By Julia CampbellThe Branded Content Project  

Wondering if taking your event virtual is the right decision? Wondering if you will pull the same audiences for a screen version of something traditionally in-person? Wondering if this will be a good fit for advertisers? We’re answering those questions and more in this series on virtual events, sharing examples from three media organizations that are not just connecting in creative ways, but succeeding in bringing together their business communities with a little ingenuity and a little internet.

Two weeks ago, we showcased examples from the team at Masthead Maine and demonstrated how their team has expanded opportunities for bigger audiences, increased sponsorship, and additional speakers. Last week we shared what The Seattle Times has gained from its virtual Lunch and Learn events and branded content initiatives hyper tuned to the audiences’ needs.

This week, we’re learning how Newsday is averaging an engaged virtual audience of more than 5,000 people with Newsday LIVE.

More on the project at Newsday, based in Long Island, N.Y. 

Events are not new for the Newsday team.

Nannette Fevola, senior director of national sales, marketing and client solutions at Newsday Media Group, shares their history.

“Over the last three years, Newsday has fully moved into the live event arena. We have a robust roster of large-scale consumer events and a variety of smaller, more intimate town hall-type events,” she said. “We were in the process of completing construction on a new state-of-the-art studio here at Newsday — with an eye toward live streaming and virtual events in general — well before COVID-19 hit. But having hit, the COVID-19 crisis is propelling us to accelerate our timeline. So, one of the first pivots that we made was toward virtual webinars.”

Newsday designed its 45-minute programs to cover a variety of topics of importance to Long Islanders. Events were created for both B2B and B2C topics and include small business, health and wellness, jobs and employment, finance and banking, and lifestyle and entertainment.

Fevola explains the logistics of the sessions.

“Each topical seminar was designed to be concise and information-packed and we wanted it to be interactive. Everyone has a lot of questions on all of those topics, so we wanted to make sure we had adequate time. The sessions themselves run 45 minutes and then there is a 15-minute Q&A which, honestly, we are finding is going to a half an hour because of the volume of questions. So far, since we started this program, we fielded over five thousand questions.”

Andrea Rothchild, senior vice president of advertising sales at Newsday Media Group, explains the importance of audience engagement for virtual events.

“It is very much focused on getting questions. We want to be a resource for the community,” she said. “We encourage questions and we answer the questions that come in during the webinar. Then at the end of the webinar, we send a survey, and we ask consumers or viewers what issues or topics they are interested in. We are really there to be a resource for them.”

Newsday staff from across departments is involved in the entire webinar.

“Newsday’s editorial team comes in and moderates each of the sessions and then we invite speakers from each of the topical fields,” Fevola said. “This includes added government officials and key administrative personnel. A lot of these webinars are also done in partnership with some of our local trade associations.”

“This variety of topics had been incredibly popular with the Newsday audience and with the Long Island audience at large,” she continued. “Because although we market these to the Newsday subscribers, we are also marketing them outside of our subscriber base and having tremendous results. As you can see just from this chart, from six hundred attendees in our first webinar, we had 8,000 one week. It is averaging about 5,000 attendees each one.”

The team is tracking questions and also feedback after the virtual events.

“Even more important are the satisfaction ratings in our net-promoter score (a gauge of likelihood to recommend),” Fevola said. “Newsday’s scores are world-class. Each week, we are growing this audience and we are seeing increasingly positive results. There is a lot to talk about in these sessions and the Long Island market is incredibly receptive and turning to Newsday for their answers.”

The revenue model contains branded content and sponsorship elements.

“To leverage our commitment to our branded sponsorship content, a number of our webinars are also available for sponsorship, and each sponsor signs on for a minimum of four webinars. Those are held over a varying amount of time because we are now doing seminars and sometimes multiple seminars daily. Some people might want to do all four in one week. Other sponsors might want to spread their participation over a month. The sponsorship includes brand inclusion on all the pre-webinar and then post-event materials,” Fevola said.

The promotional process includes e-blasts, print, and digital ads and digital reminders.

“We start out first with an e-blast that alerts and reminds prospects of the webinar topic, time and date,” Fevola explained. “That goes to a database (depending on the topic) of anywhere from 400,000 down to 30,000. This just reminds them to register on the time and date, so it is a call-to-action. We also follow this up, both in our print newspaper and our digital website again, reminding our subscribers and the people who visit our site — those 6 million unique visitors every month — hat we have this seminar and to register for it.”


What does sponsorship include?

“Sponsors get logo inclusion on all of the pre-promotional pieces including print ads, digital ads, and e-blasts. They are also included on things like the actual registration page on-site and, as the video launches, we send another reminder that says, ‘Join now.’ They are on the opener of every webinar page prominently. We also do a lot of post-event promotion as well. Logo inclusion is included on the thank you page, and we archive all of our webinars so people can access them. While the webinar is being held for the registrants, it is also live streaming on So, it is getting a huge audience play for that sponsor advertiser,” Fevola said.

Newsday also offers a wide range of branded content sponsorship opportunities.

“There have been multiple page print units that bring in a lot of revenue and give each of our advertisers an opportunity to showcase themselves next to adjacent themed synergistic editorial,” Fevola said. “We also have dedicated newsletters, and all of these are sponsorable. We also have created our own dedicated social Facebook group with over 1,800 followers and about 800 businesses have also been mentioned.”

Cause and community marketing have also been a focus for the Newsday team.

“In addition to support for local businesses, we’re also rallying the overall community under a banner which we call, ‘Together Long Island.’ That includes a variety of things like message boards and calls for user-generated content. Then we have something called, ‘The Act of Kindness,’ which is charitable effort highlighting people who are making a difference in the community,” Fevola said.

Fevola explains that these are all-hands-on-deck events.

“There is a whole team that puts these webinars together. We have our community affairs and events team and our tech team, we do rehearsals, we want to make sure everybody is mic’d up because everyone is home and everyone has different technology,” she said. “We really do everything we can to ensure that it is as high quality as can be produced today. Also, we have a team of editorial staff moderating and parsing all the questions in real-time and then feeding them to the moderator. We personalize it too, such as, ‘Jennifer from Oceanside is asking’ which resonates with the audience as well. Both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera, there is a small but incredibly talented team that guarantees each webinar’s success. And as every marketing professional knows, the more flawless a production is, the more work went behind it.”

Rothchild explains the real value of these events.

“The great work that the editorial and event teams have done with these webinars is evident in the response from Long Islands local business community,” she said. “These have been a real resource for our small advertisers and they know that Newsday is here for them and continues to support them through this crisis. These webinars — and all our COVID-19 programs that support local business — promote goodwill and are evolving the perception of Newsday from a trusted product to a true partner. That has really benefited us with the business community. It has really been fantastic.”