Day 2: How URL Media is intentionally building its network and what’s in store for the future
4:04PM Jun 20, 2023
All right, so next up, I'd like to welcome Ellah Nze to the stage to tell us more about URL media, which is one of the most innovative collaborative startups in the last few years in the United States. And so Ellah, come on up.
Thank you, Stefanie, that was super sweet of you. Appreciate it.
My name is Ellah Nze. I'm the director of operations for URL media. And super happy to be here with you all today and kick off one of the first sessions of day two, this is my first time participating in this conference.
So as I mentioned, I work for URL Media and here to just speak with you all today give you background of who we are as a company, how we've organically grown over the past few years, and also just give you a glimpse into what we have in store for the future.
Okay, so your L stands for uplift, respect and love. And we are a for profit network of black and brown community media organizations. And all of the community media outlets in our network provide trusted reliable information on their platforms. And they also have direct relationships with their audiences. So our mission as a network is to support our partners and provide them the ability to amplify and scale their work to reach more audiences have the ability to content share, and also expand the revenue streams through our shared advertising model. As a company URL is a self sustaining business. And we receive revenue through primarily three sources, grants and philanthropy, the shared advertising model, and also through our b2b Recruitment arm that specializes in bipod, candidate placement, executive coaching, professional development resources and more.
So I think it's important to just give you a little bit of background and who we are. Our co founders, Sarah Lomax and Mitra Kalita. Were recently featured in Oprah dailies, women who start thinking series. Thank you. super huge moment, were super excited for that. Discussing the founding of URL. Pretty big deal. And then do you have your role came days after the murder of George Floyd, Sara and Mitra had initially met in 2018. During the media transformation challenge, while it was still at Harvard, and in the height of the 2020, racial protests, there was an article that came out about mainstream media and issues of racism in their top ranks. And Mitra picked up the phone and called Sarah and said, we have to do something, what can we do? We're tired of saying this. This is the moment we need to be agents of change, and disrupt those power structures. And in doing so, they realized that there are so many high performing black and brown media organizations that are out there that are doing excellent work. They've been doing excellent work for decades. Yet these companies are doing this without the recognition with lack of resources, and without support. So I just want to pause and take a moment for that, because it's very powerful, right. So rather than starting a new digital media company, they have this idea that if we come together as a collective, we can have greater scale, and greater impact. And a couple of fundamental things that they had aligned on early on in the relationship is that they believed in the power of community media. They wanted to serve black and brown people, and they wanted to stop these power structures. So as a network, we were able to address these issues of scarcity and lack of representation by allowing the partners in our network to share their content, amplify each other's work. Cross platforms, and also share revenue in order to build greater sustainability for bipoc media. And by doing so this idea of coming together, they would be able to have more influence greater impact and take back the power in a sense.
So when we launched in 2021, we started out with eight of eight initial partners, scroll TBN 24, w, rd radio palabra, Epicenter NYC, vacation times Scalawag and documented. And these eight initial partners, Sara Mitra, frequently referred to as you know, their friends and family, these publishers had personal relationships with Sara and Mitra. And really believed in their vision of beginning to create this network, and also embraces mentality of test and learn. You know, we're starting this new network, we're going to continue to grow and learn. And we started out with just distributing and sharing content with each other in the network. And it's also important to note that two of the eight initial partners are Sarah and Mitras. Other media ventures. Mitra is the publisher of Epicenter NYC. And Sarah Lomax is the president of Wu rd radio, which is Philadelphia's only talkback radio station. And I think you all heard from Ashanti Martin, who was the general manager yesterday. And I point out that they also have outlets that are within our network, because it's extremely important that they're able to wear both hats, you know, as the cofounders. Of URL, they're able to understand both sides of the business, you know, being publishers, they understand some of the struggles and challenges, daily challenges that partners within our network are facing. And they're able to bring that lens in our approach of how we continue to chart the path forward of URL, and what we, where we place our focus and what we have in store for the future. Since launch, we've now grown to 20 partners, and our expansion has been a combination of outlets reaching out to us, and also our team casting a wider net beyond the personal relationships that we initially started out when, when beginning URL. And in doing so we're continuing to reach out and, you know, do our research to get a pulse on what's outlets are high performing those that are producing great content and, you know, reaching out to them and providing education on URL and how we can best support them, and why it make and why it might make sense for them to consider a partnership in our network. A lot of that starts with relationship building as we continue to expand our reach. And we anticipate being at hopefully 30 to 35 partners by by year end. This just gives you a glimpse into our collective audience reach. We are multi platform, and multilingual. And this shows you some of the platforms which some of our partners are providing content. When we launched URL, we were around 8 million in collective audience reach. And we have now grown and tripled our audience where we are currently at over 22 million. And this includes both URL direct audiences as well as audiences across our partners platforms. So what has been our process for expansion? It we're still at, you know, 20 partners. So while we have grown tremendously, and the number of partners that we've brought on, and as well as our collective audience, we are still small enough where we can really take our time and be intentional about how we grow our network. I joined euro in March of 2021. And one of my responsibilities has been to oversee the growth of our network and how we establish processes for potential partners that are both inbound inquiries and ones that we are reaching out to for a potential fit. The very first step, whether it's a part where whether it's a potential partner that's reaching out to us or we are doing outreach we have a potential partner survey. And that's really allows us to understand each outlets and get a better understanding of what their business model may look like. So some of the questions that we are asking, we first, first and foremost, we want to make sure that they are bipoc, owned, operated or LED, we have both for profit and non for profit partners in our network. So we asked that question to make sure that we are aligned, and it makes sense for them to be a part of the network that we are building. Other questions that we're asking are, what are the revenue streams, we want to make sure that partners within our network are sustainable, we as URL are here to be an additive, we want to uplift existing high performing outlets, we are not meant to be a lifeline to them, we want to make sure that if they are a partner in our network, that they are stable and have the staffing and resource resources in place where we can be most helpful to them. So sometimes when we have these conversations with early stage outlets, it we're just starting to build that relationship and continue to keep in touch and and we monitor their progress, and may revisit the conversation later on, when it makes sense for them to to join our network. So outside of the revenue model, we're looking to see what is the diversity of their staff? What is their staffing structure look like? Do they have dedicated staff for editorial? Do they have staff, and possible resources in place if they were to visit? If they were to participate in an advertising campaign? We want to know what their audience demographics look like? What is their audience reach? What is the makeup of their audience? What is the republishing frequency? And how often are they publishing original content. And then once we receive those results, we do an internal review with our team. Before I set up an exploratory conversation, and in that exploratory conversation, I make sure that I include our editorial director and our VP of advertising in those conversations. Sometimes Sarah and Mitra will join. But I think what's really important is that we continue to build relationships outside of executive leadership, because, you know, it takes a team in order to be able to execute. And I want to make sure that partners are that are, say, partners, because my colleagues are considered my partners. But I want to make sure that my colleagues are also beginning to get face time with us publishers, and starting to build relationships, because that's also important when they are reaching out if they potentially do join our network. So from and I also may include our recruitment team, depending on the needs of the particular publisher, if they say that they need help with a potential search, because one of the benefits of being in our network is that we do provide discounted recruiting services to our partners. So from an editorial perspective, our editorial director when looking at a potential partner, they are looking to see, you know, how can you URL incorporate this potential partners, content within within within the network. So when we started URL we were publishing about once a week with our Friday newsletter, which is a weekly roundup of the top stories in our that our partners are reporting on. And we've since grown to publishing five times a week and added new verticals. So our editorial team is constantly, you know, assessing what is our Euro partners coverage? What are the topics that they are speaking out speaking about most on a consistent basis? And having a sense of, you know, what could this potential partner what gaps can they fill in in coverage? And as I mentioned, we are continuing to grow our URL direct products. So not just thinking now, but thinking ahead in terms of what what are the opportunities to collaborate and integrate this potential partners content within what we have planned for URL direct products. from an advertising perspective, it's extremely helpful if a potential partner has experience in past advertising campaigns, or has the staff and capability and resources to be interested in participating in advertising. We do have some partners that are solely interested in recruitment are solely interested in content sharing. But those that are interested in advertising are willing to work up and have Future Plans of adding
sales staff, we want to make sure that they are set up for success. We do have an advertising team that is essentially the go between the client and our partners. And there is a level of hand holding with some of our partners. But we do want to make sure that there is a fundamental like baseline. And they have some basic understanding of running advertising campaigns, as well as you know, having an interest in new activations across more platforms. And then finally, from an advertising perspective, this idea of rising tide lifts all boats, right. So we want partners that are willing to bring their contacts to the table with this network approach. I mentioned on a previous slide that we have since grown our collective audience to 22 million. So buy a partner bringing a contact to the table that allows for a larger advertising deal. And it's a win win for both the partner that brings the contact to the table as well as for the entire network, because we're able to upsell in and then once we've made the decision for a partner to join our network, the real work starts there. So we want to make sure that during that onboarding process, that we are, you know, setting up meetings with departmental staff and editorial, and advertising to make sure that our team and their counterparts are really connecting. So that that takes some of the pressure off of the publisher, right, there's, there's so many times where publishers feel that they're overstretched. And as I mentioned, as we continue to grow, it's a lot about relationship building. And we want to make sure that our partners that and their staff really understand URL and the benefit of URL. So we want to make sure that a partner being on our network that is an extension, beyond the publisher. So that's super important. And we as we have our onboarding process, we want to make sure that we're getting the FaceTime and setting up those meetings, and continuing to nurture the relationship. Because that honestly helps make collaboration more seamless. When our team is reaching out to these partners. And you know, seeing how they can support them, or they may have an ask, it's a lot easier to get an email answered, or a phone call answer, if it's not a cold outreach, and that they are familiar with what we do, and they have buy in and see the value in what URL can offer for them.
So in two years since launch, we've grown tremendously in all areas of our business. And I just want to highlight some of our successes in ways that we've proven that our model works. So we, as I mentioned, has added new products and are now up to publishing five times a week, we've tripled our collective network audience reach, we've delivered hundreds of 1000s of dollars to our network partners through advertising campaigns. We've brought in our recruitment services now to expand beyond media. And we're now entering into core corporations and nonprofits as well. We've hosted free professional development webinars to over 100 plus candidates, and in the wake of the mass layoffs to help prepare them. And whether that's, you know, helping them with their LinkedIn or resume revamp, how to prepare for an interview, we want to make sure that we are providing services to candidates and helping them prepare for what's what's next. We've helped partners get national attention on new stories such as you know, the assassination of Haiti's President or the working conditions of poultry farmers. Another example would be you know how black patients may prepare differently for for doctor's visits. And then finally, we have a show meet the bipoc press, which airs on 200 Plus PBS affiliate stations. And that allows us to tell our stories from unique lens. And we'll frequently invite partners within our network to be guest panelists on on our show, and that not only provides exposure for their outlet, but also allows them to participate and provide their unique perspective as well.
So just want to talk a little bit about that our next phase of growth we have an ambitious plan over the next three years and how we want to scale our company. And on the screen just going to share with you a few of those. First we want to scale our Our network to 100 plus partners over the next three years. And in doing so we want to keep in mind that as we grow, we also want to support our partners growth and support our partners audience growth. Right now, we want to pursue more national international partnerships. A lot of the partners that we have in our network are concentrated in New York, New Jersey, we have some in California, and we're beginning to expand and we want to make sure that the partners within our network are more representative of the entire US. And we also want to begin to test international partnerships, and see how our model may work on an international scale. Third, we want to we realize that as we continue to grow, we need to expand our advertising sales capacity, we intend intends to bring on more sales account, advertising sales account executives, advertising coordinators, in order to bring more money back to our partners. More staff means that we're able to meet the volume of advertising opportunities and put more money back into the back into our partners pockets. For editorial, we want to broaden the scope of our editorial team and build capacity in the areas of curation. We are now beginning to introduce a video strategy for URL and our partners content. And we also want to begin to venture into virtual and in live events. And last one, obviously, we as we grow we want we realized that we need to strengthen our tech infrastructure and transform some of our tech capabilities. We'll soon be launching a new website by the end of this summer and you know, as we grow we're you're seeking tech solutions to streamline and optimize our our content sharing and also find some solutions for our operation for our advertising, operational workflow. These are our our All Star Leaders are cofounders of URL. As I mentioned, they also have outlets within our network. Mitra is a former SVP at CNN digital. Sarah is the owner and president of W ID radio. They have obviously veteran media executives with a lot of experience in in being disruptors, advertising and distribution. And I just want to highlight our team briefly. It we really practice what we preach in terms of you know, some of the problems that we set out to solve and in terms of racism and making sure that there's a need for we realized that there is a need for diverse talent in order to grow, be innovative and in be sustainable. So our team is diverse in terms of race, age, geographic location, and experience. And when we launched URL in 2021, we had zero full time employees, we've now grown to 12. And we are continuing to build capacity in editorial advertising and recruitment. So we are certainly confident that we have the right team in place to execute as we continue to, to chart forward to chart a path forward and enter into our next phase of proof. And I as I wrap up if you have any questions about the information that I've presented, or you would like to collaborate with URL, in in any capacity, whether for your recruitment needs a potential partnership in our network, or if you had your if you have a lead or someone that you think that we should be talking with, I've left my email address here. Please reach out to me. Also, please visit our website. I'm super excited for any website to be launching. Pretty soon I got a glimpse of it the other day and it looks awesome. And then obviously finally, the easiest way to support us is to subscribe to our newsletters and follow us on our social channels to URL media. Thank you all so much for your time and I'm looking forward to participating in the conference the rest of the day and connecting with you. Thank you