Husband-and-wife team Ted and Fran Yoch started Hopkins-based Article Resource Association (ARA) in 1996 to deliver AP-style feature articles through wire service for newspaper editors who accessed content written by ARA staff on behalf of its paying clients.
It was through this mat release approach that ARA engaged early customers like General Mills, Microsoft, Subaru and Hormel while simultaneously building the firm’s own brand during the initial years. When the dotcom boom of the late 90’s and subsequent bust in 2001 left many untested business models high and dry, newly re-named ARAnet saw the staying power of the consumer web and the commercial opportunity in reaching the masses through an ever expanding medium.
By 2003, the company began a concentrated shift from print to online article distribution through various digital media properties — a move that now accounts for over half of ARAnet’s revenue. As the appetite for digital content has evolved from the novel to the insatiable, the company has augmented its writing service with video and spanish translation.
When Scott Severson joined ARAnet as President and COO in 2006, the company further refined it’s core products — ARAcontent and Adfusion — while forging key alliances with larger publishers that would increase their client’s exposure and drive ARAnet’s revenue growth by over 500% through subsequent years. The modern ARAnet is a 50 person operation, including a stable of 7 full-time professional writers, with access to dozens of freelancers ready to author 400-700 words of cross-vertical (travel, health, finance, etc.) lifestyle content.
ARAcontent is a feature article feed service that’s backed by exclusive distribution agreements with major news and media outlets across the country. Featured articles (aka article-based advertising, advertorial, sponsored content and branded content) are essentially the matte release of the 21st century, in that content is underwritten by a specific customer with a marketing agenda in the form of brand extension. Call it what you will, ARAnet VP David Olson notes that “It’s important that the content we supply is informational and even educational…that it provides value to readers while subtly weaving in our clients’ messages.”
Further advancing the case for their featured article service, the company released ARAcontent 2.0, which includes in-house content strategy consulting and improved SEO results through stronger backlinks and keyword rich articles. In addition to exclusive agreements, Severson says that over the course of a year, “More than 65 of the nation’s top 100 newspapers, including the Star Tribune will use ARAcontent.”
Adfusion is the blend between ARAcontent and direct response advertising. As a system that offers similar feature articles for online publishers, Adfusion applies a measurable two-click action to raise the payoff. Each article contains a link to the underwriting client and if the reader takes further action, ARAnet gets a slice. If ARAcontent is the awareness solution, then Adfusion is the deliverable, whereas the company receives a minimum of $3 per click with Adfusion “but we have many clients paying more than that depending on the circumstances,” says Severson.
In the face of declining subscription revenues, increasing competition and inflated overhead, traditional publishers (the base of ARAnet’s clientele) continue to seek remediation in a world of loss. Precisely how ARAnet’s growth pattern correlates to this rapidly changing landscape of “news” and “journalism” remains unclear, but the timing plays well to the cost-effective nature of services provided by this investor-backed company.
The ARAnet of today is grounded in a proven business model, one that’s increasingly embraced by publishers and marketers alike. However, as the innovation multiplier grows and disrupting the disruptors (when does that startup that bypasses yet another market of middle-men launch?) becomes the new standard, change is inevitable within the ecosystem ARAnet operates within. “This industry is static for about one day at a time. As a result, we’ve built research and future visioning into our product development cycle,” explains Severson.
As the degree of which this change unfolds, so does the size of the opportunity. Considering the history of adaptation surrounding ARAnet — from name and leadership to product — there’s no reason to believe that the same spirit of innovation instilled some 15 years ago is resting anytime soon.