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INMA flipped back to in-person events in 2023 while maintaining its virtual presence

By Earl J. Wilkinson

International News Media Association (INMA)

Dallas, Texas, United States

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When we designed 2023 for INMA members, we knew there would be chaos.

The previous three years of the COVID-19 pandemic required a rewriting of INMA’s 90-year-old playbook of how go to market and how we engage members as we pivoted to all-virtual — and layered on insights-based initiatives at scale for the first time. 

The response from the news industry was tremendous: record membership growth, record engagement, a broadening of INMA’s appeal, and a new stature that we hadn’t seen in our first nine decades.  

To what degree, therefore, would the flip back to in-person events impact that short-lived yet successful model?

As we conclude 2023, I want to report to INMA members what our “flip-back” year looked like.

Top achievements

Cutting through a lot of data and experiences, our top achievements from the past year were: 

  • Successfully flipping back to in-person events for the first time in four years. 
The Silicon Valley Study Tour took INMA members to Google, Microsoft, OpenAI, and more across four days in October. This is one of seven study tours INMA conducted in 2023, including three in conjunction with the INMA World Congress in New York.
The Silicon Valley Study Tour took INMA members to Google, Microsoft, OpenAI, and more across four days in October. This is one of seven study tours INMA conducted in 2023, including three in conjunction with the INMA World Congress in New York.

  • Keeping most of our virtual agenda: 50 Webinars, five master classes, and five regional summits and town halls. 
  • Continuing to grow membership, including non-newspaper media. 

In the interest of full disclosure, not everything went according to plan this year. Here were some positive and negative surprises

  • Insight layers organically emerged from initiative collaborations on events. This can have major long-term ramifications on the INMA experience. 
  • Energy around generative AI due to the many angles by which INMA attacked the subject. 
  • Growth in individual memberships
  • Passion from CEOs who attended the Vail Roundtable
  • How challenging the reboot back to in-person events turned out to be, especially as we leaned into experiential aspects. 
  • The extraordinarily high percentage of first-timers to INMA in-person events.
The Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm set an attendance in March, punctuated with a study tour of the city’s leading media houses.
The Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm set an attendance in March, punctuated with a study tour of the city’s leading media houses.

Qualitative

Much of INMA’s success is qualitative. We operated six initiatives at scale that produced unique insights and benchmarks. Generative AI, business models, and personalisation were among the subjects spotlighted by the initiatives, which served as the backbone for programming throughout the year. 

Media Innovation Week in Antwerp saw a conference break down the practicalities of growing audience, revenue, and brand amid the rise of generative AI, along with an executive-level study tour of Belgium’s top media companies in Brussels and Antwerp.
Media Innovation Week in Antwerp saw a conference break down the practicalities of growing audience, revenue, and brand amid the rise of generative AI, along with an executive-level study tour of Belgium’s top media companies in Brussels and Antwerp.

While this blog post looks at how INMA quantitatively performed, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the good work that came out of 50 Webinars, five in-person conferences, five study tours, five master classes, two town halls, four regional summits, 850+ blog posts, seven reports, a subscription benchmark service, and multiple partnered projects.

To get an idea of the most important subject that emanated from the INMA network in 2023 (business model innovation), click here

Membership 

Membership is the lifeblood of INMA, and we continued to be in growth mode during the past year. This came despite the worst economic environment for news media since 2009. 

To give you a benchmark, 2019 was the last non-pandemic year. INMA grew corporate membership 50% over the past four years while seeing 97% growth in members — surpassing 21,500. We have grown membership every year since 2009! 

INMA grew corporate membership 50% over the past four years while seeing 97% growth in members.
INMA grew corporate membership 50% over the past four years while seeing 97% growth in members.

We gained 27 new corporate members in 2023, representing our third best year ever — the previous two achieved during 2021 and 2022. We have grown corporate memberships for eight straight years. 

INMA has members around the world, with the greatest number being from Europe.
INMA has members around the world, with the greatest number being from Europe.

The makeup of INMA membership continues to evolve as we grow in Europe especially. Today, some 44% of INMA corporate members are in Europe, with notable growth continuing to come from Germany.

Events: in-person and virtual 

Membership growth is having networking effects across all events, both in-person and virtual. And it impacts the value proposition for INMA members everywhere.

The only way to tell this story is to break it down between in-person and virtual events.

Virtually: 

  • 2,090 unique members (roughly 10% of members) registered for at least one of INMA’s 50 Webinars this year, representing 5,521 total registrations. About half who registered attended the livestreams, while the other half watched the recordings available to all members.
  • 374 unique members registered for at least one of INMA’s five master classes, with 445 total registrations. 

In-person: 

The INMA World Congress of News Media in New York returned for the first time in four years in May with keynotes Robert Thomson of News Corp and A.G. Sulzberger of The New York Times — punctuated by three study tours, five workshops, a Global Media Awards dinner at Harvard Club, and a welcome reception at Tavern On the Green.
The INMA World Congress of News Media in New York returned for the first time in four years in May with keynotes Robert Thomson of News Corp and A.G. Sulzberger of The New York Times — punctuated by three study tours, five workshops, a Global Media Awards dinner at Harvard Club, and a welcome reception at Tavern On the Green.

  • 220 members registered for our five study tours in Stockholm, New York, Antwerp/Brussels, Silicon Valley, and New Delhi. In New York during World Congress Week, we conducted three study tours.
INMA members visited Google, Microsoft, and Amazon during a New Delhi study tour in November, followed by start-up presentations leaning on generative AI opportunities.
INMA members visited Google, Microsoft, and Amazon during a New Delhi study tour in November, followed by start-up presentations leaning on generative AI opportunities.

Did we deliver on these conferences, study tours, master classes, and summits?

With an eight-year median Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 39, we delivered a median NPS of 54 for our in-person events — with the year’s highs being our Silicon Valley Study Tour (92), Vail Roundtable (85), Media Gems Study Tours (78), Delhi Future Tech and AI Study Tour (67), Subscriptions Summit Study Tour in Stockholm (65), and World Congress in New York (54).

Similarly, our virtual events delivered a median 53 NPS.

All of these events were bolstered by 20+ sponsors that are most committed to the news industry and the work INMA is doing across topics and regions.

Blogs and reports 

The core content of INMA is our blog universe, while our premium content is our reports. 

Some 2,846 members downloaded at least one of INMA’s seven reports, representing 3,422 downloads in total — with the two most popular reports focused on generative AI. 

INMA released seven reports in 2023, with most downloads coming among two GenAI reports.
INMA released seven reports in 2023, with most downloads coming among two GenAI reports.

Meanwhile, we posted 841 blogs, including 41% from volunteers and 21% from our initiative leads. The subjects with the most engagement were on generative AI, subscriptions, and product.

Of special note 

INMA experience special achievements in 2023 that require some explanation: 

  • Vail Roundtable: What happens if you bring together 50 CEOs of INMA corporate members into a Chatham House Rules three days in Vail, Colorado? We got the most deeply engaged audience of the year with a passion for returning next year. The focus turned out to be on generative AI, business models, and the newsroom’s role in future success. 
INMA’s inaugural Roundtable at Vail featured confidential discussions among 50 news media CEOs from around the world, disproportionately focused on generative AI, business model innovation, and how to involve the newsroom in the business of news.
INMA’s inaugural Roundtable at Vail featured confidential discussions among 50 news media CEOs from around the world, disproportionately focused on generative AI, business model innovation, and how to involve the newsroom in the business of news.

  • Subscription Benchmark Service: Year two of INMA’s Subscription Benchmark Service saw rapid growth of participating companies, 180 brands in total. What started as a simple benchmark dashboard concept evolved into a “club within the club” for the leading lights in media subscriptions seeking next-generation growth and best practices. In 2023, this included four new benchmarks and two studies based on the group’s data. New benchmarks included market penetration, marketing performance, long-term retention model, and lifetime value model. New analyses included top acquisition tactics, paywall performance comparisons, strategies at different stages of maturity, and the transformation of paid relationships from print to digital.
  • CMS Vendor Selection Tool: In partnership with Google, INMA helped develop a CMS vendor selection tool, from which emanated a report, town hall, and thousands of unique visits that created major impact at media companies. 
  • Awards: INMA continued to reward excellence at news media companies across passion subjects with the Global Media Awards, rising stars in media with the “30 Under 30” Awards, and diversity, equity, and inclusion honourees with the Elevate Scholarships, in partnership with the Google News Initiative.

Our bedrocks 

Within this universe of 21,000+ members sits a governing board of directors (often called our “International Board”) that is active and hands-on — meeting in-person twice in the past year in New York and London, as well as eight times virtually. As goes our 30-person board, so goes INMA. 

The INMA board of directors met twice in-person in 2023: New York in May and London in November. In addition, the board met eight more times virtually to conduct the business of INMA and be a sounding board for the issues facing news media.
The INMA board of directors met twice in-person in 2023: New York in May and London in November. In addition, the board met eight more times virtually to conduct the business of INMA and be a sounding board for the issues facing news media.

Meanwhile, we have more than 100 volunteers serving on regional boards in Europe, North America, South Asia, and Latin America, as well as advisory councils for initiatives dedicated to product, data, newsroom, advertising, and young professionals

Finally, we would be remiss without acknowledging INMA’s small but mighty professional staff of 29 people dispersed across five continents. We manage to get the work of INMA done in a team-friendly way despite rarely meeting face-to-face. We are a “Zoom team” that mostly got together for the first time at the New York World Congress in May.

The 29-member INMA team has never been in one room at one moment, thanks to their dispersal across five continents. Yet 15 managed to squeeze into one photo at the conclusion of the Global Media Awards dinner at the New York World Congress of News Media.
The 29-member INMA team has never been in one room at one moment, thanks to their dispersal across five continents. Yet 15 managed to squeeze into one photo at the conclusion of the Global Media Awards dinner at the New York World Congress of News Media.

Wrap-up 

At its November meeting in London, the INMA board of directors did many things: approved next year’s plans and budget, expressed its commitment to journalism and its financial sustainability, elevated GenAI as a subject deserving of more focus, evaluated the work of INMA, dedicated the association to more industry partnerships, embraced new business models, and navigated through INMA’s strategy through 2030 (our 100th anniversary). 

Yet within that meeting, the board affirmed that INMA’s core plans are working, we will stay committed to growth, and that our financial security will offer opportunities to add more value for members. 

What some predicted as a year of chaos has concluded as one of the most substantial in the association’s 93 years. 

As always, we hope that INMA continues to live up to the high expectations of members and the news industry we serve.

About Earl J. Wilkinson

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