Small firms should start advertising live events again 

Interestingly, for small firms like Buzzfeed and Vox Media, sales of ad sponsorships tied to live events is outperforming the rest of the ad business. As a result, these smaller firms are now expanding their event businesses.

While giant platforms like Meta reported improvements in digital ad revenues for the June quarter this week, although the pace of growth remains well short of the 30%-plus growth rates of a couple of years ago, the same cannot be said for small firms. Snap, for instance, reported a 4% decline in ad revenues. And firms like BuzzFeed are expected to do even worse after reporting a 30% drop in first-quarter ad revenue and projected that business trends would improve “modestly” in the second quarter, while projecting overall revenue to fall as much as 29%. 

BuzzFeed in May hired a new executive, Matt Senna, to expand its events products. The events business is part of BuzzFeed’s commerce segment, which is the only part of its business that showed growth in the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year.

In this environment, a return of events is welcome. “What we’re seeing now in a challenged ad market is that [event-related ad deals are] driving larger deals,” said Vox Media’s chief marketing officer, Jacqueline Cinguina to The Information. She told them that advertisers are banking on the fact that consumers will post social content from events on their personal accounts, ensuring that marketer-sponsored events get even more attention. 

Semafor, the global media startup launched by Ben Smith and Justin Smith last fall, is a great example on the benefits of advertising events. Half its revenue so far this year is from event sponsorships. Event-related revenue accounted for 20% of BDG’s revenue in the first half of this year, according to its president and chief revenue officer, Jason Wagenheim. That compared with 2% in the first half of 2022, although part of the reason for the increase is that advertising revenues have shrunk.

As a result, firms are investing more in events. Vox Media is exploring expansion of its event offerings with different brands in its portfolio, specifically bringing back its pop culture convention, Popsugar Play/Ground, after a four-year hiatus. 

For some digital media firms, events are less about generating revenue than about marketing content. Literally Media, which owns Cracked, Cheezburger and Know Your Meme, is launching its first live comedy series at the end of this month, said CEO Oren Katzeff. While he’s predicting that events overall will comprise less than 5% of Literally Media’s total revenue, he sees them as a way to “build a long-lasting, multifaceted relationship” with consumers and creators.

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