How a column on happiness impressed the Atlantic's 2021 occasion technique

Starting a regular column at the beginning of a pandemic about how to find happiness is a pretty safe bet. What the Atlantic wasn't expecting was how it would pave the way for its approach to virtual events in 2021.

Author Arthur Brooks' How to Build a Life column, launched in April 2020, will appear biweekly to weekly on January 21 after audiences longed for more opportunities to build resilience and happiness. (The Atlantic declined to share certain reader metrics.)

In May, the magazine will host an event based on Brooks' column on the pursuit of happiness for resilience and recovery, covering topics such as mental health, spirituality and love. It is the first of 20 planned virtual events in the first half of the year with the theme "Journalism that helps the audience to control how the pillars of society have changed due to a pandemic or politics", according to the publisher.

"Brands are interested in these types of conversations: today's world and society, the future of work, healthcare," said CFO and editor Hayley Romer, adding that brands now have a stronger appetite to be with The Atlantic Working on previous issues considered controversial, such as inequality in the workplace or racial injustice. "It is important to them to be part of the relevant conversation."

The lower barrier to entry in creating virtual events has also made it easier for the publisher to turn popular editorial topics into digital gatherings, and brands are keen to get involved.

Don't scale a hotel ballroom

Publishers are considering how to fund the events business in 2021 after switching to virtual during the pandemic last March and in some cases decimating up to a third of publishing sales. While the economics of in-person events vary – there are no swanky ballrooms to reserve – the revenues are often lower, but the potential audience pool is larger. Experiments to effectively monetize virtual events are widespread.

All options are on the table for The Atlantic, including brand sponsorships, ticketing events, and subscriber-only events.

In 2019, around 140 personal events took place in the Atlantic. The income generated made up around 20% of the publisher's total. Around 15% of the events are expected in 2021. The Atlantic wouldn't share exact numbers, but virtual events, despite their higher profit margins, aren't enough to mitigate the significant drop in sales when personal events are gone.

On the positive side, the number of virtual visitors in the Atlantic increased by 50% compared to the previous year. People familiar with the publisher said its flagship Atlantic Live Festival had 3,000 visitors. In addition, a number of brands that sponsor in-person events have switched to virtual versions, such as: B. Software as a service company Salesforce.

To fuel its digital endeavors, The Atlantic hired Candace Montgomery as general manager and event SVP. In May, the publisher laid off 68 employees (17% of employees) in its event, sales and editorial teams. Now it has a team of 10 people doing event management, audience, marketing and editing, and working with another 20 people in sales, marketing, product and editing.

"We don't intend to put everything we've done live into virtual events," said Montgomery. “They are uniquely different. We'll focus on how to make them unique and meaningful in 2021 and beyond. "

In December, the publisher hosted Assembling an Administration, which focused on President-elect Joe Biden's transition to the White House. The event was signed by business consultancy BCG, who are also working with the publisher to create a custom podcast that will focus on similar topics. It also creates a resource for heads of government in a transition period when BCG brings its own expertise to the conversation.

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