Association magazines have different funding concerns than their colleagues in consumer media, making advertising sales a game of its own. In typical non-profits, the events team works in a tax-exempt environment, because events are classified as member professional development. On the other hand, ad revenue is taxable, so there’s often a desire to keep that separate from events and sponsorship sales. So which makes more sense?
Reggie Thomas, director of advertising at the NAACP’s The Crisis, is no stranger to such questions. As director of advertising at one of the oldest association magazines — founded in 1910 by W.E.B. Du Bois — Thomas works separately from the non-profit arm of NAACP. But he still puts his advertising expertise and sales skills toward supporting successful events.
We checked in with Thomas, a panelist at the March 2017 Folio: Association Media Summit, to discuss some of the unique challenges with selling advertising within a non-profit association.
Folio: How are sales and advertising structured at the NAACP and The Crisis magazine?
Reggie Thomas: The Crisis is owned by the NAACP, however The Crisis operates under a separate arm. We have a separate board from the NAACP, even though we’re in the same building and under the same umbrella. When the NAACP does events, like the NAACP Convention or the Image Awards, we have an involvement with that from an advertising standpoint.
The way advertising is structured, The Crisis is pretty much a more for-profit arm. That was mandated by the IRS some years ago.
Folio: What do your advertising offerings look like?
Thomas: We sell print, and occasionally we will sell into our radio show [The Crisis Today]. On digital, we usually package that with the print. Because we are part of a non-profit civil rights organization, the racial effect comes into play. So what happens is that you have advertisers that will support the NAACP by being at the event, but they want to be very careful how [that message] is distributed nationally. So we’ll get organizations like CarMax, which is an NAACP supporter. They don’t necessarily want to be in the magazine, because they have a lot of [customers] who have money that they want to spend but who have issues with black civil rights institutions.
From our radio show, we’re very careful about who we will let come on as advertisers; we don’t ever want to be in a position where someone holds their ad dollars over our heads over something we say.
Folio: So you keep event sales separate from magazine sales?
Thomas: I handle some of the event sales. Even though we are in the same family, we probably operate more like neighbors. I will bring another organization or commercial entity into an event like the NAACP Convention, which is probably the biggest event we do besides the awards. Ultimately, any dollars that we earn end up going to the NAACP anyway. We get credit for it, but it ends up in the NAACP coffers.
Folio: Which organizations do you generally have as advertisers?
Thomas: We’re very careful about the kind of advertising we accept. Sometimes companies are sensitive to what we’re addressing. It’s not that serious. We’re not a rogue magazine where people get upset over things we say, but we want to be careful not to be in a situation where our livelihood absolutely depends on our advertising dollars.
One of the thing that we do is focus on areas where people of color need big help, and that’s in areas related to health organizations and financial organizations. We’ve had a lot of experience with Wells Fargo and AARP.