How Outriders created an ‘ethical content studio’ to generate revenue and further its mission

The Polish online magazine's content studio contributed 45% of the organisaton's overall budget in its first year

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In a nutshell

This Polish news organisation monetises its ability to tell stories and communicate key messages by working on custom projects with corporates and non-profits and using the revenue to fund their community-led journalism.

Background

  • Outriders is a Polish non-profit magazine founded in September 2017 following a crowdfunding campaign that raised 84000 PLN (approx 19,500 euros) from more than 630 people.
  • They focus on global issues and concentrate on three main topics (migration, technology and environment). They produce 2-5 stories a week and a weekly newsletter briefing that has more than 10,000 subscribers.
  • They also run the Outriders Network, a knowledge-sharing platform for journalists, and Wachlarz, an annual festival about travel.
  • Outriders specialise in interactive stories with a solution-driven focus. In 2018, they published stories on the people caught up in the war in Ukraine and the negative impact of tourism in major European cities among others.
  • They won the Grand Press Digital prize at the 2017 Grand Press awards, Poland’s most prestigious journalism event. They have 11 staff members.
Outriders CEO Jakub Górnicki with the team after last year's Outriders Summit
Outriders CEO Jakub Górnicki with the team after last year's Outriders Summit

How did they do it?

Launching the studio

  • In January 2018, soon after it published its first stories, Outriders was approached by a number of companies and non-profits asking for help to create media projects.
  • For example, they were asked by a mineral water company to run a grants project for environmental journalism and by a community of non-profits to build a new platform for activists. They took on other smaller projects on a case-by-case basis, most of which were squeezed in around other stories.
  • Jakub Gornicki, co-founder of Outriders, decided to develop their Studio and brought the team together to create rules for the clients that they worked with. They agreed on a number of principles which all projects must adhere to before going ahead. For example, the client does not see the story before it is published, the project must be aligned to the Outriders mission and they do not work on product launches. This narrowed down their list of potential clients, but gave them a clear point of differentiation over other agencies.
  • They formally launched the Studio in December 2018 with the goal of building custom projects with commercial partners. All of the profit generated by the Studio is used to support journalism produced by the Outriders team.

Running the Studio

  • Most of the projects so far have involved web design, UX and development, rather than writing stories for clients. For example, Outriders built a new site for Compassfest, a travel event in conjunction with the Lviv Media Forum.
  • This means that Outriders’ journalists have not yet been involved in their Studio work and don’t face the conflict of interest that can happen when writing about companies.
  • The team does not actively pitch for work like other studios, which reduces the need for full-time sales staff. Enquiries are managed by a part-time salesperson and, once a project is agreed upon, managed by Piotr Kliks, a web developer who also oversees the Studio, and Arkadiusz Sołdon, the team’s UX designer. Freelancers are brought in to plug gaps in skills, e.g. audio editing.
  • Jakub and the team look at their resources to monthly budget ratios before taking on a project. For example: If an event production project takes two days of work, but brings in 30% of the monthly budget, that’s worthwhile.
  • The team has a rule that Studio projects should not take more than 25% of the team’s resources at any time. This means they can continue producing their own stories and ensures they remain a non-profit.
  • Unlike other commercial content studios, Outriders do not distribute the content the work on (other agencies do so via paid social media posts). This is made clear to clients before a project starts.

What did they learn?

  • In its first year, the Studio generated around 45% of Outriders’ overall budget, a result which they found surprising and promising. (NB: Outriders is at an early stage, so revenue streams can fluctuate a lot, according to Jakub).
  • A number of prospective clients have backed out after being told by Jakub they wouldn’t get to see the story or approve the content before publishing. He recommends making sure the partner is fully on board before committing much time or resource to discussions.
  • Many businesses have corporate social responsibility budgets (CSR) which they often want to use to explain their work and impact to the public. This presented at a business opportunity for the Studio.
  • Outriders had a lot of requests for help with producing podcasts. A number of NGOs in Poland have won grants to start one, but need assistance to get it up and running. They’re looking to develop these skills.
  • Next year, Jakub wants to grow the Studio but keep revenue to around 25% of the overall Outriders’ income in order to minimise the risk of work drying up. They’re on track to do this.

In their own words

Jakub Górnicki, CEO and co-founder, Outriders

“We focus on helping clients with stories, formats and content since that is what we do on daily basis. But we are not a 360 agency - we just monetise our skills in a different way."

How would you improve it?

"I would like [the % of revenue from the content studio] to go down. This year it will decrease to around 25% - but we are a young organisation so that percentage fluctuates rather fast. With every contributor, we are closer to our end goal of being a community-financed platform.”

Now try it for yourself

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