NZME drives digital access amongst print subscribers while engaging print readership

By Carolyn Adams

NZME/NZ Herald

Auckland, New Zealand


In April 2019, NZME launched its digital subscriptions programme, NZ Herald Premium. A key component of the strategy was to retain print subscribers by getting them to activate their digital subscriptions.

A two-pronged approach was adopted:

  1. To get full-week subscribers to unlock their complimentary NZ Herald Premium access.
  2. To encourage our part-print subscribers to upgrade to a print/digital bundle.

Success was measured by the number of print subscribers who activated, the number upgrading to a print/digital bundle, and the reduction in newspaper subscriber cancellations.

NZME focused heavily on getting print subscribers to use their digital subscriptions.
NZME focused heavily on getting print subscribers to use their digital subscriptions.

Converting subscribers

With more than 20,000 newspaper subscribers activating their digital subscriptions by the end of 2019, we knew NZ Herald Premium was poised for growth. Research and trend analysis confirmed that the single biggest factor driving subscriptions was “distinctive journalism,” which is why NZME invested heavily in boosting core journalism resources and new partnerships offering diverse content and storytelling.

Our objective was to activate 40% of this group by the end of 2020. This increased the value they got from their print subscription, reducing the likelihood of cancellation and starting their transition to a digital-only subscriber in the future.

With subscriber retention fundamental to growth, we instituted a campaign to activate print subscribers using a multi-channel approach. This included direct mail, e-mail, outbound calling, editorial messaging, targeted Facebook ads, and newspaper ads.  

We developed a promotion to target subscribers who got the newspaper only a few days a week, inviting them to upgrade to a print/digital bundle for a special price of NZ$1 per week. The objective was to reduce the number of part-print subscribers by 10%.

A promotion bundling a free trial of the newspaper with digital access set the stage for those readers who purchased a print subscription to be more likely to use digital.

Because NZME's quality journalism drives subscriptions, the newsroom played a key role in the strategy.
Because NZME's quality journalism drives subscriptions, the newsroom played a key role in the strategy.

Minimising subscriber losses was paramount to the preservation of a core group of print subscribers. While we expected a degree of print subscription cannibalisation as we ramped up the Herald Premium campaign, we expected the increased value of a subscription would retain subscribers.

Discovering success

When we launched Premium, we were aware that paid digital subscriptions could rile our print audience, causing them to cancel their print subscription and move to digital only. Turns out we had little to worry about and much to celebrate as our retention initiatives far exceeded expectations.

We successfully activated over 50% of all eligible NZ Herald print subscribers, eclipsing our 40% target at year-end. 

The spectacular success of our strategy stems from adding free digital access as part of a print trial and integrating multichannel activation messages to print subscribers.

The campaign to upgrade part week print subscribers (less than five days a week) to a bundled subscription exceeded target, with over 11% of subscribers upgraded.

Engagement statistics show that print subscribers have impressive digital engagement (with the majority in the highest digital engagement segment), again helping increase the value they place on their subscription.

As more subscribers activated their digital entitlement, or upgraded to a bundle, an 8% YOY decline in print subscription cancellations occurred, reflecting the success of integrating digital activation messaging into our customer journeys.

In just 20 months, our subscriber penetration rate — the proportion of subscribers compared to audience — reached almost 5%, significantly higher than industry benchmarks of 2% to 4% based on studies by FTI Consulting and Mather Economics.

The biggest learning from this campaign is that subscribers don’t cancel print to move to digital. Not only that, but retention benefits also exist for print subscribers. We will continue to activate print subscribers to improve our print retention rates.

About Carolyn Adams

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.