Like newsrooms everywhere, 2020 was a year of extensive experimentation — and a dash of desperation — in the marketing department at Crikey.
If we learned anything from 2020, it was that nothing drives subscriptions like a news cycle that is well capitalised on. While we got good at moving quickly to launch marketing campaigns when we had a strong news week or a solid editorial series going live, this approach was completely reactive.
What would it look like if we were to reverse it?
This is the question we asked ourselves in January of 2021 while we were brainstorming what the year ahead might look like. We wanted to see if we could reverse-engineer an editorial series to be used as a marketing campaign instead of running marketing campaigns in reaction to editorial activities.
We pitched our idea to the editorial team, who was game to try it, so we set about coming up with ideas.
We dug into the data and, through a combination of newsroom intuition, social data, and traffic data, we came up with our series topic: corruption.
The editorial got to work on creating what became The Dirty Country: Lifting the lid on corruption in Australia.
Promotion with a purpose
Back in the marketing department, we planned how we would promote the series and use it to convert our pool of around 80,000 free newsletter subscribers to paying subscribers and hit our acquisition target of 8% overall growth in our subscriber base during Q1.
The series consisted of 13 installments that we published over the course of a week and a half. To promote the series, we launched a daily pop-up newsletter that our free newsletter subscribers received. In addition to calls-to-action encouraging readers to subscribe throughout, the introduction to each newsletter, written personally by our editor-in-chief or the journalist whose story was featured, would include a push to subscribe as well.
To promote the series and convert users to paying subscribers:
- We ran an accompanying social media and e-mail marketing campaign with a discounted sign-up offer over two weeks.
- We also used the campaign to test whether editorial video content would work for us as marketing assets, which we found to be highly successful.
- And finally, we used our free morning newsletter and weekend newsletters, which most of our non-paying subscribers receive, to also promote the series and the offer.
If there was an asset onsite or offsite we could use to promote the series, we took it.
Value to current subscribers
But what about our current paying subscriber base? They received the series as part of their usual daily dispatches via e-mail. They were also shown ads in newsletters and onsite promoting the series. We did this to reinforce the value of their Crikey membership.
We also used our digital event series, Crikey Talks, to run an event on the topic of corruption as part of the campaign. We promoted this to our free newsletter subscribers as a means of encouraging additional sign ups midway through the campaign.
The final result of the campaign, among other things, was 12.26% growth of subscriber base in Q1. Likewise, the Crikey Talks event broke our sign-up and attendance records.
So why did it work so well? Collaboration between departments, saturating our network with the series and offer, and finally, putting our journalism and journalists at the forefront of our marketing.
It sounds straightforward, but at the end of the day, folks don’t subscribe to Crikey because of a slick marketing campaign. They subscribe because of our journalism and the journalists who produce it. Though of course, a great marketing campaign doesn’t hurt!