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GNI North America Sponsorships Lab launches third cycle with 15 publishers from the INN Network and other public service newsroom

October 6, 2022

Today, the Google News Initiative, in partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), launches the third cycle of the GNI North America Sponsorships Lab — a 14-week program designed to help public service newsrooms increase revenue from event sponsorships, sponsored content, and other earned revenue sources.

Earned revenue is an increasingly important source of funds for local and nonprofit news organizations: in 2021, 15% of total revenue across the INN Network came from earned sources, and that portion was 20% for local newsrooms.

“We’re very excited for the opportunity to continue supporting the important work of these public service-oriented news organizations,” said Sibel Lowin, global partnerships solutions lead at Google. “This is the third year in a row that we’re partnering with the teams at INN and Blue Engine Collaborative to deliver the Sponsorships Lab, which always has great results for the participating news publishers. We’re excited to further replicate these results with this new cohort.”

Jackie Mader, early childhood reporter and multimedia editor at The Hechinger Report, visits a child care center in Milwaukee. The Hechinger Report is one of the 15 newsrooms participating in the third cycle of the GNI North America Sponsorships Lab. Photo by Camilla Forte for The Hechinger Report

The program will provide intensive training and resources to 15 newsrooms, including 8 members of the INN Network:

And 7 other public service newsrooms:

As with previous Labs, training will be provided in collaboration with the revenue and audience experts at Blue Engine Collaborative and backed up with access to INN’s earned revenue resources, such as guides, case studies and industry data.

“We’re grateful to GNI for the opportunity to work with these teams,” said Tim Griggs, founder and CEO of Blue Engine. “Each participating publisher has recognized an opportunity to get better, faster, at driving sponsorship revenue to support their work. And never has there been a more important time to grow and diversify revenue than with a recession staring us in the face. We’re thrilled to be part of their journey.”

Prior participants have included INN members like Block Club Chicago, which utilized email newsletter advertising to accelerate its earned revenue operations, and VTDigger, which built a robust series of sponsored, virtual events. Through the Lab, Block Club grew its year-over-year advertising revenue by 10% and VTDigger increased average client revenue by 61%.

“The lessons and resources newsrooms walk away with as part of the Sponsorships Lab can be transformative for members of the INN Network,” said Courtney Lewis, chief of growth programs at INN. “The changes implemented become part of the publishers’ operations, so that the benefits continue beyond the term of the program.”

In the second version of the Lab, which completed last year, 5 media outlets – including 6 nonprofit INN members – dramatically grew their revenue from business sources. Their year over year numbers for the same period, before and after the program, jumped by 32% for advertising, 250% for sponsorship (underwriting or sponsored content) and 1485% for events. 

About the Labs

GNI began collaborating with INN in 2019 to develop training and resources that would help public service news organizations grow earned revenue. The North America Sponsorships Lab has evolved into a robust training initiative within the GNI Digital Growth Program, which helps small and medium-sized news organizations around the world to grow their digital businesses.

Since the Sponsorship Lab’s inception, the lead coaches have been drawn from Blue Engine Collaborative’s team of digital news business experts. This round includes Steve Shalit, director of business development for INN member NJ Spotlight News; Fran Scarlett, who joined Blue Engine after serving as INN’s chief knowledge officer; and Liz Tenety, who co-founded Motherly, a digital publisher helping mothers thrive.

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