How to make money with digital


Refocusing on the basics was an important part of the Observer Media Group's plan for increasing digital revenue, Publisher Emily Walsh said during her how-to session at the 2016 News Industry Summit.

Those basics have included three markets:

  • Digital Display – banner-rich ads on website
  • Email Marketing – with eNewsletters and dedicated eBlasts
  • Social Media – primarily sponsored Facebook posts

The Sarasota-based company was "late to the game" with digital because – as Walsh described – its demographics were primarily older and more inclined to read print products. However, things have changed quickly in the digital space, and the Observer Media Group has successfully embraced digital products and strategies.

"We are seeing the most growth in the digital display area," said Walsh. "We use a print frequency model with CPMs and impressions."

She recommended charging a higher CPM – cost per thousand – for fewer impressions and a lower CPM for more impressions. Examples would be $10 CPM for 15,000 impressions and $8 for 30,000 impressions. She also advised charging a premium for targeted sections like arts and entertainment.

The company's email marketing program is varied with separate lists for eNewsletters and dedicated eBlasts from specific advertisers. Every page on the company's website has a sign-up form for its newsletters, which includes a pre-selected opt-in for all electronic mailings.

"Don't underestimate value of email lists," said Walsh. "In addition to the sign-up form on the website, we always have sign-up lists at events. We've never bought an email list."

Observer Media has created multiple ad blocks with tier pricing from top to bottom on an eNewsletter. For example, a top leaderboard ad could cost $250 per week; a medium rectangle, $200 per week; and the bottom leaderboard, $125 per week. An advertiser who wants to sponsor the entire newsletter would pay a premium rate.

Dedicated eBlasts are sent only to subscribers who have opted in for promotional content and events, and the eBlasts are noted as such.

Walsh offered the following guidelines for effective eBlasts:

  • Send only one per day, one client per week. For instance, MaidPro can run only on Wednesday and must wait until the following Wednesday to run another.
  • Schedule between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., an optimal time.
  • Include "you" or "your" in the subject line.
  • Charge a premium, but offer a discount if advertisers are running ads in conjunction with a digital or print campaign.

Facebook is where the Observer Media Group is finding its most success, primarily because it has 17,000 followers on its own Facebook page, which makes sponsored posts effective for advertisers. Ninety percent of the advertisers are satisfied with Facebook's effectiveness.

"Despite what people are saying, Facebook is not dying," Walsh said. "It's the one with most users and reporting the most revenue. Embrace it a little bit."

She cited a Borrell study that said social media is now number three in driving people to a business; two years ago it was number nine. For local advertisers, a presence on social media is ubiquitous – 90 percent of them now have a Facebook page, up from 58 percent in 2010. In addition, 62 percent are buying Facebook ads.

"We charge less for sponsored Facebook posts than we do for dedicated eBlasts, but we have the same rules of one per day, one client per week," explained Walsh. "Advertisers love it. And looking to the future, Facebook is where we are going with more sponsored posts."


Mary Ann DeSantis is a former SNPA employee (1989-1998). She is now a Florida-based freelance writer and can be reached through her website at or via email at You may also follow her on Twitter @maryanndesantis.

Summit, Facebook, Walsh, digital, Observer Media Group
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