As a part of the digital development of Helsingin Sanomat, the largest subscription newspaper in Finland, we’ve been exploring new digital storytelling methods.

These efforts are led by seasoned journalists who are rethinking the traditional, one-way communication model of newspapers — distributing pieces for a passive reader — in favour of a modern digital environment.

One of our most innovative initiatives is creating a set of “data journalism” tools and templates, which our journalists can use to quickly produce unique storytelling visualisations, such as charts and graphs, interactive timelines, or maps.

These unique pieces of content add value for readers, and enhance online storytelling by allowing us to represent rich, complex data in effective, entertaining ways.

After our journalists used these tools for a few years, we realised they might also be used commercially. Like many newspaper companies, we still draw certain lines between journalistic content and commercially created content, so it took us awhile to recognise our stellar editorial tools could also serve clients well.

A proprietary set of “data journalism” tools is used on both the editorial and advertising side to transform data into uniquely rich, powerful interactive stories and visualisations.
A proprietary set of “data journalism” tools is used on both the editorial and advertising side to transform data into uniquely rich, powerful interactive stories and visualisations.

Our first client to benefit from these tools, If, is a large Nordic insurance company. In September 2015, as we reviewed results of the company’s existing marketing campaigns, they asked if we could find a creative way to present a large amount of car-insurance data they were set to release.

We promised to figure something out. They provided us with loads of spreadsheets, surveys, PDFs and other documentation. Yet after a few days, we were still scratching our heads, unsure how to proceed.

Then it dawned on us that our data journalism tools could also be used to present this complex data in an engaging, interactive and meaningful way. But first we had to shake up the silos separating our editorial and marketing teams.

Helsingin Sanomat’s new digital storytelling approach to native advertising emphasises reader experience, which in turn maximises reach and effectiveness for advertisers.
Helsingin Sanomat’s new digital storytelling approach to native advertising emphasises reader experience, which in turn maximises reach and effectiveness for advertisers.

Sanoma Media’s content marketing unit is the central hub for commercial content creation, from strategy to production and distribution. Instead of presenting the findings from the car-insurance data in traditional, text-centric article format, they used the data tools to produce a series of articles, supercharged by analysis and visualisations of that complex set of data and statistics the client had provided.

For example, we developed an interactive quiz based on actual vehicle damage data, allowing the reader compare his or her knowledge and assumptions of car accidents to the actual data. Readers learned in an interesting, entertaining way what is actually happening on the roads, how age and sex affect the accidents, and in which parts of the country or what time of the year there are more damages.

How did the campaign perform? Results:

  • The articles reached about 500,000 gross visitors, with a total of 66,000 unique readers.

  • Data tools were interacted with more than 27,000 times.

  • Time spent with brand content increased from three to four minutes.

  • Engagement increased more than 45%, compared to previous campaign without the data tools.

  • The readers loved it.

  • The client praised us.

This campaign was a success on every metric, and the same model has been extended to cover other areas of this client’s business; we recently produced another campaign about fire damages.

It also led to broader successes for our organisation. We tore down walls that separated the tools our journalists use from the tools we offer our advertising clients.

We let 126 years of journalistic and storytelling expertise guide our efforts to ensure that the content and message would resonate with readers. And we took a leap from selling blank ad space to proactively creating value for our client, with content that functions more as a service for readers than as an advertisement.

The end result is an enhanced experience for clients and readers alike.