Advertising on Offbeat Home & Life: the past and the future (hi, Federated Media!)

July 22 2014 | offbeatbride


Ancient History: Native advertising

Back in late '00s, the business model I had in mind for the Offbeat Empire was quite different than where it is today. I'd figured out how to make Offbeat Bride financially sustainable, through a combination of native advertising: sponsored posts, business directory, and banner ads all sold by me directly to the advertisers. I figured "Hey, that revenue model works great — I'll launch other content verticals with that same revenue model!" In 2009 I launched Offbeat Mama (which became Offbeat Families), and in 2011 I launched Offbeat Home (which became Offbeat Home & Life).

The revenue models were the same as Offbeat Bride and the traffic growth patterns matched Offbeat Bride, but the business results were drastically different… it became clear within a couple years that the native advertising model that worked so well for Bride wasn't going to translate to the other sites.

So in 2011 I added ugly third-party banner ads to Offbeat Families and Offbeat Home & Life, partnering with a company called Glam Media (now known as Mode Media). I hated the ugly banner ads, but they covered some operating expenses, so it felt worth it… at least for a while.

Recent History: Glam Media

Glam Media staunched the bleeding for a couple years, giving me a few profitable months and a few break-even months, but mostly just lots and lots of ugly ads for not much money. Last year I ultimately decided that I couldn't justify having two unprofitable sites online and so Offbeat Families was shuttered.

When I ceased publication on Offbeat Families, I shifted my strategy over there with the third-party ads. In an attempt to recoup some of my four years of losses, I threw the floodgates wide open to all Glam's most invasive ads. We're talking wrapper ads, auto-play video ads, survey ads that dance over the content, in-image banner ads — the whole shebang. When the site was actively published, it felt disrespectful to have ads this invasive (and community members threatened to stop submitting content to the site). Once the site was in "archive/recoup losses" mode, however, it felt fine.

Since Offbeat Home & Life was still actively being published, however, I made a point to keep these more invasive ad types off the site. Unfortunately, due to repeated errors by Glam/Mode Media, the invasive ads kept creeping over from Offbeat Families to Offbeat Home & Life. The third time it happened, I decided to remove Glam advertising from Offbeat Home & Life. I'm comfortable keeping the invasive ads on an archived site like Offbeat Families, but on an active site like Offbeat Home & Life, I need to be working with a third-party ad platform I can trust.

The future: Federated Media

Starting today, Offbeat Home & Life has a new third-party advertising partnership with a great San Francisco-based company called Federated Media. I've known about these guys for years, and have a ton of publishing industry colleagues who've worked both for them, and with them. My friend Choire over at The Awl referred me to Federated this spring, and after lots of conversations and obsessing over traffic and schemes, I've decided to bring Federated Media on as Offbeat Home & Life's advertising partner.

Initially, this means that they'll be serving up the third-party banner ads you see on the site — the header bar banner, and the sidebar banner beneath the sponsors. In a few months, however, you'll likely start seeing sponsored posts with Federated Media's brand partners. These'll be the same kind of sponsored posts you've seen on Offbeat Empire sites for ages… the big difference is that they'll likely be for national brands like Target or Ikea. What might they be like? Well, speaking of Ikea, Federated looked at this NON-sponsored post we did and was like "Uh, that should have been a sponsored post, you guys!" So yeah, the posts will look like that.

This is definitely a different strategy than Offbeat Bride, where most of the sponsored posts are for little indie wedding vendors. The reality is that while there are enough indie wedding vendors willing to pay for placement on Offbeat Bride, there are not enough little indie home decor & lifestyle businesses willing to advertise on Offbeat Home & Life. For me personally, I've found that the reality is that while I love my Etsy sellers and handcrafted DIY stuff, I do in fact shop national brands, too — that pillow is from Bed Bath & Beyond. Those chairs are from Target. Those rugs are from Ikea. That salad dressing is from Kraft.

Offbeat Home & Life will retain its editorial focus on the same stuff we always have… stuff like lesbian-babymaking, nerdy birthday parties, sex and disabilities, and the deep emotional challenges of parental estrangement. We'll just be balancing our usual stuff with sponsored content from national brands that don't gross us out. As always with advertising, it's a balance between financial realities and editorial integrity… but this partnership with Federated Media actually feels like the easiest, most natural step the site has taken in ages. We get total control over the brands we'll be writing about, and maybe (just maybe!) the site will finally be financially sustainable. That'd be awesome!

  1. I LOVE how open and honest you are about this stuff. I genuinely hope OBH&L becomes more profitable for you – I'd really hate to see it go!

    42 agree
    • Thanks! I don't expect most readers to be interested in this kind of stuff, but for the few who are… I know it's nice to know what's going on, and the reasoning behind changes.

      10 agree
  2. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Ariel! We the OBE fandom do watch these goings-on with interest… especially since each one of your business-related posts is more useful than a week of web strategy seminars. 🙂

    5 agree
  3. Normally, this kind of news would make me nervous, but I totally trust you guys to pull it off. It means a lot that you keep us in the loop!

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  4. It really is nice to know! Almost every time I check H&L, I come over here to see if there is a new post. I find the behind the scenes stuff fascinating, and I like to know how H&L is doing. I've always thought of this site as like the "Bonus Features" on a DVD, haha. Thanks for keeping us in the loop!

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  5. I also love how openly you communicate this kind of stuff.

    I hope this runs smoothly. I'm just a bit worried because there have been some incidents where brands got concerned about the sites/people/events they were linked to, like that belgian-soccer-fan-l'oreal-thing or that homophobic chicken guy (I'm from Europe and never really understood what was actually going on with that one).
    I really hope there won't be a day where the Empire gets in trouble because there's a shitstorm on twitter, telling folks to boycott a certain brand because they advertise here.
    You know? People are all kinds of weird I just hope you get the right kind of sponsors.

    3 agree
    • People are all kinds of weird I just hope you get the right kind of sponsors.

      That pretty much sums it up, although these challenges are nothing new — we've dealt for years with reader/sponsor drama on ALL the sites over the years (most recently on Offbeat Home & Life, unless you want to count today on Offbeat Bride). There's always a low level of friction, and at least going forward we'll be partnering with Federated Media, who has lots of experience dealing with opinionated publishers and skittish national brands.

      1 agrees
    • Very side note – I giggled at the phrase "homophobic chicken guy". I think this tops the list of phrases that I hope are never used to describe me.

      But in all seriousness, that guy is awful.

      -end of conversation derailment-

      1 agrees
  6. Sometimes I sit around worrying that Offbeat Home & Life will have to disappear because you have told us so often about how it's not making money and it's a labor of love and such. I am *so excited* about this news, and I really hope it works out well financially!!

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  7. I'm sure this will work out great for OBH&L. The brands have just as great an interest as you to make sure the posts mesh well with the site and its audience. (And you've done many IKEA-related posts already; it would be great if those started paying-off! 😉 )

    Also, it's not like the balance of sponsored posts vs regular posts will change (or differ greatly from how it is on OBB), right?

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    • Nope! We've never done more than 2 sponsored posts a week on Offbeat Bride, and I'm betting it won't ever be more than 1 sponsored post a week on Offbeat Home & Life (….if that?).

      1 agrees
  8. Added bonus – ever since you switched over, Offbeat Home no longer stalls or crashes my browser!

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  9. I appreciate this post as well.

    First of all because the Offbeat Empire is dear to me. While Offbeat Bride drew me in (oddly enough), it's Offbeat Home where my heart resides (see what I did there).
    I appreciate your showing the effort that goes into it.

    Secondly, I'm excited and in awe over your professional flair *grin*
    I'm in corporate communication, and that suits me (offbeat lite for life, etc. etc.)… but it's still great to see who you all are and how you all manage a place 1/ of regular updates 2/ with inspiring content 3/ with a constructive community.

    Thank you for that.

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