The Land: From Pandemic Project to Community Cornerstone

Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Land empowers Cleveland residents to cover the Ohio city’s diverse neighborhoods.

The Land, a Cleveland-based nonprofit news organization, isn’t just giving Cleveland residents top-notch community journalism. With a little guidance and money, it lets them write the news. 

Since its founding by Lee Chilcote, a local writer and poet, The Land has made it its mission to pay residents to report out stories about their own neighborhoods, elevate marginalized voices and help Cleveland readers not only understand their neighbourhoods but change them for the better. 

Of course, doing all that requires a healthy revenue flow. Tara Tonsetic, The Land’s revenue specialist, says things were a little disorganized when she was first contacted by the outlet. But thanks to the help of Indiegraf and her own talents, The Land has regular advertisers and a team of five. 

In the space of less than a year, The Land has gone from having a relatively uncertain ad and sponsorship strategy to one that will almost certainly break their start-of-year revenue goal by $30,000—no easy feat for a small publication. Here’s how they did it and what other indie publications can learn from their example:

1. Hire a professional revenue specialist 

Tonsetic wasn’t among the original team that founded The Land in 2020. She was first approached by founder Lee Chilcote about selling ads and sponsorships a year and a half ago, but she says the team kept putting their plans for display ads on the website and in the newsletter on pause. “They were trying to figure more things out internally,” she explains. “So I never really got going.” 

About eight months later, after partnering with Indiegraf, they brought Tonsetic back into the fold to help The Land grow its revenue base. She immediately agreed and put her two decades of experience in sales for a whole swathe of organizations, from Cleveland-based 78th Street Studios to Los Angeles organizer outfit Home + Sort, to good use. 

Thanks to Indiegraf’s customizable templates, Tonsetic was quickly able to figure out exactly how The Land was going to sell display advertising on the site in a way that reflected its mission. But her wide-ranging experience meant she was able to support The Land in a much broader way. 

“I have a background in doing ad sales and newsletter sponsorships, but I’ve also done events and marketing,” she says. 

2. Cover the blind spots of other organizations on your turf   

The Land, like some other small independent news organizations, allows other media outlets to re-publish their stories, so long as proper credit is given. But The Land goes a step further. Instead of swapping stories for free, it also trades ad space with other Indiegraf network publishers in Cleveland. 

One of those outlets is Right Down Euclid, a Cleveland outlet covering local communities through the lens of professional sports teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cleveland Browns, and the Cleveland Guardians. Run by sports journalist Evan Dammarell, the news site and podcast covers different beats than The Land. 

However, Tonsetic says, both The Land and Right Down Euclid have overlapping audiences. “We did a swap of newsletter sponsorships and display ads on each other’s websites just to see how our numbers would do with his, and his would do with ours – and kind of help each other out.” 

The results have been great, Tonsetic says, and both publications are now taking advantage of each other’s networks to build their advertiser and sponsorship base. 

3. Be choosy about your revenue partners

It may be tempting to reach out to every possible advertiser or sponsorship partner possible in the beginning, but Tonsetic says simply targeting a lot of local businesses that want ads isn’t enough. The Land thinks strategically about partnerships by ensuring any sponsor or advertiser’s mission aligns with its own. 

Most of The Land’s advertisers are fellow nonprofits, based in Cleveland, that care about the state of the city. Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism promoter, is one of The Land’s partners. So is JumpStart, an organization focused on employment and entrepreneurship. 

“We’ve got a good mix,” Tonsetic says. “I think we’ve really aligned ourselves with people that make sense. We’re not just taking ads for something random that makes no sense at all.”

The results are plain as day. In the last three months of 2022, The Land’s sponsorship program brought in US$10,850 in gross sales. The following quarter, it was up to $17,150. As of now, 2023’s second quarter is expected to see $26,500 in sponsorship sales. In fact, business is so good that The Land hiked its initial goal of $50,000 in sponsorship revenue for the year to $80,000 – and Tonsetic says they’ve already hit 85 percent of that goal. 

“Everything’s super solid with the organization,” she says. It’s been great to see the growth from having no clients and seeing how we’ve taken it. People are coming back, and people are happy with the results.” 

Join The Land and the many other publishers across our network working with the Indie Ads team to help grow your independent outlet’s advertising and sponsorship revenue. Book a meeting with the Indiegraf team to learn more about how we can support your journalism today.


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