When he worked as a marketer, one of Sergio Almallo’s first decisions was to cut investment in press.

“I thought the newspaper was dying and they were not useful for our marketing investments,” said Almallo, general manager at El Comercio in Peru. “I think that I was wrong, and I will try to tell you why.”

Almallo and his fellow presenters explored opportunities for advertising opportunities outside of traditional selling in a series of presentations on the final day of the INMA World Congress of News Media in New York on Friday.

Sergio Almallo talks about how El Comercio used A/B testing and data to retain advertisers.
Sergio Almallo talks about how El Comercio used A/B testing and data to retain advertisers.

El Comercio still has a significant print audience, with reach and depth that extends across the company’s portfolio. This is a space where brands and audiences meet, Almallo said: “It’s a safe space, a trusting space, and I think that’s why we have a lot to offer and bring to the table.”

The value of print advertising

Outlining a case study of how the company has leveraged its portfolio, Almallo said a customer reduced their spending from US$410,000 in 2015 to US$110,000 in 2018. This customer recently approached El Comercio about ending the relationship entirely.

To encourage the client to keep its investment in the company, the team decided to run A/B testing to determine which brands across the portfolio would give the customer the biggest ROI. El Comercio gave the client free space across its brands and created unique telephone numbers to track which titles performed the best.

Sales rose dramatically, causing the client to double its investment. Another test revealed which four titles were best for the client. Now, the client has returned its investment to the spending level it had in 2015.

Almallo said there are three lessons from this experiment: companies should stress the importance of frequency and must be flexible with experimentation. His team also learned the continued importance of print.

“We should transform ourselves to digital; everyone talks about that but nobody talks about the value that we can take out of print,” he said. “And there is value to take out of print.”

Obsessed with customer outcomes

Emma Fawcett of News Corp Australia also shared the case study about News Xtend, of which she is general manager. News Xtend is a marketing services agency that resulted from a hackathon in 2014.

“We decided early on that rather than push channel or product to customers, we are going to be obsessed with customer outcomes,” Fawcett said.

Emma Fawcett says News Corp Australia is obsessed with customer outcomes.
Emma Fawcett says News Corp Australia is obsessed with customer outcomes.

News Xtend offers 35 services at varying levels of ROI evaluation. Clients re-evaluate Web sites every three to five years, Fawcett said, but clients question the value of print every time they place an ad.

“What are the services and prices that we can offer that give us that kind of longevity with customers?” she asked the INMA audience.

Fawcett shared five things the News Xtend team has learned so far.

1. Ad customers can be moved to subscription customers.

All of the lessons applied to reader subscription efforts can be applied to clients as well, Fawcett said. Moving them up the chain is crucial to forming a strong relationship. They may start with a print transaction, but eventually they should be buying print and many other services that are stickier.

“We want to be the ones where, if they have any challenge in their businesses, they turn to us first,” she added.

2. You can transition print sales people to digital.

“Our belief is you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Fawcett said.

News Xtend worked to find innovative ways to train the sales team. A gamified learning programme, which is a finalist in the INMA Global Media Awards, trains staff while rewarding them with days off and other offers.

3. Scaling a business is just as hard as transforming one.

“Actually, scaling a business is harder than starting one because you have no infrastructure and you have to start from scratch,” Fawcett said.

4. Be clear on the metrics that matter (and it’s not always revenue).

Fawcett said revenue is a result when you get the foundational data underneath that supports growth in goal achievement.

5. We can prove the efficacy of print.

The News Xtend team compared data and found that a digital campaign performs better when supported by a print campaign. When they proved this, customers spent more on print.

“I think as an industry we haven’t done a great job of this,” Fawcett said. “I think we’ve abandoned our media to the tech industry without really working hard to prove that they work.”

Focusing on the audience

Shifting the conversation to an audience point of view, Lexi Jarman, global director of content at the Financial Times, said focusing on audiences will help the company increase revenue and retention.

Lexi Jarman explains how the Financial Times focuses on customer outcomes.
Lexi Jarman explains how the Financial Times focuses on customer outcomes.

A two-part study on branded content began with a qualitative study on a group of 50 people. Lessons from the first stage then informed the direction for the second, which was online surveys and interviews with 500 people.

“What we found, wonderfully, is that 90% of people really like branded content as a way for brands to engage with them,” Jarman said.

It is crucial for branded content to be high quality so the industry does not break trust with audiences. Jarman defined quality in four dimensions:

  1. It needs to be informative or useful: “They really are critical of anything that doesn’t offer them personal or professional value.”
  2. Don’t sell to me: “Really not a surprise. It really is a guiding principle at the FT when talking about branded content.”
  3. It has to be well written: “Ultimately it should be something of equal quality as the journalism surrounding it.”
  4. It has to come from a reliable source: “We are a reliable source, and if we are not applying that same level of quality, we are going to turn people off.”

Everybody benefits when publishers get branded content correct, Jarman said. Breaking audience trust not only affects the brand-backing sponsored content, but the publisher’s brand as well. The onus is on the publisher to ensure the information they are providing is true and honest.

“If we don’t use those foundations, we are not likely to set up a business that is likely to succeed,” Jaman said. “You won’t get those return advertisers. You won’t keep those audiences. And once those advertisers and audiences go away, you don’t really have a business at all.