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9 ways INMA impacted the news industry in 2021

By Earl J. Wilkinson

International News Media Association (INMA)

Dallas, Texas, United States

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2021 marked the most significant changes to how INMA engages its members and the news industry in its 91-year history. The end results of those changes have been record membership growth, strategic guidance unlike anything a press association has ever attempted, and a deepened relationship with our community. INMA looks very different today than it did prior to the pandemic.

As the clock ticks toward midnight and a new year, I want to look back on 2021 and distill for you INMA’s achievements and contributions to a news industry going through accelerated transformation.

1. The INMA community is rapidly growing

In 2021, INMA membership grew 23% from 15,934 members in 2020 to 19,539 members. That includes a 27% increase in corporate members to 157. That represents 39 new corporate members and 95% membership retention. Thanks to the Meta Journalism Project, we have another 33 companies in a trial membership programme.

INMA membership grew 23% in 2021.
INMA membership grew 23% in 2021.

The result allowed INMA an opportunity to directly connect with people and companies, and aided us in improving how we engage with our members. INMA has made significant investments in staffing, technology, and user experiences to make INMA membership more valuable and engaging.  

2. INMA membership continues to diversify

The global diversity of INMA membership is what makes this association foundationally strong. Here is a look at our corporate memership regional breakdown:

INMA membership broken down by global region.
INMA membership broken down by global region.

Significantly, our South Asian membership per corporate member is the highest in the world.

INMA officially launched operations in Africa this year, including a virtual summit, and created our first-ever summit for the Asia/Pacific community. Both free events each generated 600+ registrants.

The primary professional focus of INMA members remains distributed across media companies: 

INMA membership broken down by professional focus.
INMA membership broken down by professional focus.

You may be interested to know that 41% of INMA members identify themselves as purely focused on digital, 24% focused on print, and, 35% a combination of digital and print. This is skewing more and more digital as the years progress.

INMA membership broken down by platform focus.
INMA membership broken down by platform focus.

3. INMA initiatives are transforming ideas into insights at scale

Strategically, INMA’s four initiatives have shifted our value proposition from “sharing ideas” to “sharing insights.” We are digging deep into digital subscriptions, product, data, advertising, and the emerging relationship with Big Tech platforms.

INMA's four initiative newsletters attract significant subscribers.
INMA's four initiative newsletters attract significant subscribers.

Each initiative is different. Some are information-focused. Some are community-focused. Yet the ability to have initiatives that leverage the collective brainpower of INMA members and INMA resources has been one of the biggest game-changers for the association in its long history.

Readers First Initiative

When INMA created the Readers First Initiative more than three years ago, we were confident we could make the most significant contribution to advancing knowledge around digital subscriptions in the news industry. That continued in Year 3 of the initiative as we focused on the vitality of reader habituation, the shift of focus to light-reading subscribers, and how to open new doors for casual readers. 

What were the top achievements with the Greg Piechota-led Readers First Initiative in 2021? 

Subscription Benchmark Service: Launched a beta subscription benchmark service with 85 news brand participants — a group focused deeply on the bulleye of next-generation insights for digital subscriptions.

European Subscriptions Lab: Partnered with the Google News Initiative and FT Strategies on the second year of the GNI Subscriptions Lab Europe, drawing new insights from European publishers on the practicalities of galvanizing corporate cultures around digital subscriptions.

Readers First Experience: Worked with the Meta Journalism Project to welcome 33 new corporate members for a Readers First Experience with access to subscription training throughout the year.

Three new reports: Created three new reports: Light Readers: Digital Subscriptions’ Next Growth Path, The Growing Promise of B2B in Media's Reader Revenue Model, and Subscription Pricing: From COVID Bump To Sustainable Revenue.

Four events: Held three Master Classes and one virtual global summit:

One global town hallThe partnership on the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab Europe was the cornerstone of a global town hall on digital subscriptions that attracted 1,257 registrants from around the world.

Additionally, the Readers First Initiative generated newsletters, blogs, and Meet-Ups throughout the year.

Product Initiative

From the bones of the Readers First Initiative came new initiatives in 2021 such as the Product Initiative, which captured the heart and soul of the fast-rising “product revolution” at media companies. 

Led by Jodie Hopperton and a stellar advisory committee, the Product Initiative defined product and product thinking in a way that brought publishers closer together. The initiative also surfaced the practicalities of the product universe.

What we learned in Year 1 of the Product Initiative:

  • There is notable progress from product as a digital packager of journalism experiences to an organisation-wide product mindset. 
  • A product mindset brings ongoing innovation to the c-suite of media companies.
  • Product thinking breaks down traditional department silos. 
  • What makes product unique in media is that it provides more flexibility and independence to harness creativity.
  • Most product work is about optimising existing product (innovation sits alongside).

Among the practical deliverables for the Product Initiative this year:

Smart Data Initiative

When INMA created the Smart Data Initiative in early 2021, we wanted to share insights and best practices on creating value with data analytics for media companies and incorporate a data-positive culture across organisations.

Led by INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota, the initiative focused intently on how first-party data-focused tech infrastructure is becoming the backbone for digital publishing. This may have become a priority because of Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, yet the core strategy across the media enterprise is vital regardless. Meanwhile, INMA spent a lot of time tying data back to business objectives and how to democratise access to data — subjects that have been around for a decade yet remain cultural hurdles.

Among the key deliverables in 2021:

  • INMA partnered with the Meta Journalism Project on a Latin America Audience Analytics Accelerator that has triggered a sea change for 15 participating publishers in terms of using data and getting newsrooms to embrace data. This included an end-of-year Audience Analytics Town Hall that garnered 1,055 registrations worldwide.
  • Our Product and Data For Media Summit generated 184 participants.
  • The Smart Data For Media Master Class drew 129 registrants. 
  • Newsletters and Meet-Ups throughout the year on data strategy and best practices.
  • One report: The Guide to Smart Data Strategy in Media.

Advertising Initiative

While our fledgling Advertising Initiative launched only four months ago, its genesis was marked by some key insights gleaned during its creation.

Our priorities, based on member feedback, is on:

  • The rise of ad formats. 
  • The revised sales team. 
  • The re-emerging role of print.

Further study by INMA Advertising Initiative Lead Mark Challinor, supported by an advisory committee, found branded content is of particular interest to members. Further colour behind the initiative shows interest in understanding the role of the sales rep in an increasingly programmatic world and where print fits in a digital and multi-platform world.

In addition to newsletters and Meet-Ups in the first four months of the Advertising Initiative, we also held a Master Class on what’s next for advertising sales that generated 110 participants.

Digital Platform Initiative

When INMA launched its educational Digital Platform Initiative three years ago, we encouraged members to connect the dots in the Big Tech regulatory and legislative environments internationally. What gets adopted in the European Union, for example, may end up being the minimum regulatory standard worldwide.

What we saw in 2021 was that concept proved correct, but the epicenter was half a world away in Australia. Through blog posts by Digital Platform Initiative Lead Robert Whitehead and writer L. Carol Christopher, INMA kept members abreast of the fast-moving developments in Australia as Google and then-Facebook settled with publishers as regulations tightened — creating a starting point for negotiations in country after country, worldwide.

Meanwhile, INMA produced a report on ad tech that similarly looked at the complex issues of that ecosystem — including regulatory maneuverings across the epicenters in the United States (state and federal), the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

4. Webinars are profoundly changing how INMA conveys best practices

Considering INMA struggled with delivering Webinars four years ago, it is a testament to our perseverance and our members’ hunger for information — especially virtually during a pandemic — that we can report delivering 71 Webinars in 2021 that generated 4,040 unique people registering. That’s 21% of total membership and highlights INMA Webinars as an integral part of their membership. 

21% of INMA members registered for at least one Webinar in 2021.
21% of INMA members registered for at least one Webinar in 2021.

INMA's 71 Webinars in 2021 were a huge way we connected with members during the second year of the pandemic.
INMA's 71 Webinars in 2021 were a huge way we connected with members during the second year of the pandemic.

These Webinars are free to INMA members. All are recorded and made available for free to members.

5. There is an insatiable appetite for training, and events still matter

Comparing the physical world of conferences and study tours to the virtual world of conferences, town halls, summits, and master classes is unfair. In some ways, it’s comparing apples to oranges.

Yet numbers don’t lie: In 2021, INMA conducted 17 conferences/events that generated 6,029 registrations — roughly five times the engagement across our physical events in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Our premium events continue to be paid, with our three global conferences attracting 651 registrations. And our still-relatively-new Master Classes attracted 630 registrations across eight events.

Meanwhile, we conducted six free events in 2021 — including four regional events attracting 2,451 in Asia/Pacific (317 attendees), Africa (243 attendees), Latin America (249 attendees), and South Asia (875 attendees). And our two free global town halls on subscriptions and data, with Google News Initiative and Meta Journalism Project as our partners, drew an incredible 2,297 delegates.

We are proud to report that our 17 events delivered a median 43 Net Promoter Score (NPS) for 2021 — above our five-year median of 39 NPS.

6. Corporate member briefings are impacting how members perceive INMA

In pre-pandemic days, I traveled the world and visited corporate members to share with them big trends and big ideas around news media. I like to think these 30+ visits per year made an impact.

Yet nothing compares with how INMA accelerated corporate member engagements in 2021 — making my old travels virtual with media company c-suites and our initiative leads connecting on subscriptions, data, and product.

Bottom-line: Greg Piechota, Jodie Hopperton, and I conducted 169 executive-level briefings — mostly via video yet also via detailed written responses — in 2021. This was partly to convey information, partly to gain knowledge from members, and partly to solve problems.

If you were a part of these briefings, you know the value exchange:

  • Readers First Initiative: 60
  • C-suite briefings: 41
  • Smart Data Initiative: 33
  • Benchmarking Subscription Service: 25
  • Product Initiative: 10

Meanwhile, we also worked hard to answer bespoke questions of members. These benefits are skyrocketing for corporate members. 

7. INMA partnered with Google and Meta to deliver deep subscription and data projects

It is no secret the Google News Initiative and the Meta Journalism Project have partnered with press associations worldwide on a variety of projects to accelerate knowledge of subscriptions, data, product, advertising, newsroom innovation, and more.

A learning of INMA was that we could play a valued partnership role: recruiting publishers through our breadth of news industry knowledge and contacts, delivering training, project management, and convening big audiences. 

To these ends, we are proud to report our work in 2021: 

  • With the Google News Initiative:
    • GNI Europe Subscriptions Lab 2.0
    • Digital Growth Program – Audience (APAC, Latin America, North America)
  • With the Meta Journalism Project:
    • Latin America Audience Analytics Accelerator
    • India Digital Subscriptions Accelerator

The work we have done with the Google News Initiative and Meta Journalism Project have had a tremendous impact on the news industry and INMA members — beyond those participating in the programmes.

8. INMA continues to reward excellence

The pandemic has opened up opportunities for INMA to expand what it rewards:

  • Expanding our Global Media Awards (presented since 1937): In expanding to 20 categories and rewarding media group activities for the first time, the Global Media Awards generated 644 entries from 212 news media brands in 37 countries. Some 58 won first-place awards among 290 finalists. Our awards ceremony remained virtual, presented in part by the association’s Young Professionals Committee.  
  • Partnering with the Google News Initiative on the Elevate Scholarship: This competition for media professionals attracted 137 applications and 50 scholarships were presented, rewarding them with training opportunities.  
  • Building on our 2-year-old Young Professional Initiative’s “30 Under 30” Awards: With more than 140 applications, we selected 30 deserving future media leaders and rewarded them with training opportunities and access to a peer-to-peer Slack channel.

9. INMA blogs and reports continue to lead the news industry

Scarcity of content is not a problem for INMA. Quite the opposite: Thanks to member contributions and our ability to leverage our membership network via events and Webinars, INMA produced 756 blog posts in 2021. Those blog posts made their way into our niche newsletters, which take the content you are most interested in and deliver it to your inbox.

10% of INMA members subscribe to at least one of our newsletters.
10% of INMA members subscribe to at least one of our newsletters.

Meanwhile, the nine reports INMA produced in 2021 were downloaded 3,769 times:

Conclusion

This blog doesn’t begin to cover everything INMA achieved in 2021. These are merely the stand-outs. Yet if I were to drill one level down and tell you what made the biggest differences, it would be these:

  • We scaled and perfected digital training and development.
  • We led and guided news industry professionals on digital subscriptions and engagement.
  • We had near perfect timing on launch of Product Initiative vs. rise of product at media companies.  
  • We launched operations and events in two key geographies: Africa and East Asia.
  • We scaled one-to-one consultant-level executive/topic briefings with corporate members.
  • We guided members through the global regulatory and settlement juggernaut with the Big Tech companies.
  • All the while, we maintained a focus on growth: membership, paid registrations, free registrations, and tracking/measuring engagement.

What I hope you take away from 2021 is that INMA is a passionate community of nearly 20,000 people led by 100+ volunteers on our International Board, regional boards, and topical and community advisory committees.

INMA may seem like a big mountain to climb. Yet through our initiatives, Webinars, events, and content, I hope we are creating new on-ramps for you and your company.

Together, we want to constantly improve. We want to learn. We want to be curious. We want to leverage INMA’s global community to become financially sustainable journalism companies in an increasingly digital, data-driven world.

I hope we have lived up to the high expectations of INMA members in 2021. 

About Earl J. Wilkinson

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