“Beyond the banner” is a term that publishers have kicked around for years in terms of digital marketing opportunities. As the number of different channels grows, so does the opportunity to really go beyond the banner but it often requires a significant commitment.

At the American Business Media annual conference last month, Mitch Rouda, president of Farm Journal eMedia, said he didn’t really know what the term “marketing services refers to,” but then proceeded to share several examples of how Farm Journal is monetizing many of its digital products through its digital “AgWeb” offerings. These range from news and analysis to market prices, weather, market guides and more than 60 blogs and social media products.

“The Internet is a game of lure and reward,” said Rouda. “We’ve got four assets: our list, our content and design, our tools and our reader’s trust.”

At AgWeb, Rouda has four direct reports—one in charge of technology, one in charge of editorial, one in charge of business and finance and one in charge of advertising. “That guy is really in charge of everything that makes money,” says Rouda. “We sell with one team that handles print, TV and digital.”

Farm Journal also has two project managers, one that works with AgWeb and one that works for the sales department in general. “That’s a key part of how we work,” said Rouda. “Any time you do anything custom, you need hand-holding. You have to be prepared, like an agency, to have account executives. If it’s a microsite that’s totally paid, our editors won’t touch it, but they may be involved in the beginning on the concept. If it’s advertorial, we use freelancers.”

When it comes to pricing, Rouda says to think of it in two ways: cost and time component. “Almost every project has both,” he says. “Just like an agency, we have to come up with a work plan, decide who’s touching it, how much they get paid, what G&A over-ride to put on it, what profit over-ride to put on it, then we stack a media plan on top of that. Almost every project has a media component as well and we give them a unified price that includes all this.”

Here, Rouda breaks down some of the AgWeb offerings.

Microsites and Sponsored Sections

Like many publishers, Farm Journal builds standalone microsites for advertisers as well as sponsored sections within its own sites. Pricing for microsites typically ranges between $20,000 and $100,000. “Microsite opportunities come from three things we bring to the table,” says Rouda. “Number one is speed. If a client has a great website, they may just want to drive contacts to that site. But often they don’t have one and we can make it happen faster. Number two is content—the client doesn’t always know how to do it. Right now we’re running a Dairy Life photo contest. The advertiser would rather have that on our site than theirs because it feels more official, even though when you get into it, it’s completely advertorial.”

The third factor is technology. “We have no problem sharing our tech department with a client—unlike we would with sharing our editors,” says Rouda.

AgWeb also features dozens of sponsored sections which range from large to small programs. “Some people buy our corn coverage, so the keyword is tagged and appears any time we talk about corn,” says Rouda. “Others sponsor very little things like polls.”

  Sponsored sections typically stay up for one-year contracts. Weed Warriors is a sponsored section dedicated to how farmers are battling weeds (there is a Weed Warriors TV series as well). “We wanted to expand our weed coverage and that’s something driven by editors,” says Rouda.  

Social Media: Partner Tweets, Partner Fan Pages

Almost every publisher is doing something with social media, even if it’s as simple as editors tweeting and posting to Facebook pages. However, not many publishers are actively monetizing social media yet.

Farm Journal is tapping into social media as a marketing service, including both “Partner Tweets” and Partner Fan Pages.

“The Twitter example is maybe the easiest,” says Rouda. “We set up a Twitter widget and we follow people who are sponsors. We set them up in a window and give them a certain number of impressions to start with and then we divide those impressions up among sponsors.

Theoretically, they’re each getting a 12th of that inventory and we set a CPM on it. What’s cool about it—first it helps our whole audience understand how social media works with that widget, which isn’t just Farm Journal-focused. All of these guys are busy trying  Twitter; some of our customers haven’t tweeted yet, some of them have decided it’s important, but don’t know how to get an audience. But when they see it on our site and see the four or five big agri companies all chattering together, it grabs their attention. It makes more sense to look at it on our site than get individual followers.”

Facebook fan pages operate in a similar manner only you can’t show anybody your feed, according to Rouda. “Facebook is based on privacy settings and we can trade out fan pages,” he says. “If we have say, 200,000 impressions and there are 10 sponsors, each gets 20,000 impressions. Every time you refresh you see a different fan page.”

Mobile Text Alerts

While many b-to-b publishers are taking a wait-and-see approach with tablet apps, the opportunity for mobile apps is huge, particularly with an audience that is not desk-bound every day.

Farm Journal offers market updates, industry news and other updates that are often repackaged from the websites.

In February, Farm Journal made an equity investment in CommodityUPDATE, a provider of agricultural information to mobile phones that’s delivered through a sponsored subscription model that costs $10 per month or $120 per year. “Farmers harvest once a year but they sell every day,” says Rouda. “The CommodityUPDATE products offer need-to-know information for people in the field. It’s information you can get online for free on AgWeb and several other places if you’re at your computer. We created a way to get alerts sent to the user’s phone on a regular basis while they’re in the field.”

With the investment in CommodityUPDATE, Farm Journal decided to let agri-business offer sponsored subscriptions to farmers at steep discounts. “They had thousands of farmers who pay $120 per year but to get it running in hurry, why don’t you give it out for free to the best customers?” says Rouda. “There are a lot of farming companies giving out promotional clothes with their logos. You can give out your logo, or you can give them a subscription to something they really want, and they’ll see it between 8-9 times per day with your name on it. Suddenly there’s 50,000 subscribers at an average of $80.”

Mobile Voice Alerts

Farm Journal also packages a series of mobile voice alerts for subscribers of its paid newsletter, Pro Farmer. “This is a sponsored product and we’ve already had 5,000 of the 17,000 subscribers to the newsletter say, ‘I want you to call me every morning with your alerts,’” says Rouda.


Rouda refers to the AgWeb Medley—a series of products that include Cash Grain bids, Crop Comments and online polls—as “interactive eyeshiners.” “Some people sponsor littler, but more sexy things,” he says.

Crop Comments is a sponsored blog dealing with the age-old topic of “how high is the corn.” “All season long people send in updates and photos on how high the corn is,” says Rouda. “There is a lot of video and audio, and it’s one of the most popular features on the site.”

Cash Grain Bids is a sponsored calculator that lets farmers check pricing. “When farmers sell corn, it eventually goes to a grain elevator where prices change every day,” says Rouda. “We license data from a third-party that tracks prices and users can enter their zip code and see prices for all the grain elevators in their neighborhood.”

Farm Journal uses CPM as a frame of reference to come up with a flat fee for almost every sponsorship. “In order to come up with a flat fee we’re still thinking in terms of CPM but we’re not taking the risk or reward of over/under,” says Rouda. “In the case of Cash Grain Bids, it’s a six figure sponsorship. We know how much traffic it does. In most of these things there are two elements to the reach the sponsor gets—the reach they get anytime someone sees the ads but also the promotion in e-mail blasts, in print, in our own house ads saying, ‘Come check out Cash Grain Bids, and oh, p.s., it’s sponsored by Bayer.’”

Rouda says Farm Journal charges for roadblocking and for targeting. “You figure out your CPM, there’s an upcharge for roadbocking, there’s an upcharge for targeting, and then you add on the value for all the promotion,” he adds. “Maybe it’s only worth $10, but hey, we sent out 3 million of those things. Promotion is at a lower price, while  targeted stuff at is at a higher price.”

Targeted Promotions

Farm Journal also works on targeted promotions with advertisers that are embedded into its sites. “101 Ways to Use Your ATV” was a promotion sponsored by Honda that featured video of farmers using ATVs throughout their workday. Entries were given to Honda as lead generation.

“It’s kind of on the edge of edit/advertorial,” says Rouda. “It’s advertorial in the sense that it’s sponsored by Honda, if you submit you’re giving your name to Honda. Because of that, we tagged it as a Honda project.”  

The Farm Journal Legacy Project

Perhaps Farm Journal’s biggest effort is the Farm Journal Legacy Project, a comprehensive effort dedicated to the future transfer of farm ownership (the average age of the American farmer today is 58—in 10 years it will be 40).

“The biggest transfer of American wealth will happen on American farms in the next few years,” says Rouda. “Most farmers are unprepared. They need contracts, plans, earn-outs. We decided we had to help farmers realize this is a problem and show them how to deal with it.”

The program includes a special annual magazine, a TV show and 60 workshops around country. “This is deep into seven figures to operate,” says Rouda. “It’s like an institute that we created and we did it with generous sponsorship of a single company [seed company Pioneer]—so it’s almost like philanthropy. They have no editorial control or involvement, it’s handled just like a product sponsorship.”

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