News publishers can capitalise on major 2024 events in these 4 ways

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


2024 is shaping up to be a huge year for news publishers. Expect higher demand for online news and for subscriptions, and start planning your journalism and marketing.

The engagement with online news, measured by the number of users, sessions, or pageviews on news sites, has fallen in 2023 to pre-pandemic levels.

Based on historical patterns, news publishers can though expect a significant increase in demand the next year, with several high-profile elections, a summer Olympics, and other major sporting events on the calendar:

  • Elections in 2024: e.g., presidential in the U.S., Russia and Taiwan, general in India, in the U.K., and parliamentary in the E.U.

  • Global sports events in 2024: e.g., the Summer Olympics, the UEFA European Football Championship, and the ICC World Cup tournament.

With planning and promotion, major news events can help news outlets engage readers, demonstrate value of quality journalism, and grow digital subscriptions.

Here’s how editors and marketeers can prepare:

1. Get the fundamentals right

Per INMA Benchmarks, some news brands see much higher spikes in traffic when big news breaks than their peers. 

These are usually brands with a reputation for breaking news coverage and analysis. The reputation drives direct visits from its mobilised readership. Big news events also attract casual readers to the well known brands with a broad distribution — established in search engines, social networks, and present in aggregators.

As a result, the fastest-growing brands saw three times higher increase in reach during COVID than the slow growers. They also enjoyed up to five times higher check-out efficiency, suggesting mature and optimised payment flows.

Think of soda drinks during a hot summer: The heat drives the need, but brand awareness, distribution, affordability, and frictionless purchase drive sales.

Therefore, the success during big news events is not pure luck. It is usually an outcome of years of investment in journalism, product, marketing, and agile organisation that allow all those collaborate and experiment at scale. 

As the news cycle makes or breaks the news business, timing matters. INMA Benchmarks analysed the performance of new paywalls starting in 2019-2020 and found that whoever launched before the pandemic had at least twice as many subscribers after 12 months than whoever was late — and the best performers had six times more subscribers.

2. Differentiate your product and brand ahead of the big news event

A review of the INMA case studies showed the leading brands prepared for the specific big news events well in advance.

They mobilised the newsroom, added staff or freelancers, and increased output of the relevant investigative and enterprise journalism, as, for example, The Washington Post did before 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

They invested in brand advertising focused on differentiation, as The New York Times did in 2017 with its Truth Is Hard campaign and others that followed.

They listened to readers’ needs and answered their questions through SEO-led pieces and long-shelf features, as Norwegian Aftenposten did with its election guides and quizzes in 2017.

Think of both mental and physical availability. Studies show most consumers don’t think much of brands until they need them; then they recall the brands they have fresh memories of and buy the ones most easily available.

3. Unleash a cyclone

Traditionally, news publishers engaged readers hoping they would convert one day. Starting in 2019, INMA identified a novel approach, often compared to a cyclone. 

The fast-growers made the conversion fast and easy, with tight paywalls but hugely discounted offers, and focused on engaging readers after they converted. They extended the runway with long trails. By now, this tactic has been adopted by most of the top 50 news subscription brands worldwide.

Some publishers, such as Dagens Nyheter in Sweden, experimented with opening the site for everyone who registered — for example, for three weeks leading to the election night. Out of 55,000 who signed up for a free trial in 2018, 18,000 eventually started paying, and 10,000 stayed customers two years later. This tactic performed so well that Dagens Nyheter repeated it at the next elections, the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine.

Think of news subscriptions as experience goods: One doesn’t really know their worth until tried. Sampling stimulates trials and learning during trials drives future demand.

Based in the case studies from Bild in Germany and The Boston Globe in the U.S., finding the most profitable combination of the trial length and the discount takes a lot of testing, but then publishers are able to deploy a new promotion overnight when an opportunity emerges. 

In general, the cyclone’s long-term success hinges on the effectiveness of the publisher’s retention programme, and that includes robust onboarding, engagement monitoring, and proactive churn prevention.

4. Plan, but get ready to ditch the plan when needed

The longer newsrooms prepare for an event, the more content they cook and keep in the fridge. 

Editor of the Times of London told INMA that a tighter package of stories worked best online rather than a broader one in print. And print supplements didn’t need to go online at all.

Readers’ interests also shift quickly. For example, two days after Queen Elizabeth’s death, few wanted to read about her life. And the best-performing articles looked forward and were solution-orientated — when Charles becomes King, how to watch the funeral.

Think about your editorial plan as an iterative process with a feedback loop based on data about how your readers interact with content on your site, but also what they search for, share, or comment.

Per Chartbeat’s analysis, some formats proved to be the most effective across the world during Brexit, COVID, or the war in Ukraine — live blogs or infographics led the rankings of the most-read content and engaged readers for longer times than other types of content. 

Publishers may add e-mail newsletters to their tried-and-true toolkit. It’s the second-best performing channel for loyal readers after your homepage, per Piano, and many editors told INMA about the success of their ad-hoc newsletters around big news events — from La Repubblica to the Financial Times.

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. INMA members may subscribe here.

About Greg Piechota

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