News Innovators on the Frontline: Brooklyn Based

Posted on 03. Aug, 2009 by in Hyperlocal, News Ecosystem, Revenue

Founded two years ago by Nicole Davis, Brooklyn Based is a thrice-weekly events and entertainment email and blog that focuses exclusively on New York City’s largest borough. In addition to listing events, Davis and her partners, Annaliese Griffin and Chrysanthe Tenentes also write feature articles on food, music, film and anything else they think is cool. Brooklyn Based could also pass for an entertainment company in its own right, based on the events they have planned, promoted and hosted (in exchange for a cut on the admissions). We spoke with Griffin late last week (full disclosure: she and I attended graduate school together).

Brooklyn Based, the logoExplain the idea behind Brooklyn Based. You’re sort of a hybrid between email product, website and events hosting business. Which of those is the most important?
The most important thing is our email list. Our Wednesday email is the Tip Sheet; it’s all event listings and it grounds the whole thing. Even if you don’t like the other two posts, at least on Wednesday you read about 10 events you want to go to that week.

On Tuesday and Thursday we have feature posts—a neighborhood story about a restaurant or an art event or an interview. We try to stay at 500 words or less with a higher level of writing and editing than your average blog. We’re not all snappy one-liners and 15-word paragraphs. We try to have a front-of-the-book-magazine feel to our posts.

Our blog is not the majority of our content. We’re not going to be one of the tabs in your Firefox. We’re the site where people say, I need something cool to do, what’s on Brooklyn Based?

You sell ads, but how much of your revenue comes from events?
I’d estimate 60 percent of our revenues come from sponsoring events, with the rest split between advertising and events we host ourselves. Our own events are a big chunk of cash, but we don’t do them very often.

So, can you explain how that media sponsorship works?
It fits somewhere in between PR, event planning and local blogging. We’ll sometimes send a fourth email in a week that’s labeled an invitation, that’s sort of our code that it’s an advertorial for an event we sponsor.

The "Lost" finale party at Brooklyn's Bell House, sponsored by Brooklyn Based.We do this with The Bell House in the Gowanus a lot. They come up with an idea for an event, they ask us to promote and organize part of it, and they give us a cut of the door. In January, we sponsored a Lost season premiere party for them. We brought in snacks and set up a Facebook page and promoted the event to our subscribers.

We’re working right now on a garden party with Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They want it to be more interesting than just hiring caterers and event planners, so we’re stepping into that role and utilizing our email list and media contacts.

How are the sponsored events different from Brooklyn Based-hosted events?
When it’s our own, we come up with an idea and pitch it to the venue. We get a portion of the door. We hosted a documentary film series. We did the Brooklyn premiere of Food, Inc. with local food types and made it a bigger event than just a screening. We’ve done a pig roast where we had 600 people lined up in Bushwick.

With these events, we are creating content, the content is just an event rather than a blog post. Bringing all of those elements together and planning it is a skill that people are willing to pay for. Venues are willing to pay for our list and the cachet that goes with the recognition that it’s an event that we’re producing. Our readers know that we only put our name on something that’s really fun. It’s a matter of aesthetics and curating.

How do you use social media, like Twitter. It sounds like a perfect fit for your business?
We use Twitter all the time. We use it to promote events and we use it a lot like a blog. If we have a hot piece of information, like an event we’re really excited about, we’ll often tweet it first, before putting it in the email. Or, if I’m out at a bar, and a celebrity comes in, I’ll tweet that out as a silly bit of content. It’s almost an award for our most committed readers. In fact, I have a personal Twitter account that I haven’t used in months simply because I find it more interesting and satisfying to tweet as Brooklyn Based.

What has been the biggest challenge for Brooklyn Based so far?
We’ve been having a hard time keeping up with advertising. We’re doing a complete redesign, and that should help. We need more space for ads than we have and we need them to be easier to manage. That said, I think we’re going to see ad revenue make up 40 percent of the pie soon.

An example of a Brooklyn Based email ad.I also don’t think we’ve properly sold ourselves at this point. People on our list are really engaged. We have a high open rate and higher than average click-through rate. Right now we charge a flat-fee for ads. If you buy a month of advertising we’ll do five appearances for the price of four.

I think we’ve been low-balling ourselves. But, we’re beginning to understand better all the time who we are, and who we’re selling to.

After the redesign, what’s the next step for Brooklyn Based?
As part of the redesign, we are going down the road of do we want to rebrand and have a new logo. Our long-term plan is to add cities and be able to sell across that network and we need the site and brand to be scalable.

On the promotion side, we are actively trying to branch out. We have great partnerships, but we need to make sure people understand we’re not just an arm of Bell House or the Roebling Tea Room. We’re talking about ways of courting more moms and kids events, and adding a bit more Park Slope to the Williamsburg we have in our email list.

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