Shift at The Economist emphasises data-supported editorial direction

By Caroline Lees

Data is a new currency,” said Stéphane Pere, The Economist’s chief data officer. “Our ability to collect and make sense of data at scale is very valuable,” he told delegates at INMA’s Big Data for Media conference at Google London on Friday.

The goal is to “increase advertising revenue and reduce costs using data,” he noted. Key questions remain, however, namely how can we make money from data, and how can we leverage data to drive value?

“We need to elevate data as a corporate asset, protect this corporate asset, and explore the potential unlocked by Big Data,” Pere said.

But where to start?

The Economist uses data to achieve a single view of the customer and derive insights to drive engagement through personalisation. It leverages its audience via its own platforms but also external platforms, beyond the company’s own Web sites.

“We build content people are willing to pay for to build our audience, and we give marketers access to that audience,” Pere said, describing The Economist’s business model.

That’s a lot of information, but Pere said he learned a key lesson when he started at The Economist nearly 18 months ago: “It’s important to think big, but you need to start small.”

He noted his first move toward leveraging data was with revenue. “It is the best way to attract attention internally about the potential of data,” Pere said.

Changes to the media industry have hit advertising particularly hard. “There are so many more outlets online and our customers are spending more time elsewhere,” he said. “This has a huge impact … we used to know our competitors but now nobody does.”

As such, he noted, “advertisers don’t need publishers anymore. They want to be publishers.” However, Pere said, by leveraging data, these trends can be addressed in the following ways:

  1. Leverage media with data. “We used to sell media only. Now we have data about our readers that we can leverage,” he said.

  2. Incorporate automation. “It is good to have data but you need to be able to activate the data, and leverage it using inventory and price,” Pere said. Companies can target the audience beyond their own channels.

  3. Embrace digital budgets. Re-target readers on social media, video, mobile, and search marketplaces.

  4. Use an integrated agency set-up. Run promotional and digital activities for advertisers looking for content solutions.

  5. Measure campaign impact ROI with reach and engagement.

Using data to enhance engagement and lower “churn”

The Economist also uses a personalised approach to leverage engagement and retention.

Pere described a new project that learns to identify when a subscriber is about to cancel a subscription. The aim is to pick up on the signs when a subscriber loses interest. “When we notice the signs, we send a push notification with personalised content,” he said.

Pere acknowledged that data security and privacy is an ongoing concern. “We have to find the right balance.”

He said his job is to enhance the role of marketers at The Economist, not replace them. “We want to make it easier to scale and personalise,” he said.

Since the appointment of a new editor at The Economist, data is increasingly being used to support editorial. “This is a huge shift for us,” he said, noting the new editor is committed to getting new readers and doubling the audience size. “The big change in the last two weeks has been that we are trying to understand what type of content is more appealing to readers.”

What’s next?

Data can drive value, and, Pere said, “data can bring a contribution to the bottom line, but for this to happen you need a good organisational framework.”

He advised the audience to stay open to change and new ideas: “There is always a new solution coming in. Keep an open mind.”

About Caroline Lees

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