There is a finite number of CEOs who can tune into Fortune’s CEO Initiative virtual conference. And there are only 50 leaders who can be on Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list. Those communities are limited.
But communities drive revenue. And there is an entire untapped grouping of emerging and aspirational leaders that Fortune has identified who can benefit from the information it has cultivated over years of conferences and coverage — and would be willing to pay to gain access.
On October 5, Fortune is launching an online learning platform and community called Fortune Connect that will target mid-tier, vp and senior manager executives in a highly monetized way. The membership to Connect is priced at $2,500 per year per person, with an option for companies with 50 or more approved employees to have an enterprise discount.
Fortune senior editor Ellen McGirt, who helped to create the content for the new platform, said Connect will create regularly updated programs around three main subjects: Leading in a purpose driven world, the shift towards stakeholder capitalism and diversity and inclusion through an anti-racist lens.
But unlike certificate programs or online education services, Connect will not have a limited time frame for participation. Participants are able to stay connected and learn from their peers for as long as they like until they move up to the c-suite level and can graduate into Fortune’s other bottom-of-the-funnel conferences and franchises.
To start, there will be an online library of repurposed recorded conference content and a weekly newsletter. And a few weeks into October, virtual meet-ups, participatory events and “sprints,” or condensed lessons of important topics, will kick off as well, McGirt said.
It’s “a scalable platform for providing the lessons that we give at our conferences to a much broader group of executives,” said Fortune CEO Alan Murray, adding that CEOs who attended conferences reported to Murray’s team that the information presented would benefit emerging leaders in their companies who weren’t at the high enough level to attend the conferences themselves.
An extension of the conference business, Murray said that Connect will link conferences to the digital reader revenue business that the company recently began to cultivate last year with the launch of its three-tiered paywall.
In 2019, 40% of Fortune’s revenue came from its conference business, Murray said on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, which is monetized through a mixture of sponsorship revenue and high priced tickets paid for by invite-only attendees.
“In the Time Inc. era, we only had the extremes of the funnel. We had all the free content, and then we had these very expensive, $15,000 executive conferences, and we had nothing in between. One year later, we have a paywall and subscription level,” he said on the podcast.
Murray said the number of digital subscribers is in the tens of thousands range while the revenue earned from that business was not yet a meaningful portion of the publication’s overall revenue. He declined to share any specific numbers.
But with a significantly higher price-point than the $50 to $200 annual fee for a digital membership, Connect is expected to become the lion’s share of the reader revenue business and will make that business more meaningful overall. Not only that, but by focusing on the community development aspect, Murray said there is even more opportunity to get those audiences to pay for the experience.
“When you talk about the difference between an events business and a community business, it’s mainly one of a lasting relationship. The best media properties are the ones that have a loyal audience that comes back again and again because they feel part of it. They belong,” said Murray. on the podcast.
While Connect is viewed as a reader revenue business, it will also have a sponsorship element embedded, starting with its knowledge partners: Accenture, Workday, Salesforce, IBM and Genpact. These companies not only signed up several hundred of their up-and-coming leaders to participate, but also have their chief human resource officers on the advisory board and have additional paid promotion on the materials in the program.
Fortune Connect’s ultimate goal, however, is to drive community across a variety of industries that would not otherwise intersect, according to McGirt.
“You don’t get to cross pollinate like that from industry to industry,” she said. And at a time when business and society is being challenged by several outside factors, she said she hopes Connect will “do the things that networks are good at, which is taking care of each other.”
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