Venezuelan digital media launch joint advertising strategy to ensure profitability

This story is part of a series on Innovative Journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean.(*)

After several years of joining forces, the “Rebel Alliance” took another step forward in its struggle to survive the forces of the dark side.

It is not the plot of a new sequel to “Star Wars,” but a business strategy established by three Venezuelan digital media sites in order to ensure their profitability and shield themselves against– making an intentional parallel with the film saga, which they’ve called the Rebel Alliance (Alianza Rebelde).

As of this month, news sites Runrun.esTal Cual and El Pitazo offer clients advertising combos with the opportunity of having a presence in all three portals, but at a more competitive price than if they paid to appear in each separately.

“We offer the chance to appear on the three media sites with a single notice, a single billing, a single purchase order. We also standardize the sizes of the ads. We are not selling positions, but the banners rotate in all positions that exist on the three pages,” Carmen Riera explained to the Knight Center. Riera is the editorial manager of Runrun.es, the site behind the idea for the Alliance.

The formula is based on the number of page views and number of unique visitors that each site has, so the profit is divided into parts proportional to audience size. In this way, the media save time and expenses in personnel, since two marketers do the work for the three portals.

“We standardize the processes to make life easier for advertisers. And at the same time, we offer more time on the page, more page views, a greater variety of audience, because its three media outlets, that although they have things in common, they also have their differences,” Riera added.

On Dec. 7, Runrun.es, El Pitazo and Tal Cual released their first ad under the new model. It is advertising for the film “Carlos Andrés Pérez: Two attempts,” which already appears simultaneously on the three sites.

“It is a unique alliance in Latin America and is a brand new commercial commitment that allows us to combine unique audiences. Being a tripartite alliance, it has an audience of more than 10 million people, a premium public, in which more than 70 percent are decision makers,” said Carlos González, commercial manager of the Alliance, in a press release.

Given the political and economic situation in Venezuela, which lacks significant advertising offers due to the scarcity of production in the country, the sites had to find a new way to attract the few advertisers that exist and to guarantee their investment.

Large corporations of mass products, like food, are disappearing as advertisers, especially in digital media that have a clear struggle for freedom of expression. They don’t want to be related to media critical of the government.

“But new small businesses are emerging that are opportunities for advertising, and we are targeting those. We are already looking for companies that aren't massive who are interested in advertising with us,” César Batiz, editorial director of El Pitazo, told the Knight Center.

The initial goal of the Alliance is to gain at least 10 clients in three months in order to ensure its operation. But, given an economic outlook with inflation up to 750 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, even if the strategy works, the survival of the sites is not assured.

“None of the three media will live on just that. We have to look for other forms of financing, because we have to pay the servers in dollars, which is difficult today,” Carmen Riera said. “With the Alliance, at least we try to ensure that the expenses we have in national currency are covered through national advertising, and see how we can settle the expenses in dollars.”

For the time being, digital native media are the only ones that have managed to break free from government censorship, which since 2012 has implemented repressive measures such as the purchase of media outlets and control of paper for the print media.

“We've already seen the lawsuits against digital media like La Patilla, we have seen [the case of] digital media owner Braulio Jatar, who was arrested without a clear reason,” Batiz said. “Additionally, the internet, as slow as it is at the moment, is already an obstacle for us. That is why we are committed to getting information released through other channels,” said the journalist, whose site El Pitazo provides news through text, radio, and loud speakers for community members without internet.

The alliances have played a key role in the evasion of censorship by digital media. Runrun.es began its coalition with other media at the editorial level, within the framework of the 2015 elections, when it divided coverage of the process with other sites.

These editorial alliances have continued with collaborations in investigative journalism and coverage of large events, such as the mass protest on Oct. 23 in favor of a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro.

Additionally, Runrun.es, El Pitazo and Tal Cual joined with news site Crónica Uno and television platform VIVOplay to publish stories and share updates about the protests on each media outlet’s website and social network platforms.

“At these times when we are attacked and they want to beat us, working in a team is what makes us great,” Riera said. “Before a monster so large with all the power and all the money, one cannot be frightened, but quite the contrary. What has to be done is to look for creative formulas to overcome it and get ahead, so that the audience is informed and democracy improves.”

(*) This story is part of a special project by the Knight Center that is made possible thanks to generous support from Open Society Foundations. The "Innovative Journalism" series covers digital news media trends and best practices in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Other stories in the series include:

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.