Want a Paywall Transition? Compensate Your Content Teams Appropriately
As publishers migrate behind paywalls, it is essential that they hold onto and reward those who convert visitors into subscribers.
The most significant currency today is attention. The individuals who gain an audience’s attention and can effectively engage them with content are indispensable to a media company—and now, to general marketers, too.
As media companies migrate their “open” digital platforms behind paywalls, it is essential that they hold onto and reward those uniquely talented professionals who can convert free visitors into paying subscribers. This isn’t a proposal to compromise the quality of content in any way, i.e., to move the focus from the needs of a particular audience to sensationalized offerings. Instead, it presents the opportunity to adjust editors’ compensation plans to better align with the digital age.
A talented content producer can easily set up their own website, conferences and communities based on their reputation and understanding of an audience. Consider the YouTubers that are making millions based on weekly postings that gain high viewership. The barriers to entry have been reduced and the tools required to make this move are almost free. This is a publisher’s biggest risk, but also an opportunity to win in this continually evolving communication space.
For years, salespeoples’ performance has been measured—and compensated—based on sponsor and advertiser sales. Promotions within media companies have been based on consistent, ad-based revenue growth. The more revenue brought in, the more income.
“I’ll get you a spot adjacent to the Editor’s Page” … “If you lock into a program today, I’ll place you in the first right hand position in the feature story” … “Your ad can be served every time an article on your product category is served” … “How about running a demographic-targeted ad campaign on our websites so you are paying for the audience you require most?” … “Run your ads in the [product category] e-newsletter.” Does any of that sound familiar? Well, accommodating those opportunities only has meaning when you have producers who can create content in a meaningful manner. In a free-access environment, media organizations are dependent on their advertisers. In a paywalled environment, they are dependent on paid subscribers and higher priced, targeted advertising and sponsorships.
Given this shift, content producers must be paid on key, target audiences delivered and engaged. As revenue streams evolve, so must pay plans.
For a few years, I have implemented editorial compensation plans that reward writers and content producers on the monetized pageviews associated with their work. Additionally, “conductors”—editorial leaders and managing editors, those who provide the editorial direction—are similarly compensated. The results have been real and measurable. With quarterly pay-outs and transparent presentation of engagement statistics achieved, content producers reach out to their colleagues for advice and mentorship. Editors who distribute stories via social media, e-newsletters and other postings gain higher pageviews and higher payouts. The content producers who monitor live analytics within a CMS can test headlines and approaches as if it is a “video game” (the actual words of a past editor-in-chief).
When a key story isn’t receiving the audience engagement it deserves, tweaks throughout the day can help ensure it will gain the required impact. By linking your account-based database to digital engagement, you are now growing the database’s value while evaluating editorial direction in real time.
Another benefit is that salespeople who take digital revenue seriously are compensated based on the revenue they achieve.
In this way, you are driving revenue growth by aligning the organization’s compensation plans with your desired goals. It’s not that complicated, but I have met resistance in implementing this plan along the way, too. Companies that resist implementing such a plan often do not experience the lift and face the issue of overworked editors, whose print content requirements have not softened while the demands to produce digital content have increased. These companies are only minutes away from a staff uprising—and rightfully so.
For use within a paywall model, analytics can identify content that drives paid subscription activity, provide active “listening” survey tools to the editorial team for direction and direct payment for content producers based on engagement. It sounds simple, but the shift in thinking can ensure your brand’s sustainability and growth, while resistance will ensure continual revenue erosion and flight risk.
Viva the content producer.