Northern Hoot Ambassador of Change Program: A New Business Model for Advertising

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In today’s non-stop global, digital world, people are bombarded with information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Gone are the days of waiting impatiently for the single evening news broadcast or the paper to be delivered to recap the past day’s happenings. News is received and reported instantaneously in countless mediums – online, print, television, radio – in millions of variations of each medium. It is estimated that people view as many of 5,000 ads a day, up substantially from 500 in the 1970s. That’s one ad every 11.52 seconds. In 2013, the media consumed 6.9 billion gigabytes of information on the Internet alone. As a marketer, one must ask, how do you stand out? How do you differentiate?

For Jessica Mooney, the newest Accounts Development Manager at northernhoot.com, she’s been asking herself these very questions. An expert in branding, marketing, web management, and sales, Mooney knew she had to develop a marketing and advertising strategy that further differentiated Northern Hoot from the remainder of Northern Ontario’s online media, but also helped further the cause of Steffanie Petroni’s brain child of reporting the truth and affecting change in the region.

Knowing that selling advertising to help monetize and sustain Northern Hoot is difficult and will be hindered by the unstable regional and national economy, Mooney opted to change the business model of selling ads and why people should buy ad space. “The stories Steffanie is doing really do affect change in the lives of individuals and in the community. They’re starting conversations about the underlying problem. We hope that these stories reach the people who will bring about the change. Words may inspire, but only action creates the change. So I thought what if the ads made a difference?”

The Ambassadors of Change program is truly unique and has never been done in the journalism industry before. On Friday, the Northern Hoot team launched the program at the second annual Soup Ste. Marie at 180 Projects. The four-person team pitched their new advertising program to a crowd of social entrepreneurs. The first of its kind, the Ambassadors of Change Program utilizes the crowdfunding model by asking for contributions – whether monetary, donations of goods, or volunteering – from readers and those within the regional community. It also uses the trending ideal of social entrepreneurship, as Northern Hoot will be used to bring about social change. While Mooney was inspired by social entrepreneurships like TOMS and sevenly.org, the Ambassadors of Change program is truly unique and never been done before.

Each month, the Ambassadors of Change Program will highlight one specific cause through a two-part story, written by either Petroni or one of her freelance writers. These causes will be social issues, which aren’t readily identified and examined in today’s mainstream media. “Each story will include a call to action to help affect positive change through a defined action or tangible result through the readership.”

As an example, and though it has not been discussed, the Northern Hoot sees the Gore Street Café social enterprise model –their cause, as something the Ambassador of Change program could support. A potential partnership would highlight their cause, perhaps food security, through researched storytelling. Northern Hoot readers would be given an actionable task so that they can help the Café move closer to addressing food security. An actionable task could be encouraging 100 people to stop in to the Café that month and buying a $15 Hoot grill cheese sandwich. The profit from sandwich sales would go back into supporting their cause to provide accessible, healthy food to their customers regardless of what they can pay. And because the Northern Hoot want’s to have a stake in the Café’s success, 25% of that month’s net ad profits, driven by Ambassadors- the advertisers, would be directed to the Café. Northern Hoot would then follow-up with the original story about the underlying problem, talking about the results of the campaign. The follow-up exposé would reveal who helped out in the initiative; how these volunteers helped those who utilized the service; if the service saw a spike in calls; and so on.

In order for the defined action or tangible result to occur, there must be active participants involved. And those active participants are no other than Northern Hoot’s loyal readers and organizations who want to better Northern Ontario. “Unfortunately, we cannot create this change ourselves. We need more people. We don’t have the time or resources. So we need cause partners and participants. They will be the ones responsible for keeping us up to date on the progress of each initiative. If one month’s cause campaign is about getting donations for a foodbank or something like that, we will need someone within the community or a volunteer at the foodbank to either email us or call us daily and give us an update so we can report the truth. We are really relying on the active involvement of people outside of Northern Hoot to help us affect change.”

But where does ad buying come into this equation of social change? Mooney will be contacting companies, organizations, and business professionals asking for help and assistance in launching the Ambassador of Change Program. Once an advertiser – or the ambassador, as they’re being called – has purchased space and agreed to be a part of this month-long initiative and partnership, he or she becomes aligned with the cause. The money from that ad or multiple ads will then be used to help spread the word about the cause and ensure that readership reaches all the cities, towns, reserves, and municipalities, no matter how remote, within Northern Ontario. Currently, Northern Hoot has 40,000 – 50,000 views per month. The Ambassadors of Change Program has the potential to help these causes get into the homes of well over 100,000 people.

Since the ads purchased will live directly on the webpage discussing the story and cause, the advertiser becomes an advocate of that change, helping further build his or her reputation of doing good, being an advocate, and being involved in the community at large. Directing 25 percent of the net ad profits goes directly to that cause helping affect tangible change, further entrenching the advertiser’s commitment to the cause. The more he or she contributes, the bigger his or her recognition will be in the cause, but also the bigger his or her return will be on the ad itself.

The value of buying into the Ambassadors of Change Program goes beyond the dollar worth. “It can be really difficult to communicate the value of an ad. But with this new program, the value of the ad goes beyond the traditional value. It goes beyond clicking over to your website, conversion rates, and so on. The value lies in the social change.”

Plus, those who advertise through this program will also see the added benefit of improved search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword search, two invaluable tools for today’s tech and website junkies. Websites rely upon quality backlinks or inbound links to secondary sources for better ranking. “You need quality sources on every webpage in this era in order to have successful rankings and to be found by search engines and by Internet bots. Northern Hoot is that quality site.” Plus, with the ad living directly in the story about the social problem, writers will be able to tailor the story to include specific keywords directly related to the advertiser’s company or services, again, helping with SEO.

It is important to note, however, that advertisers do not have influence over the causes chosen or the content written on the Northern Hoot. For Founding Editor-In-Chief Petroni, this is crucial to the underlining beliefs and ideals of her Northern Hoot. “I’m working to bring responsible journalism back into the north and putting value back on credible journalism. To do that, I’m not always the first to report on the issue. I believe in fact-checking first, then publishing. Plus, it’s not about being constrained by any kind of corporate obligation. Our ambassadors must understand this and support this. If I allow someone else to pick or choose the cause or allow their money to sway my opinion, than that is going against everything I believe in and against my idea of credible journalism,” she says. And by focusing only on being a credible journalist, she is hoping to make Northern Hoot the platform of social change, but also help alter the current nosedive journalism is experiencing. “If we put value and meaning back into journalism, people will respect it and support it.”

According to Petroni, the Ambassadors of Change Program is the bowtie or dove tail to the original business plan of Northern Hoot. “We do three things at Northern Hoot. First, we shine a light on the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is and no matter whom it might upset. Second, we can involve our readers in the community and create measurable action and tangible outcomes. We can create a community culture of change through these actions. The third thing that is so important is that the Ambassadors fulfill the realistic financial need. We don’t often talk about that part, but in reality, we do need financial support in order to stay in existence.”

With the revenue gained from the Ambassadors of Change Program, Northern Hoot will be able to expand and hire more writers, thereby also helping stimulate the economy. As a writer herself, Petroni knows how crucial it is for other aspiring authors to have a platform to display their calibre writing and to be heard in the community. “I want other writers to be able to use Northern Hoot to showcase what they can do. It’s so important to me to be able to support other writers since so many people have supported and continue to support me. I have to give back and I can’t think of a better way than through the Northern Hoot.”

Ideally, the team at Northern Hoot is hoping to kick-start their first pilot social issue story and campaign through the Ambassadors of Change Program by May 1st.

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For more information on the Ambassadors of Change Program, or to get involved in this social change initiative, please contact Jessica Mooney: 705.975.5644 or jessica@northernhoot.com.

(feature Image: Northern Hoot- Nic Turco (left), Jessica Mooney (center), Steffanie Petroni (right) presenting at Soup Ste. Marie Friday night)

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