Overview of this campaign
The Winnipeg Free Press has, since it was founded in 1872, prided itself on serving its local audience. But when we saw a need in the Canadian media market that wasn’t being met, we knew it was time to act. In November 2017, for the first time in our long history, we were ready to make a national play. So we launched The Leaf, Canada’s new one-stop shop for cannabis news - as timely subject as this country marches toward marijuana legalization, expected this summer. The Leaf is a separate vertical under the Free Press brand, with its own independent brand, logo, website, URL, feel and theme.There was no full-time cannabis reporter at a major news organization in Canada, and we saw (through stories we had produced to test the waters) that our readers were asking questions about this huge impending change in our landscape. We knew that we could provide the answers. We wanted to take this opportunity to expand our established reader base by providing a safe, responsible voice of truth and trust for cannabis news in Canada. It seemed to us that everywhere you looked on the internet, there was misinformation and stigma around cannabis legalization, and we decided to use our established history as a trusted news brand to change that. The ultimate goals for The Leaf were to increase our national footprint, create great content that our established audience was looking for, on a topic for which readers across the country had demonstrated an intense curiosity. On top of that, because of the paucity of quality reporting on cannabis in Canada, combined with the legislation elsewhere in the world that limits targeting audiences interested in cannabis, The Leaf provided us a distinct advertising opportunity.
Results for this campaign
For the launch of The Leaf, we built a new, mobile-friendly website and moved away from the Free Press’s paywall model. Despite the strong results of our paywall strategy, we decided to make this content free in order to strengthen our national visibility and bring in those who may not have been familiar with our brand or the quality of our content. We saw more than 10,000 users in the first month, which has grown at a pace of 50% per month since then. It’s still early days for The Leaf, but the uptake has been very encouraging. The most exciting part about this growth is that the majority of traffic came from Ontario, an area with huge audience potential but historically low source of traffic (15% of total visitors on average) to our website. It’s important to note that Ontario is a saturated media market with the highest population (and density) in the country, and yet these readers were looking out west to Manitoba for their cannabis news. In fact, readers from our home province are only the third-largest source of traffic to The Leaf, proving our national push is working. We hired a new full-time reporter for the project (Canada’s only full-time cannabis reporter), who has lent his expertise to our coverage on this topic across the board. We introduced The LeafLet, a newsletter with an open rate over 50%;a new advice column, Dear Herb, to increase reader engagement; and a development of a new product and vision for our sales team, involving new sales packs and advertising strategies. With The Leaf, the Winnipeg Free Press has made a truly national play for the first time in its history, bringing with it a unique opportunity to attract new readers and advertisers.