Project Engage
2021 Finalist

Project Engage

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

North Sydney, Australia

Category Digital Subscriptions

Overview of this campaign

Our audience demonstrated their recognition of paying for news they could trust at such a critical time. We needed to know how the needs, triggers and habits of the subscribers acquired during the pandemic differed from our existing subscribers. The insights revealed the importance of our strategic fundamentals. To successfully retain these subscribers, we must:

  • Build ongoing habits with our products: Becoming part of our subscribers’ daily routine was key if we were going to retain them in a world post-COVID. We launched a campaign to drive engagement with key subscription features to encourage habit formation, utilising data insights from our Product team to target the less engaged, ‘riskier’ cohorts. Key habits included downloading the app, signing up to newsletters and even playing Crosswords. We also revised our subscriber lifecycle programs to ensure timely and relevant messaging across our communications. 

  • Connect subscribers to our newsroom:  Keeping our subscribers informed, connected, and engaged during the pandemic was critical. We wanted to build a sense of connection with our brands, giving them ‘access to the newsroom’ during this historic moment. We worked closely with Editorial to deliver behind the scenes stories with our ‘Note From The Newsroom’ campaign. Our key journalists wrote personal notes for our subscribers, sharing the highs and lows of producing news during the pandemic. We also used the opportunity to launch our first subscriber exclusive virtual event.  This gave subscribers direct access to our journalists, drove a stronger connection with the brand, our editorial team and ultimately their subscription.  

  • Foster brand advocacy: To foster our new audiences, both readers and subscribers, we developed a powerful brand campaign to help validate their decision to support our journalism. Launched across TV, BVOD, podcasts and digital, the campaign reinforced the value of journalism and the role our subscribers play as part of our community of independent thinkers. Adapting to the pandemic production realities, we used our own journalism talent and photojournalism to tell the story.

Results for this campaign

Through the targeted efforts of Project Engage, our retention rates for the subscriber cohort acquired across March-June 2020 are above our standard retention benchmark, even now over six months later and after the end of their subscription promotional period. Although this cohort was acquired during an unprecedented news event, we successfully used insight, data and the power of brand advocacy to convince this group that our content was worth paying for, not just during a pandemic, but staying for over the long term. This has been critical at a time when advertising revenue has been challenged, with reader revenue now accounting for 60 cents in every dollar of revenue - an important milestone for the business. 

Putting engagement with journalism at the heart of our strategy delivered exceptional results throughout 2020. Performance metrics with our email communications sit significantly above industry benchmarks, showing how connected our subscribers are with targeted campaigns that take them behind the headlines or help them form a lasting daily habit with their subscription features. 

With a focus on building brand advocacy with our new subscribers, the brand campaign we launched during this time was our strongest brand campaign to date, contributing to uplifts in core brand perception metrics over FY20-21 amongst our subscribers and readers. This campaign went from concept to launch in as few as six weeks demonstrating our ability to be nimble in order to deliver for our subscribers.

Although COVID-19 drastically changed the game, we chalk our success to the fundamentals of subscription excellence: building ongoing habits with our products, connecting subscribers to our newsroom, and fostering brand advocacy. Combined with ongoing high acquisition rates, Project Engage saw us deliver substantial double-digit growth in digital subscribers in 2020. 



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