Trusted Media Brands’ SVP of Marketing on ‘Nicest Places’ Program & Digital Revenue Strategy
When Trusted Media Brands launched Reader’s Digest's “Nicest Places in America” in 2017, the main goal was to engage fans and build the program’s brand equity. Now in year three, the publisher is monetizing the program through a custom content partnership with first-ever sponsor Life Extension, a wellness and supplement company.
“Nicest Places” is a reader-driven editorial campaign that spans digital and print: People submit stories of kind communities across the country, editors and judges select one place per state, and readers vote for their favorite to win a cover story in Reader’s Digest. This year the editors received a record number of submissions, with a 140% increase over 2018.
“The first two years we were really focused on … ensuring that [the program] became something that was not only important to us internally but also our consumers,” says Ronak Patel, senior vice president of marketing, PR, research, and digital revenue operations for Trusted Media Brands. “It’s kind of taken a life of its own, so this year around we felt confident in creating a cohesive go-to-market strategy so we can have the right partner in place.”
In addition to the program sponsor, Reader’s Digest has a slew of promotional partners for “Nicest Places,” including Nextdoor, Feeding America, and the Good News Network, among others.
Patel, who joined Trusted Media Brands in April, discusses the custom content partnership with Life Extension in the following Q&A, as well as her role and the digital revenue streams she is looking to grow over the next year.
What is your main area of focus?
My main area of focus, especially this coming year, is making sure that we are creating best-in-class marketing programs that are very strategic for our clients to grow revenue, but also making sure that Trusted Media Brands is a company that is well-known in the marketplace. In the past there have been some [company] name changes from “Reader’s Digest” to “Trusted Media Brands,” and I think we need to just go out to market and really shine about who we are and the amazing brands within our wheelhouse, such as Reader’s Digest, The Family Handyman, and Taste of Home. We have this breadth of brands that I firmly believe were the OG of community. We were the original community builders and we’ve built these communities to scale, so we want to make sure that we’re drumming that beat in the marketplace.
What are the strategic objectives of the “Nicest Places” program?
It really stems from the effort to uncover places where people are kind and treat each other with respect. We felt it was really important to surface those types of stories given the climate in the past 2-3 years in the US. That’s how it came to be. Consumers are voting in droves this year because they’re super interested in who is going to be voted in as "Nicest Place," and because people just want feel-good stories.
How did you secure your first sponsor for the program?
We have great talent on our sales side. The seller who sold this program in had a brilliant idea of tackling it from a PR perspective versus the traditional agency or client route. It just worked really well because Life Extension is similar in nature in that it’s a global authority on health and wellness and nutrition, and health is such a big part of communities nationwide. Creating a program for them was just organic and a no-brainer.
Tell me how your partnership with Life Extension works. What are they getting out of it?
We are creating a [companion] program around “Community Health Heroes.” It’s a custom content partnership that will feature a digital destination of true stories and health advice to live a healthier, happier life. Not only are they the sponsors when you go on the landing page to vote for “Nicest Places,” and you see some nice placement around Life Extension that feels true and organic, but as part of the selection process for who is going to be our top winner for “Nicest Places,” we’re going to use some of the submissions to surface “Community Health Heroes.” We will have a panel of judges from Life Extension help select the right “Community Health Heroes” across the nation, with three winners who are really raising the bar by ensuring that health and wellness is a priority in their communities.
Will the Life Extension spotlight extend into the magazine?
It [the “Community Health Heroes” program] will be featured in the magazine, but we have to be careful in terms of church and state, edit versus advertising, so you will see a division in terms of how it’s plugged into the issue. The “Nicest Places” winner is purely editorial, and they will get a prominent feature on the cover. We will create a nice in-book advertorial to talk about the Life Extension winners.
What are marketers and advertisers asking for these days, and how are you adjusting to meet their needs?
There’s been a shift, and it has been going on for a bit in terms of really honing in on publishers’ resources to create incredible content. So ad units, high-impact media is not as important as it used to be – it’s more in the programmatic world where that’s being bought. But what we’re seeing in direct sales and marketing is a shift toward custom content, which is great for us because we have amazing resources internally and even externally to create the right content for our advertisers both from a native perspective and a branded perspective.
Every publisher is talking about diversifying revenue streams, and custom content is one way to do that. How else is TMB planning to diversify in the next 6-12 months?
It ranges in a number of ways. One is through platform partners, new and next or existing platforms that provide additional ways to distribute our content, or we can create content for those platforms that are endemic to our brands to generate new revenue streams. The second piece of it is ecommerce has taken off. Shoppable content is something on our radar, making sure we have a solid affiliate revenue model to help advertisers or partners keep their path to purchase shorter in terms of the funnel.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.