MediaNews Group’s recent success in leveraging e-mail newsletters to drive audience engagement, subscriptions, and advertising revenue is the product of deliberate cross-company product prioritisation, collaboration, and execution. We focus on aligning tactics to strategy, selecting initiatives that offer the most juice for the squeeze, yet offer simplicity for all stakeholders to rally around.
Because our product and marketing teams are small (yet serve all company stakeholders), our strategic product framework, prioritisation process, marketing strategy, and culture are central to delivering efficient products at scale with surgical precision. The how and what we do isn’t necessarily sexy or terribly sophisticated, but it works!
To do this, we use our vision and strategic objectives as a filter to ensure initiatives line up with our key goals. This requires understanding the company’s core purpose, source of value, and differentiation. MediaNews Group’s core purpose is informing, connecting, and empowering local communities by providing credible, professional news and advertising across numerous platforms. We then identify a North Star metric to focus our efforts and keep us on track.
Our strategic product development framework is the next lens through which to evaluate ideas. We look at value versus effort to prioritise major initiatives, but also look at simplicity of strategy.
The e-mail newsletter initiative was selected because it easily passed through our strategic filter by delivering on our core mission and vision while driving value outcomes across all revenue streams, audience, and business efficiency. It was also simple to explain, motivate teams, and rally around to continue to accelerate cultural change. While the delivery effort was large, we were able to leverage agile principles to chunk out work and release the most value upfront. Assumption validation through early experiments informed our pivot or persevere decision, and strong leading indicators encouraged us to persevere early on.
The next ingredient to success is full-product versus core product thinking. While our core product is content, our full-product experience extends way beyond. Creating and nurturing great product experiences require more than just great content or great technology. It requires great packaging, design, marketing, partners, and employees as well as an effective and inclusive process for how work is done. This way of working and thinking has shifted us beyond the core product (content) and toward the full product (frictionless, empowered, local digital experiences) — which powers our revenue and value.
By approaching the e-mail newsletter initiative with the “full-product” mindset, we were able to involve the entire company to deliver on its promise — from journalists, newsrooms, publishers, and advertising teams to product development, marketing, circulation, finance, and IT. We are embracing a cross-disciplinary, agile way of working that brings everyone together to deliver large initiatives. Coordinated strategy and distributed execution is challenging and requires alignment, engagement, and unified prioritisation. But, focusing here has allowed us to deliver faster with more buy-in and better outcomes for the entire ecosystem.
Finally, our simple and broad marketing strategy and tactics are differentiators, too. The e-mail newsletter initiative continues to be central to our subscription strategy. It drives users to hit the paywall more frequently, increasing propensity to subscribe, and provides the opportunity to convert readers to subscribers at a higher rate via e-mail marketing. E-mail acquisition campaigns are deployed both on a regular promotional schedule and contextually based on user behavior (hitting the paywall or abandoning before finishing checkout). As a result, marketing acquisition grew by >80% in our fiscal year 2020 and is on track to grow by another 70% in fiscal year 2021.
Creating a newsletter initiative
The e-mail newsletter initiative is now a microcosm of all initiatives at MediaNews Group, and the ideas are a collaboration across departments. The template we scaled across our publications came from one of our local markets, for instance, while the advertising infrastructure changes were driven by corporate.
We recognise that coordinated execution is more important (and harder) than a good idea, and it takes a village to make it so. The e-mail newsletter initiative started with our corporate audience and local newsletter editorial, journalist, and digital teams, including those at the Bay Area News Group and the Southern California News Group, who wanted to leverage a common set of e-mail newsletter technology to more efficiently engage their audiences.
The product and technology team was able to productise and scale it to all media brands within the footprint to kickstart the flywheel of growth. The digital subscriptions team then layered in activation and marketing to register users, converting our unknown readers to known readers on the path to subscribers.
At the same time, the advertising revenue team was able to additionally monetise it and catalyse our first-party data strategy in the face of the coming cookie-pocolypse.
No single factor is responsible for the success of MediaNews Group’s e-mail newsletter initiative. Instead, it’s our commitment to a mindset and doing the work to ensure full product thinking takes hold and flourishes. Clear strategic intent, inclusive and broad company alignment, an empowered team, and disciplined yet agile execution are the ingredients for any particular product success. However, reinforcing a systemic way of working over the long run drives repeatable, consistent, and self-propelling outcomes at every level in the organisation. For MediaNews Group, when process aligns with purpose, great product happens.