Kirk Marsh of Walk Light Media is a green entrepreneur on a mission to develop a model for responsible media. We interviewed Kirk to learn more about his story and to find out what lessons he’s learned about green marketing and building a triple bottom line business.
Where did you come up with the idea for Walk Light Media?
I was looking for something new to start in the online media space. I wanted to create a business that was about more than a single bottom line and one that embedded sustainable social responsibility at its core. Walk Light Media is the result.
How do you define “responsible media”?
The concept of Responsible Media takes on two roles. The first is how we have embedded socially responsible contributions into an existing market – Media Buying – at no additional cost to the advertiser or publisher. At the moment this takes the form of “Saving forests one banner at a time”. The second is the consequential contributions to social and environmental causes that Walk Light makes as a result of the embedded model.
I have to give credit to Paul N. for the idea of translating the area of a banner on a persons screen to the area of forest. We have begun to work with brands on different solutions such as clicks-for-carbon. As more and more of our discussions involve both the brand and their agency we have found an opportunity to support or enhance existing programs or provide custom solutions.
Our primary partner for forest preservation is CI. We chose them for a number of reasons. One, for their approach to preserving forests, they invest in the local people and projects that build economies around the preservations and sustainable practices. They go beyond simply purchasing tracks of forest to be left to sit, CI’s goal is to build “Green Economies”. Two, they develop custom programs for companies that wish to make long term commitments to projects.
The selection process took a few months of research and discussions with many organizations.
What is your business model?
From a pure media view Walk Light is a vertical media network reaching the Conscientious Consumer. We work with premium web publishers by aggregating their audiences, then sell the audience – or rather the impressions that this audience generates – to brands and media agencies. That is where any similarities with other networks stop and where the Responsible Media program differentiates Walk Light from all others.
Are the costs and/or profits different (higher or lower) in a responsible media firm like yours compared to a conventional one?
I think that depends on how you define “profits”. If you see “profits” just as dollar earnings our profits are less than an average vertical ad network. If you consider the social good, the environment and people as part of the definition of “profit” then Walk Light’s profits are higher than any ad network.
When starting a network, what comes first, signing up advertisers or publishers?
It is a fine balance. When starting from zero it is the publishers that you must first recruit but networks must also ensure that they service the publishers within their network before recruiting more. That is where the advertisers come in. I have been in the industry long enough to have seen the numerous ways to do this and the corresponding results. Walk Light approaches publishers with a goal to build long term relationships and to communicate realistic expectations. Our publishers can reach us by phone anytime.
How do you find advertisers or publishers to join your network – do you advertise, through research and direct outreach? What marketing channels do you find to be most effective?
Direct outreach is the most effective way to reach advertisers and publishers. Industry trade shows and summits provide additional opportunities to connect with advertisers.
How much traffic does a publisher need to attain before they can a) expect to earn ad revenue and b) earn more than $1,000 month in ad revenue?
A publisher can earn advertising revenue using Google’s Ad Sense with as little as a few thousand monthly unique visitors but it won’t amount to much. There are three primary online advertising monetization models: Cost Per Thousand (CPM), Cost Per Click (CPC) and Cost Per Acquisition (CPA). Publishers need to include all three on the models when considering advertising revenue. They also need to consider multiple sales channels and how to maximize each of them. It is like a layered cake – Direct sales on top, premium networks in the middle then remnant networks on the bottom.
Do you advise your publishers on how they can increase web traffic?
If the publisher asks we are happy to provide assistance or even just advise. We have even had requests to rebuild sites for publishers.
What recommendations do you have for publishers to increase web traffic? What methods are the most effective? Link building? Blog commenting? Guest blogging?
Solutions are unique to each individual publisher. I usually advise the publisher to start with the basic questions first, such as is the site SEO friendly, are they using the trending keywords, is the content robust enough. If the basics are in order than I suggest they look at partnerships such as content syndication or increasing social media presence. Simply increasing traffic is not always the best solution, publishers should also look at their internal metrics such as page views, time on site and repeat visits. Improving these metrics can provide a more cost effective way to increase revenue than acquiring new users.
Are there any mistakes that you made on this entrepreneurial journey that you would like to share with other green entrepreneurs?
This may sound a little like “I don’t make mistakes”, which is by no means the case but I think for the most part the launch of Walk Light has not had any major bumps. We could have spent a little less time crafting out the message in the early days but we were in the bottom of the trough of the recession, so we had the extra time.
What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?
Don’t let the possibility of failure deter you from trying, it is the natural course of innovation.