Richland Source finds way to millennials’ hearts with free music & beer

By Bob Brown | Oct. 26, 2017

Richland Source staffers discuss how they are going about attracting millennial readers to their site — Bob Brown photo

North Central Ohio’s Richland Source has seen a 35 percent increase in readership among millennials over the past 2 years, in large part through a concerted effort involving free music shows with food and drinks included.

The concerts, featuring local musicians performing original songs at modest venues such as the newsroom, are part of a broader effort by the site to engage a younger crowd that’s not likely to flock to city council coverage and other such grown-up news. Richland Source reporter Noah Jones led the LION Summit discussion on “Reaching Millennials,” with backup from five of his colleagues, including publisher Jay Allred.

Jones dove into detail about the process through which Richland source puts on its all-ages concerts, glorified house parties that only require spending $150 on a good sound engineer to record the show and cut a record for the performers. The news organization has given the shows — which feature a diverse line-up of artists from folk singers to rappers — an insider feel by sending registered members of its site classy invitation cards. What started out as cozy shows for a couple dozen fans have now expanded to a slightly less exclusive draw for crowds of 100-plus.

Sponsors, providing food and drinks, take on the bulk of the costs, and musicians get paid in free publicity as well as the recording (a $600 value). Richland Source’s staff makes use of videos and photos on its site and social media channels.

Jones says he “can’t stress enough” the lure of free beer and food.

While Publisher Allred can’t say that the free concerts entirely explain Richland Source’s gains in young readers (not to mention its 30 percent increase in unique visitors, 60 percent rise in page views and 15 percent uptick in revenue this year), he says the shows are a big part of a longtail effort to develop “meaningful connections” with young people.

Richland Source’s core audience falls between the ages of 35 and 54, and the county’s average age isn’t getting younger, Allred says. Still, the site’s staff is committed to addressing topics of interest to younger readers, such as by doubling down on high school sports coverage and featuring special photo galleries from homecoming events and proms that encourage social media sharing.

Richland Source’s sharing of its secrets won’t end with its conference session, either. Allred pledged to follow up with a slide deck that can be distributed to LION members on other ways to engage younger audiences.

Bob Brown is publisher of The Swellesley Report.

Check out more entries in our 2017 conference blog »