Newsday is a local news media organisation in Long Island, a suburb outside New York City. With more than a million weekly unique visitors, the Newsday team has been changing its brand perception from a product brand to a cultural brand through a virtual live events strategy.
Since March 2020, Newsday has brought more than 600,000 attendees to 225 virtual live events, generating an average Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 70. On Wednesday, two Newsday executives led INMA members through the journey of how they did this during a live Webinar.
“We host a calendar of live and virtual events to educate, inform, and entertain both consumer and business audiences,” Melissa Carfero, manager of event strategy and development, told INMA members. “Events have always been part of Newday’s DNA.”
For many years, the brand was known for its large-scale, free consumer events. In 2018, the company began transitioning this model to more intimate forums called Newsday Live Conversations that covered hot topics, sports, and other interests of their audience.
“Today, brands need to purposely look at the culture buzzing around them in news, entertainment, on social media, and use that awareness to integrate themselves into the world,” Carfero said.
Newsday Live is the experiential portion of the company’s brand activation. By engaging with Long Island residents more directly, the brand actually becomes part of their culture — allowing Newsday to create positive conversations and engagement with the audience, thereby deepening its relevance and connection with them.
This strategy also supports Newsday’s changing perception from a newspaper product brand to a brand that’s embedded in the culture.
The shift to virtual events
As the year 2020 dawned, the Newsday team had more than 50 new events planned. But like other companies that produced events, the pandemic created the necessity of pivoting that strategy to virtual.
Newsday added to its extensive local coverage of the coronavirus, becoming a pandemic resource for Long Island as they added more tools for navigating the crisis. In addition to providing vital information to residents, the team also focused on local small businesses and the impact lockdown had on them.
In addition to quickly shifting their planned live events into virtual ones, the team created a series of weekly webinars with local business and governmental experts as well as politicians.
“Each session was moderated by a Newsday reporter or columnist, and we allowed ample time for audience questions — of which there were many,” Carfero said. “The response to the business series was tremendous and the audience feedback was extremely positive and helpful in identifying future topics.”
The team consistently saw Net Promoter Scores (NPS) from these Webinars in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s, inspiring the team to expand these events into health and education. They also quickly moved from producing one to two virtual events a week to four or five at the height of the pandemic.
Engaging and relevant content and experiences
“With the success that we saw within these three key verticals of business, health, and education, we were inspired to adapt existing event concepts — such as our music and author series — that originated as in-person events into virtual experiences,” Carfero said.
The team also broadened Newsday’s programming to include more consumer categories that provided its audience a much-needed break from the stress of the pandemic.
“It’s important to point out that we were providing Long Islanders with access to experts and, in some cases, entertainers, that they typically would not have been able to hear from or direct questions to,” she added. “This element really drove engagement.”
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the team saw increased attendance at each event, as well as high on-demand viewing after the event. This inspired a dedicated Newsday section front where the audience could easily register and attend any event, as well as submit questions in advance to the guests.
None of these on-demand events are gated behind a paywall, which provides Newsday an ongoing, long-term, top-of-funnel source of potential future subscribers who see Newsday as a provider of cutting-edge, important content — with events as the main driver.
Between March 2020 and December 2021, Newsday held a total of 233 virtual events consumed by more than 650,000 views, with an average NPS of 67. There was a 143% growth in viewership from year one to year two of this strategy.
By the fourth quarter of 2021, Newsday produced four in-person events at its two state-of-the-art studios with a limited audience. Three of these were Town Hall sessions with candidates running for local political office and the fourth a chat with renowned chef Lidia Bastianich (with ticketed seats). These live events were also aired as video-on-demand on the Web site afterwards.
“We’re looking forward to hosting more in-person events from Studio 2 this year, and we are making a conscious decision to tone down our pandemic focus,” Carfero said. Instead, they will increase content around the verticals of health, business, education, lifestyle, and entertainment.
The team also plans to focus on developing new verticals and strategic programming that will target new audiences.
“Over the last two years we’ve seen that, when done right, virtual events can really drive audiences and create brand fans,” she said. “It’s an exciting time at Newsday Live, and we’re looking forward to the continued growth.”
Patrick Tornabene, chief consumer revenue and strategy officer, said it’s important to understand this events strategy is a branding play, first and foremost.
“We’re working at the top of the funnel and trying to attract people,” he said. “To watch a live show, it’s a registration model and we do require an e-mail. We do see that performing similar to newsletters. It’s the same sort of conversion strategy. People who are registering for our events are converting just as well, if not better, than those who register for our newsletters.”
The key value that helped Newsday Live grow and even explode in terms of audience interest was the ability of the events and their speakers to answer questions, Tornabene said.
As an example, he referenced a recent local lawsuit over the mask mandate in schools. Late in the evening, the team started hearing from school districts that masks would no longer be required as of the next morning.
“We immediately saw that parents would have a lot of questions,” Tornabene said. “As the brand Newsday, we have the reach to pull these people in. We’re able to pull in the top attorneys, the school districts, the superintendents, source those [audience] questions, consolidate them down, and get that programming. That’s something we can provide that no one else can provide.”
When it comes to cost and revenue, Tornabene reiterated that as a branding play, the branding budget was where most of the money to produce these events would come from: “I would say the expense, the actual money, is not the challenge. It’s a small number. You could be in the very low six figures. It’s the time commitment, and it’s pulling resources from across the organisation.”