Sports star campaign increases subscriptions for Bay Area News Group

By Olga Mitina

Bay Area News Group

San Jose, California, United States


The newspaper industry — especially legacy metro newspapers — is challenged daily by declining revenue and dwindling print subscriptions. The only way regional newspapers will survive is by being aggressive and including experimentation and innovation in their brand marketing strategies.

The Bay Area is a great place for a sports fan, with quite a few successful and well-known professional sports teams. And our research shows routinely that most of our subscribers are also huge sports fans. Our sports reporting is world class and our sports section is one of the best in the country.

In the spring of 2017, the marketing team at Bay Area News Group (The Mercury News and East Bay Times) decided to try an out-of-the-box move that challenged newspaper industry standards. We signed an admired local sports hero, two-time NBA champion and three-time All-Star Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, to become a Bay Area News Group spokesperson and brand ambassador for our daily newspapers.

The cross-platform campaign featured Klay Thompson in everything from TV ads to billboards and social media to life-size cardboard cutouts at events.
The cross-platform campaign featured Klay Thompson in everything from TV ads to billboards and social media to life-size cardboard cutouts at events.

Although an athlete’s endorsement is far from a new concept in advertising and marketing, it is unusual and innovative for the newspaper industry — and the reason we were able to break through the noise in the past year.

This endorsement also really resonated with our current subscribers, both sports fans and the uninitiated, since Klay Thompson is a well-known figure in the Bay Area.

The goal for the campaign was twofold:

  1. Increase brand awareness for the daily news brands The Mercury News, East Bay Times, Marin Independent Journal, and the parent brand, Bay Area News Group.
  2. Increase readership in both print and digital formats.

The Klay Offer campaign raised an incredible amount of buzz and was featured by ESPN, USA Today, Reddit, The NBA Ringer Show, and Editor & Publisher.

The slogan for the campaign, “Start a new ritual, read the paper,” was based on the actual pre-game ritual of Thompson. He reads the newspaper before each game. It is the authenticity and the sincerity of the campaign that brought it success, a lot of positive brand mentions, and new customers.

The campaign included TV, radio, billboards, bus kings, in-house ads, a robust paid digital campaign (programmatic, social, search, retargeting), an aggressive e-mail campaign, and creative point-of-sale promotion, such as life-size Klay cutouts to be used at kiosks and events.

We were able to drive more than 76,000 visits to the landing page since the launch in late October and we attribute close to 5,000 subscription conversions (both print and digital) to this campaign. The social reach was incredible with Klay Thompson’s Instagram views at 220,000, Twitter at 68,000, and Facebook at 2,700 views.

Pre- and post-wave research findings demonstrate that the campaign was incredibly successful.  The campaign impact on brand awareness was as follows:

  • Aided awareness for Bay Area News Group went up from 37% to 56%.
  • The Mercury News unaided awareness from 20% to 26%.
  • East Bay Times aided awareness from 46% to 55%.
  • Campaign impact on likelihood to purchase: The Mercury News uplift from 21% to 42%, East Bay Times from 17% to 31%, and Marin Independent Journal from 8% to 15%.

Looking at the macro trends, it’s clear that the quality of our starts went up significantly over the past six months. This improved our retention numbers and overall starts versus stops ratio. Our voluntary subscription rates were up during the active campaign months, and all other channels continue to report higher sales numbers: crews and kiosk sales report greater volumes of Sunday four-day and seven-day orders.

We received a lot of positive feedback from subscribers who appreciate that we are investing in our news brands and sending the message to a younger generation about the importance of staying informed with verified news sources.

An internal push launched before going public with the campaign and really did a lot to motivate and energise employees. We also leveraged the Klay Thompson campaign for a 30% increase in sign-ups for a Newspaper-in-Education programme that allows teachers to receive print newspapers or digital access for their classrooms.

In the era of fake news, our brand mission is to inform the community by telling accurate and compelling stories and to make sure that more people — especially the younger generation turns to verified sources of news.

About Olga Mitina

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