A change in the publication frequency of Die Burger’s Eastern Cape edition was required when the existing business model no longer made sense. In June 2018, we announced that the daily edition of Die Burger was to be replaced by a single weekend edition on a Friday. Monday through Thursday editions would only be published in PDF format on Netwerk24, the digital home of Die Burger. In July 2018, the project went live.
For Die Burger, an Afrikaans niche publication with a history extending over 81 years in the Eastern Cape, it was exceptionally important to convey the message to readers that they were not being abandoned by the title — on the contrary, the fundamental aim of the change was to create a sustainable future for this relationship already spanning eight decades. It was about still bringing quality Afrikaans journalism to readers, still daily, albeit in a different format and on another platform.
Migrating readers online presented a unique challenge for Netwerk24, since the aging demographic of Die Burger’s readers in the Eastern Cape didn’t bode well. More than 70% of subscribers were 65 years and older, and international trends dictate that these readers are extremely difficult to migrate. In fact, many international legacy news organisations do not even bother trying.
As expected, the announcement was initially met with considerable resistance from older readers. The challenge here was the fact that this newspaper played a critical role in guiding their daily lives.
The connection of the brand to our audience was immensely personal. We knew at the outset the sentiments we would have to deal with and the level of empathy required to guide the transition process. To take our readers on this journey with us, a great deal of planning went from coordinating personal interaction and face time with our loyal readers to a highly effective marketing strategy to create excitement and enthusiasm for the new product offering.
This was in turn met with a collective effort from Netwerk24 and Die Burger’s well-prepared teams. A finely tuned communication campaign was launched, including extensive social media engagement and a joint roadshow throughout the Eastern Cape. The roadshows were advertised in our tabloid free sheets as an open invitation to chat with the editors over a cup of coffee.
The editors of Netwerk24 and Die Burger presented a united front, engaging with readers on a highly personal level to convey the new offering tailor made for the Eastern Cape. Personal show-and-tell sessions with older readers on how to subscribe and how to use Netwerk24 made a huge difference in the conversion rate.
Although our readers were still upset with the changes, they most definitely appreciated the gesture of personal engagement by the editors to explain the why, what, and how of the changes coming their way. Going the extra mile, we even had on-site assistance for readers that needed help getting online. We deployed personnel to homes of our subscribers to lend a hand and help them overcome the initial anxiety around the digital experience. Our subscribers embraced this and were ever so grateful for our efforts to make the digital transition bearable.