Australia's Bushfire Crisis
Overview of this campaign
Australia’s recent bushfire crisis was unlike anything we had experienced. For almost three months, the nation was gripped by a once-in-a-generation disaster: wildfires ravaged our landscape, smoke choked our cities and together they destroyed lives, businesses and ecosystems.
We know that when big stories communities, people turn to The Sydney Morning Herald. A trusted and experienced news brand of 188 years, with almost eight million readers per month, the Herald provides compelling, timely coverage without compromise.
But this was no ordinary news event. From the outset, it was clear our readers saw the biggest global challenge - climate change - as one of the most crucial elements of the bushfire crisis. We knew they wanted the Herald to be fearless in pursuit of the issues, providing leadership when politics and policy were failing. This major news event quickly became an opportunity to campaign for greater action on climate change and key brand attributes and use them to increase awareness with a wider audience.
We sought to develop the issues through unparalleled and engaging coverage: old fashioned news breaking, digital innovation and fact-based, grown-up analysis and commentary. We moderated thousands of comments each day to ensure high engagement on articles.
Our decision in the very early days to lift the paywall around all bushfire content meant not only was reader safety front and centre, but it showcased our commitment to engage a wide audience for comprehensive discussion and debate.
Even in the face of other major news stories like the New Zealand volcano eruption (which killed 20 people), we needed to prioritise this story particularly as air quality in our biggest city plummeted and fear and anxiety about the future rose.
From local communities to global audiences, the reader appetite for content throughout the crisis was unparalleled so we needed to match it and exceed their expectations.
Results for this campaign
Despite lifting our paywall and making all bushfire content free at the outset of the crisis (November), we still saw an increase in digital subscriber acquisition of 85 percent over the corresponding period last year.
Feedback from our readers was consistently that the Herald was providing not only the comprehensive coverage our readers and subscribers expected of such a major event, but also leadership in the key political and policy-based topics surrounding the human crisis.
Our key brand attributes of quality, independent journalism were exemplified by our coverage, reinforcing our unparalleled position as market leader with both subscribers and new readers.
We continued to provide reliable and trusted news breaks, fact-based analysis and commentary, as well as an opportunity to engage with other readers. We told stories in traditional ways as well as used innovation and fresh digital storytelling to enhance the reader experience.
The strength and quality of the content and our strategy to attract new readers meant the global media turned to us to showcase Australia’s plight. We used social media boldly and effectively. Climate activist Greta Thunberg retweeted our stories, the Washington Post shared a Herald photographer’s image to its 2.5 million followers and the BBC used our journalists for context and analysis. All of our social media platforms, too, saw a strong uplift in followers and engagement.
For the duration of the crisis, the Herald not only met but exceeded the expectations of a huge number of additional readers. Their overwhelmingly positive response saw them choose to support our journalism and what we stand for by subscribing.