With a busy news year ahead, news media companies have many opportunities to capture and retain audiences. But, in a changing media landscape, publishers must employ new strategies to improve conversion rates and attract the attention of potential customers.
During this week’s Webinar, Converting the news cycle into digital subscription drivers, INMA Readers First Initiative Lead Greg Piechota brought in two experts to explain what they learned from previous years dominated by a robust news cycle.
Maria Sgromo, head of digital subscriptions for Corriere della Sera in Italy, and Andrew Kendall, managing director/subscriber revenue, Globe and Mail in Canada, shared that they both had enjoyed growth during 2023 and expect to continue that trend in 2024.
Riding the news cycle
For years, The Globe and Mail has focused on volume growth and, like other publishers, saw an uplift during the pandemic and 2020 U.S. elections. The company has capitalised on that increase and continues growing, something Kendall attributes to creating habits with new subscribers.
“When it comes to growing through from a news cycle, I think you live by the sword, and you die by the sword,” he said. New subscribers may not be familiar with the brand or the product, so reducing churn depends on onboarding habit development.
“We make sure people understand the utility within it so that we can attempt to develop a habit, especially for those who maybe have never been a registered user before or maybe have very light users of our product based on a news cycle.”
The Globe and Mail has an engagement team that focuses on two different aspects of business development: consumer and business. That team works with the product and editorial teams to ensure the messaging and goals are aligned, and they have a clear vision “to help us guide the roadmap from a product development standpoint,” Kendall said.
While The Globe and Mail enjoyed an increase from the U.S. elections, Sgromo said Corriere della Sera did not — and doesn’t expect to see an uplift from its 2024 elections “unless anything major happens.” However, she said the war in Ukraine “had a very big impact on our business in terms of traffic and subscription,” adding that the effect was significant and long-lasting.
“This year, for example, we are not expecting a lot from the United States elections. We’re expecting something more for the European elections,” she explained. “But this doesn’t mean that we are not ready from a marketing point of view to exploit all these kinds of events.”
Preparing for the threats
In a presentation before the panel discussion, Piechota shared some of the threats facing news media companies in 2024. As Facebook referrals decline and search functions are changing, he asked how the panellists’ companies are looking at reaching new audiences.
In Canada, legislation has already impacted the traffic from social media, and The Globe and Mail has worked to offset that decline: “We have to spend a lot more energy on the other areas that are working,” Kendall explained. “[We’re using] paid social; we’ve also started being more aggressive about app downloads. That’s become more important to us.”
The company has a relationship with Apple and is a partner on the Apple News+ platform, which also has helped with branding. The Globe and Mail also is refocusing its attention on newsletters, which has been a valuable channel for attracting users.
To offset the decline of social media referrals at Corriere della Sera, Sgromo said the company had emphasised branding and building brand awareness. Efforts have included a television campaign, which she said is highly unusual in Italy.
“But we do these TV campaigns where we always remind our targets of the value we are bringing in terms of news. This helps not only subscriptions but also our brand and direct traffic.”
Newsletters as a strategy
Like The Globe and Mail, apps and newsletters also play a key role in success at Corriere della Sera: “We are pushing to increase the download of our apps, and we are working to increase the offer of our newsletters. So we are trying to drive traffic and to create these habits of getting to our Web site by reading our newsletters,” Sgromo said.
Both companies offer a mix of free and subscriber-only newsletters, and Sgromo said the newsletters have been “an important trigger” for greater engagement: “Generally speaking, if a reader is subscribed to one of our newsletters, he has less chance to churn and if he’s not already a subscriber, he will convert into a subscriber.”
Most Globe and Mail newsletters are free, Kendall said, and are primarily intended to keep people coming back to the Web site — and to introduce the brand to new users. “We have a very wide range of newsletters that serve a lot of different interests intentionally to try and broaden our appeal,” he explained.
Attracting ears, not just eyes
Audio has also become part of publishers’ offerings, and both The Globe and Mail and Corriere della Sera are using it to grow audiences. The Globe and Mail has a main daily podcast, The Decibel, as well as other podcasts it features “from time to time,” Kendall said. “It’s an important part of our branding strategy, and we rely on it to generate new users all the time.”
Listeners play a key role in Corriere della Sera’s strategy for the coming year as well; Sgromo said the company has increased its podcast offerings: “We have the daily, we also have other kind of podcasts every day of the week.”
Despite the threats facing news publishers in 2024, the opportunities are ample and diverse, as Sgromo and Kendall illustrated.
Strategising to prepare for changes in search and social media, as well as looking at new content strategies for audio and newsletters, are among the elements that appear to be driving success for news media companies such as Corriere della Sera and The Globe and Mail. Coupled with the big news events occurring in 2024, from major elections worldwide to sporting events like the Summer Olympics to war, publishers can position themselves for growth.
“We’re talking about big opportunities for growing subscriptions this year,” Piechota said.