Bottom-Line Marketing Blog

Bottom-line Marketing

News Tribune looks beyond print to grow audience, revenue with 5 building blocks

18 March 2014 · By Phil Schroder

The News Tribune honed the marketing message about its Web sites and mobile apps by focusing on customer service, acquisition and retention, content marketing, social media marketing, and multi-platform engagement.

There are two main goals in every audience division: maximising revenue and growing audience.

Revenue can come in many different forms — subscriber rate increases, single-copy pricing changes, and add-on or niche products. To grow audience, however, takes much more than just watching the home delivery and single-copy numbers shift week to week.

We also have to focus on unique visitors to our Web sites and engagement with our apps.

So how do we get the word out to grow this audience? Is there really any new marketing? We need to get back to the basics on all of our marketing efforts, and that really has been my focus over the last year at The News Tribune.

Below are five basic building blocks to construct a solid audience marketing approach.

1. Customer service: This is critical to growth, and responsiveness is really what our customers want. The key is that this needs to happen on all channels – on your Web site, links on apps, and social media.

Social media is playing an even bigger role in this. In fact, 31% of Twitter users who complain about a service issue to a company’s Twitter account expect a response within 30 minutes. according to TTA, a customer service consulting firm.

Just last weekend, I signed up for DirecTV service and had it installed. I was having problems on Sunday and called their customer service line, but they could not get a technician out until Tuesday. So I tweeted my story and mentioned @DirecTV in it.

Less than 10 minutes later, my phone rings, and Jake from DirecTV says, “I saw your post on Twitter and wanted to follow up with you.” Thirty minutes later, the problem was solved, and I tweeted a positive tweet out about the company. That goes a long way toward persuading me to keep their service and become an ambassador for them.

One way we make sure this happens at The News Tribune is to use Freshdesk, which was discussed in greater detail in an earlier post (“News Tribune asks 10,000 former subscribers why they left”). This programme guarantees some sort of resolution in 24 to 48 hours, and does not leave our customers waiting. 

2. Acquisition and retention: Telemarketing alone does not work anymore. In Tacoma, we use telemarketing for retention calling, and we do some former subscriber calling. But have looked for other ways to diversify our sales efforts.

Direct mail is good, but targeted direct mail is great, and that’s why we invested in a solution called MMS from Marketing Solutions Group. This allows us to identify our subscribers and non-subscribers and then sell to them based on demographic data. I can send a direct mail piece out to soccer moms with two kids who have household incomes greater than US$50,000.

The programme also lets us know how responsive that person is to direct mail, allowing us to target only those who can give us the best return on our investment.

Single-copy inserts are something we had not previously focused on in the market, at least over the last year. Borrowing an idea from one of our sister newspapers, we came up with four designs that we rotate through the week.

Over the course of four weeks, each piece is seen on different days of the week; your Sunday buyer, for instance, sees a different look every week.

Every 13 weeks, we analyse the cost per order for each piece, and remove the least cost-efficient piece, while adding in an all-new design.

Retention programmes are also vital. Over the last year, we have spent probably an equal amount of time building a retention programme as we have on overall acquisition.

Many of the pieces are basic, but retention of a customer really needs to start at the first day of delivery. We send an e-mail to all new subscribers to welcome them, and this comes directly from my e-mail account, so the customer can respond personally, which they do.

The second week, they get an e-mail to promote activation of their digital account. This is critical, to remind customers not only that their subscriptions include the printed newspaper, but they get access to a variety of digital content, as well.

Another successful piece that we use for retention is our “Lunch is on Us!” postcard, which goes out to customers about three weeks before the end of their grace. We partnered with Customer Motivators on this one, and all the design work is done by them.

We offer customers a US$5 gift card from a variety of popular restaurants when they renew, or US$15 if they convert to EZ Pay. It’s a great turn-key programme, and generates a 5% to 10% return for us weekly. 

3. Content marketing: The key to content marketing is to play off your strength, which for most of us is local, local, local. Building valuable content is key, and it will pay off, although sometimes not as quickly as you might hope.

We have a blog that we have produced since 2004 called the Seahawks Insider. After, in 2014, we were finally able to capitalise on that work when the football team advanced to the American Super Bowl. See my last post, (“Super Bowl brings super sales for News Tribune”) for more details on our Super Bowl win.

4. Social marketing: The goal with social marketing is to meet the audience where they are. We must have social listening skills. Don’t just rely on your newsroom to pass along information from your Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.

Marketers need to have access to these, as well, and feel comfortable with responding publicly. Invest in this growing channel, and experiment with it. It is critical that newspapers market with social media.

Here is a recent case study of a marketing campaign that we conducted on Facebook following the Super Bowl. We posted to promote our “Super Hawks” book, and offered a giveaway every hour for 24 hours to anyone who liked our post or shared the page. We then boosted the post and spent US$393 to target Seahawks fans in the Seattle market.

Our total reach from the post ended up being just over 73,000 views. What was interesting was the difference of the fan response versus the non-fan response. Our fans provided a better return on investment (ROI), as they had more Web site click-throughs than our non-fan, which told us, as expected, that our fans showed more interest in our products.

This can only help in further marketing efforts to determine how much we spend on these promotions. 

5. Multi-platform engagement: Print is still critical. Research by Scarborough for the Newspaper Association of America finds that while the digital audience for newspaper content is growing, traditional print readers are not embracing the new platforms.

  • 54% of the newspaper audience still consumes the product strictly in print and doesn’t visit their hometown newspaper’s Web site, even if access is included with their subscription.

  • The mobile-only audience for newspapers is growing rapidly, though it still only amounts to 7 million users.

  • Just 3% of newspaper readers access content only with their mobile devices; 4% use both mobile and print; 5% both mobile and online access; and 7% online only.

  • That leaves 27% who mix both print and online.

We have to move beyond our Web sites. We need to meet our audience where they are, and give them what they want, when they want it. This video sums it up nicely:

The direction that newspapers have taken over the last couple of years is exciting, and it is important that we keep looking forward to the next new technology that can deliver our products to the consumer. There is a future for newspapers, but it’s not going to include the same newspapers our parents read. 


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About this blog

The “Bottom-Line Marketing” blog aims to bring together the principles behind marketing with the real-world experiences of newspapers transitioning to newsmedia companies. Our bloggers are some of the leading marketers at the world’s leading newsmedia companies today, most with experiences with packaged goods and brands such as McDonald's and Disney. They will aim to show how marketing – often under-utilised in the news industry – improves the bottom line (even a baby's bottom).


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Lon Haenel
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Digital Media & Circulation
The Gazette
Janesville, Wisconsin, USA
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Director of Marketing
The Star-Ledger
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Phil Schroder
Vice President of Audience Development
News Tribune
Tacoma, Washington, USA
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