MediaNews Group Unlocks Digital Subscriptions, Audience and Advertising Growth
2021 Finalist

MediaNews Group Unlocks Digital Subscriptions, Audience and Advertising Growth

MediaNews Group

Denver, United States

Category Digital Subscriptions

Media associated with this campaign

Overview of this campaign

Throughout 2020, we set out to prove that digital subscriptions, audience, and advertising objectives can work together to accelerate the virtuous flywheel of product growth. At the same time, we wanted to further demonstrate that cross-business, multi-functional teams working together drive better outcomes.

We started by selecting a strategic North Star metric to rally around — known readers as a percentage of total readers. Known readers have a higher propensity to convert into paid subscribers, correlate to the most engaged users, and yield a premium in advertising marketplaces — we therefore set our long-term focus on improving the percentage of known users from 2% to 5% in two years.

After our North Star was identified, we brainstormed many ideas to reach it in, but kept coming back to email newsletter adoption as the key to unlock our known user objective. We ultimately selected three interrelated initiatives to pursue simultaneously under the email newsletter umbrella, and established an end of 2020 target to achieve them:

  1. Drive new paid subscriptions via a series of email registration wall experiments while learning whether a hybrid paywall has long-term viability. This became increasingly important as COVID-19 encouraged us to offer more content in front of the paywall. OKR: 5% opt-in rate, with 5% of opt-ins converting to paid subscribers over 6 months. Participants: corporate and publisher digital subscription teams.

  2. Make the internal publishing tool easier for editors to use while expanding email newsletter publishing across our brands. OKR: expand email newsletters to all brands, and regularly publish more than 300 unique newsletters. Participants: corporate and publisher audience and editorial teams, and product development.

  3. Deeper monetization of programmatic dynamic ad units within the email newsletters. OKR: 3x increase in programmatic revenue. Participants: corporate programmatic and publisher advertising teams.

We regularly monitored progress throughout 2020, and established two key experiments in March and September through which we proved out our hypotheses.

Results for this campaign

A cross-functional, cross-department, multiple-brand MediaNews Group team delivered these outcomes in nine months via our email newsletter umbrella initiative:

  • North Star metric:

    • Known readers increased from 2 to 4%, closing in on our long-term 5% target.

  • Digital Subscriptions:

    • In March 2020, we launched a newsletter signup experiment (registration-light) to keep the 4th free article free, yielding opt-in rates over 15% (we expected 5%). In doing so, we were also able to bring more vital content to all readers during COVID-19.

    • From September to November 2020, we expanded the email registration wall across 50% of our brands in another A/B test. Brands running the registration wall observed an 8-10X increase in weekly organic newsletter sign ups with no significant decrease in page views, compared to the group with only a paywall. Similarly, we projected conversions from a hybrid regwall/paywall strategy to be 40% higher than a paywall-only strategy. We continued the email registration wall as a result, with the added benefit of tightly correlating to audience engagement. It’s now core to our first-party data collection strategy.

    • Digital subscriptions grew by 86% versus 2019, and we observed a 50% increase in new subscriptions driven by newsletters.

  • Audience:

    • >350 newsletters are now published using an email newsletter capability integrated into our content distribution platform, leading to a 50% increase in the share of newsletter referred subscription conversions as a percentage of all referral channels.

    • As a result, email now over-indexes compared to other referral sources. Readers acquired through email are 11 times more likely to convert than readers acquired from other sources.

    • Opt-ins, email sessions, reads and clicks grew, demonstrating reader engagement. 

  • Advertising:

    • Increased inventory to monetize through newsletter publisher expansion, centralizing into programmatic advertising.

    • Dynamic ads within email newsletter to optimize viewability.

    • Email newsletter programmatic revenue grew 6x.

See PDF upload for quantitative evidence.

Working together, the forces of subscriptions, audience, and advertising can lead to product ecosystem acceleration, to the benefit of all company stakeholders, publishers, readers, and brands.


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