A PushBlack campaign grew donations 30% to a voter registration drive in the South.
Native News, supported by grants and sponsors, launches a new health-care newsletter and quickly grows it to 26,000 subscribers.
And after a collaborative of healthcare organizations in Philadelphia partnered with WURD Radio to distribute colorectal cancer screening kits, dozens of Black Philadelphians are identified as having symptoms or risk factors, potentially saving their lives.
These are among the concrete examples that partner organizations of URL Media shared in a series of interviews on how they measure metrics, audience and their impact.
The effort to better understand the engagement of BIPOC media is a joint research project between URL Media and the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Together, we seek to disrupt traditional pricing models such as CPMs (cost per mille; impressions for every thousand impressions as ad receives) or audience scale quantified by page views or unique visitors — measurement more favorable to national media or organizations driven by less diverse stakeholders.
Inequitable systems, though, can force innovation. Cherrell Angervil, the audience engagement director at the Haitian Times, rattles off all the ways the outlet gauges engagement. “Are we getting DMs, comments and shares? That’s all visibility,” she says. Others that might make their way onto a pitch deck to advertisers: overall click through rates, clicking links to buy something or take action, page views, how long people stay on the page.
Unburdened by legacy, we meet audiences where they are
The seven URL Media partners initially interviewed for this project are Documented, Epicenter-NYC, Haitian Times, Immigrantly, Native News, PushBlack, and WURD. They all rely on “traditional” metrics, programs such as Google Analytics, Chartbeat, Parse.ly, Nielsen among others. They all also cited news and information being distributed beyond websites and platforms as a way to reach their communities.
Significantly, this outreach is a core part of their missions and not the subject of consternation or strategy sessions. Nobody has the time or staff to hold endless news meetings filled with: “Should we get onto this platform? What are our KPIs?”
Documented, notably, boasts a 4,000-strong community on WhatsApp; 60% of members are undocumented immigrants. The New York City-based outlet’s development associate Anjelica La Furno describes how impacting and uplifting the communities at the core of coverage is everybody’s job. “Impact is not hidden,” she says. “It’s not something we relegate to the community engagement team. We share across the board.” Last year, Documented, which serves immigrant New Yorkers and also has specific verticals for Spanish-speaking, Chinese and Caribbean populations, worked to more qualitatively measure the impact it was having. Its impact rubric is composed of three areas: Community impact, structural impact, and media amplification.
PushBlack, a nonprofit media company, publishes empowering stories about Black life and history across its website, platforms and even via Facebook Messenger. Tareq Alani, the co-founder and chief product officer, says sometimes PushBlack will offer A/B testing for clients and show them the results to make better decisions. He recalls a campaign with a Black-owned clothing brand and how PushBlack worked to understand the return on investment on their ad spending. “We worked with them on how much revenue that brought in the next 48 hours and tracked it all the way down the funnel to their bottom line.” In these ways, the distributed nature of the media outlets serves as an asset and sparks further creativity. PushBlack’s participation in a recent URL Media campaign to raise awareness of a New Jersey property tax relief showcases this. Check out how the addition of the music and host brings the ad to life.
These conversations with URL Media partners were conducted by Pulso’s founder Liz Alarcón, who also employs similar tactics to reach her audience. “A landing page is not how the world is consuming content,” she says.
Selling a growth story
Many outlets talked about growth as a metric they share in pitch decks and with clients. Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter launched in the pandemic to better serve hard-hit Queens, boasts 7,000% growth in its audience last year. McKinsey Publishing, which signed on as an early sponsor, benefits from insights on what its audience clicks on: small business, women’s leadership, diversity and inclusion strategies, and anything on books or summer reading. (Disclosure: Epicenter is an outlet co-founded and run by S. Mitra Kalita, a co-author of this piece.) Kalita also talked about how smaller ad campaigns are often the most clicked items in the newsletter, such as jobs with the Asian American Federation, sponsored content from the Indo-American Arts Council’s Film Festival, and a community forum at CitiField.
“I am proud when an ad is the most-clicked-on thing, that our advertising sometimes outperforms the other content,” Kalita says. “If we are actually serving the community, then we want the advertising to actually interest them, too.” She shared that Epicenter — and many URL partners — treat advertisers as fellow small businesses and try to ensure messaging is of mutual interest and utility to audiences. Another metric the organization touts: the ability to sell out seats, events or limited offers.
In fact, because traditional measurement tools often undercount BIPOC audiences, URL partners take a comprehensive approach, examining all the ways they reach their audiences to tell a fuller story. This includes: paid memberships, social media likes and shares, caller volume (for talk radio), time spent engaged with content, event attendance, digital engagement, newsletter opens — and even old-school word of mouth.
The uphill scale game
Community media shared a sense of frustration at needing to prove themselves over and over, despite the trusted relationships at the core of their journalism. They also mention accepting smaller contracts just to get a foot in the door, overdelivering and hoping for bigger renewals. Nothing is taken for granted, and oftentimes, the push to renew or retain a client starts right away. Yet again, the fragility of community media emerges as an asset: There is drive, hustle, a constant keeping and tallying of receipts.
That’s not to romanticize any of it. Saadia Khan, the founder of a podcast called Immigrantly, has had ad deals from brands as large as the National Hockey League and Bank of Montreal. She has a loyal audience and recently launched a second podcast, Invisible Hate. But many advertisers have a threshold of 50,000 downloads before they will consider sponsorship of a podcast. She doesn’t have that. Yet.
In fact, because traditional measurement tools often undercount BIPOC audiences, URL partners take a comprehensive approach, examining all the ways they reach their audiences to tell a fuller story. This includes: paid memberships, social media likes and shares, caller volume (for talk radio), time spent engaged with content, event attendance, digital engagement, newsletter opens – and even old-school word of mouth.
“We were below the minimum threshold,” she says, lamenting one advertiser she could not land. “But that to me is shortsighted. Our demographic is very young, a lot of second-gen kids. They don’t have a strong affiliation with a particular product or a brand. They don’t go back five generations. The conversion rate is higher with our audience. But advertisers don’t see that.”
Indeed, scale does not necessarily translate into the deep relationship with communities that partner organizations of URL Media share. And the premise of the network is that advertisers do not have to choose between the two. In pitches with clients, Melanie Figueiredo, URL Media Vice President for Ad Sales and Sponsorships, touts the trust between BIPOC media and communities, and how the power of collaboration has grown URL Media’s collective audience to more than 11 million users.
“When brands direct funds to programmatic buys over direct sponsorships, those same brands miss out on building an emotional connection with audiences. We know that emotional connections to companies are what fuels consumer habits. We know that representation (in ads, throughout brand marketing) affects spend,” she says. “If you add in the crucial service journalism that our partners provide, and the value of a sponsor’s visibility alongside our life-changing content, URL offers unparalleled value when measured against legacy media.”
A deeper relationship with clients
The Haitian Times describes a back-and-forth, almost iterative approach to advertising. Angervil says the outlet, for example, might tell a client that their messaging won’t resonate or that they need to ensure photography is diverse. “They see our impact in the community and they want to renew their contract with us. Advertisers are more patient with us. One month we might come in below and the next is skyrocket high. They are understanding.” she said.
Similarly, WURD president Sara Lomax described that when she first started running the radio station in 2010, it was her deep relationships with key corporate leaders in Philadelphia that got her in the door. “This impact conversation cannot be devoid of personal relationships,” she says, adding that a person of color in the C-suite can be transformative on spending with BIPOC media. “Relationships may get you a shot, but then you have to show and prove.”