San Francisco Public Press Project Summary: Hitting the Streets

Nonprofit news organization producing local, public interest news online and in a quarterly print newspaper. Their mission is to enrich civic life in San Francisco by delivering public interest journalism to broad and diverse audiences through print and interactive media not supported by advertising.

SF Public Press plans to launch a street mobilization program to increase visibility of the organization, expand audience and grow readers who are most likely to become paid member-subscribers. The team will deploy a crew of four street hawker-canvassers to participate in and track public-facing activities, including: selling the quarterly ad-free paper for $1/copy; offering free papers in exchange for signing up for the weekly email newsletter; surveying people about their interest in supporting public media; and soliciting donations.

Hawkers will be equipped with iPad Minis to demonstrate the news site and to gather email addresses, collect responses and process donations. This program will enhance their upcoming Pedal-Powered News initiative, an effort to expand distribution and increase engagement using bicycles to deliver the newspaper to nearly 100 retail locations and community centers and to members’ homes across San Francisco.

This is hopefully to be funded by a Kickstarter campaign being launched this month, with matching funds from the Knight Foundation. Ultimate goals of the street hawker program are projected to be an increase in the newsletter mailing list to 4,000 (currently 1,400); income from newspaper sales to double the current six-month sales income; and growing six-month paid revenue from memberships by 75%.

Very ambitious, but because of the density in San Francisco which is conducive to grassroots marketing and numerous community events and seasonal public gatherings, SF Public Press is in a good position to succeed.

What knowledge will be gained by this experiment?

By testing various approaches — sales, digital demonstrations, email sign-ups, direct donation solicitations — SF Public Press will learn during early phases of this project what works best, and they will adjust activities to maximize revenue and engagement.

This project will help the Public Press generate revenue, enhance visibility, engage with readers and provide guidance and data to other nonprofit news organizations pursuing similar face-to-face outreach activities. The goal is to craft an ongoing street engagement program that generates enough revenue to be self-sustaining and provide additional operating funds for the organization.

Reviewers felt this was a terrific and timely proposal, although a tad risky. It will be interesting to see how street-team physical engagement can translate to not only more physical sales, but also more digital and community engagement. It was also nice to see that it will be done mostly in-house. It is a very good project for replication by other organizations, especially in communities where there are several vibrant neighborhoods with a lot of outdoor/community events.