Cracking the Code: How to Sell to and Engage Younger Subscribers with Journalism
Overview of this campaign
A core challenge for legacy publishers is that their traditional customer base skew more than a little old. This represents a fundamental challenge: if we’re unable to remain relevant to the young, then the clock is ticking for our entire business.
Fortunately, throughout our transition to a digital subscription economy, all data have pointed in the same direction: it is possible to attract younger customers. It is possible to engage them. And it is possible by adjusting our journalism - without sacrificing quality.
The question is how.
In 2019, we’ve approached the topic systematically, building on previous work, across 8 steps:
Focus groups with 72 subscribers from six newspapers, with answers from the below-40 thoroughly analysed.
Initial data analysis of approximately 1,000 articles, gauging propensity to engage below-40 readers.
Initial communication of findings to all newsrooms.
Launching v1 of a live dashboard, enabling editors and journalists to understand how their journalism engages younger cohorts.
In-depth testing of concrete hypotheses with select, particularly motivated newspapers.
A second, more thorough analysis of a much larger article data set, with improved data, splitting engagement on gender as well as age cohort. A key finding: age of sources tend to correlate with age of the engaged reader.
Formulating in a playbook on how to write journalism engaging the 30-39 age bracket:
Think from a young perspective. Can we e.g. tell a story from the real estate market in a way that feels relevant for a family with kids?
Interview people under 40
The usual news criteria apply
Schools, kindergarten, labour market and nightlife are of particular interest, but all topics can engage
Seek out sources in contact with kids or parents – to discover particular story ideas
An updated, more data-rich yet easier-to-use dashboard, to track editorial engagement with the target segment.
Results for this campaign
The effect of the engagement strategy is striking when you look at the journalism our newspapers produce: less grey-haired men in power positions, and far more younger faces - both in pictures and in text. But also, and significantly, in sales to the below 40 age group.
An excellent example may be found on Norway’s west coast, in the Firda newspaper. An initial strategy session led to a systematic effort to talk to younger readers between 30 and 39. Significantly, Firda’s management ensured that the job was not shunted off to a “youth team” of younger, less experienced reporters. Every single reporter in the entire newsroom had to contribute, every day – whether they covered business, sports or breaking news.
The effect was immediate, and steep: from early June to the end of 2019, the number of subscribers in the below-40 bracket grew by 16% in little more than six months - significantly contributing to Firda’s subscription growth last year. Growth has continued into 2020.
But growth hasn’t been isolated to Firda - other newsrooms have done impressive work, and as a whole for Amedia, we’ve seen a 15 percent growth curve in the below-40 demographic in the period on 1% in rest of the subscription base. Our journalism has changed, with younger sources and stories that younger age cohorts care about. Reassuringly, a story that is well-read among younger readers more often than not performs equally well among an older demographic.
Finally, we do not see this work as a one-off effort. We need to be aware that the choices we make as journalists every day - who we talk to and the stories we cover - actually shape the impact of our journalism, and our long-term viability as credible sources of information on our communities.
The foundation of our position - and the future financing of our journalism - is relevant content. The work we’ve done on younger readers has generated a firm belief that we’re able to navigate challenging times successfully.