April 17, 2017

Most money-making ideas in journalism don’t involve holding a pajama party while slurping bloody marys. But come May, that’s exactly what the pop culture-obsessed team at Vulture plans to do.

Vulture isn’t turning to drink because it’s harder than ever to make money in journalism (although it’s pretty bleak out there). No, they’re knocking a few back at the Vulture Festival, an annual celebration of TV, movies and music, that bosses are hoping will be an entrée to a new revenue stream for the company.

Like Atlantic Media and Politico before it, New York Media — the parent of Vulture, Grub Street, New York, The Cut and Science of Us — is hoping that live events could prove to be a lucrative revenue stream for the company.

Vulture Festival, which has been a company staple for four years, is a proof-of-concept that New York is hoping to expand to its other brands, which focus on women, entertainment, social science, food and culture, among other things. The festival (which this year features a PJs-only brunch with “Playing House” stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham) has lured both TV-nerds and corporate sponsors for New York, and CEO Pamela Wasserstein is betting the success can be replicated across the company.

Spearheading the effort is Pam Norwood, New York’s general manager for experiential, who joined the company in March after founding her own creative consultancy business. Norwood, who’s spent most of her career running marketing teams for magazines like Food & Wine, GQ and Rolling Stone, thinks the company’s subject-specific verticals give it a chance to hold events that cater to their various niche audiences.

“My role is to take what exists now, which is Vulture Festival, and come up with a way to create more signature events like that and turn those into a revenue stream,” Norwood said. “I’m working on developing additional programming that stem from our products.”

One such event will likely revolve around The Cut, Norwood said. The women-focused vertical has seen “incredible growth” in the months since Donald Trump was elected president, and the team is considering building programs that “explore the question of feminism in the age of Trump.”

The decision to organize an event around The Cut was inspired by a near “inexhaustible” interest in politics, Norwood said.

“It’s become a natural passion, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on,” she said. “And particularly for women. For the first time — and I’m talking about both liberal and conservative women — the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been.”

Norwood declined to say how much cash she expects the new business to bring in but did predict that events revenue would grow “in the double-digits” this year in part because of a new event sometime in the last three months of 2017. She also said New York Media aims to build a business around custom programs for other brands, helping them create live events with an eye toward entertaining and informative topics.

With print and digital revenue receding across the industry, several publishers have turned to events to shore up their bottom lines. The profit margins for well-attended events tend to be higher than traditional forms of advertising, and it’s a business line that is relatively insulated from the rise of ad blockers and tech giants’ vicegrip on advertising.

Events are not a silver bullet for business success in media. Gigaom imploded in 2015 despite its tech-focused events business (it’s since continued under new ownership). But several news organizations — including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vox Media and Mashable — all hold conferences and events that aim to pad their annual take.

All those events from New York City media companies means that Norwood has serious rivals for ticket sales and sponsors. But she’s hoping that New York’s journalism and its relationship with its audience — and a few bloody marys — will help it stand out from the competition.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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