interactive content with an email to activate it and drive traffic to it, that is when you will see some really amazing results. Conan Gallaty from WEHCO shared an example of this with the advertiser FFO Home. They pay $2K annually with 1 email per month – and the list they are sending to is the advertiser’s own list that they have been building with WEHCO through promotions over the last year.

Birthday/Loyalty Campaigns

Lastly, there are birthday or loyalty campaigns. These are mailings you send as a subscriber benefit and they drive incredibly high open and click-thru rates. This is key to keeping your list healthy and active. The best part is that you are able to “set it and forget it” as they are automated, triggered campaigns send on either a birthday or anniversary of joining your list.

Jeff Miller shared an example from KSON-FM where they are billing $600/month for a local mexican restaurant chain to include a free entree coupon in birthday club. These campaigns generate a 45% open rate on average and the restaurant is thrilled with the foot traffic being driven. On average there are 40 redemptions per month – and customers are typically not dining alone, so there is a lot of upsell opportunity.


When selling birthday campaigns, start with sponsorships and target food & drink, restaurant, bar & grills, and retail advertisers.

Behind the Music – WKDZ-FM in Cadiz, KY

I led Q&A with WKDZ-FM President Beth Mann. This station took inspiration from the first Summit to implement a station-wide strategy leading to more than a 3x increase in engagement revenue over the last three years. They did this by making goals big enough to matter and creating a Think Tank Tuesday team.

The success that they have found is a direct result of their team-mentality and collaboration to make the most out of promotions, even in a small town where some customers do not even know what digital is. They are proving that anything is possible.

Day Two Slides