News publishers are facing an attention recession.
Across 46 news markets, 38% of news consumers say they’re actively avoiding the news at least sometimes, according to the 2022 Digital News Report from the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. In some countries, that number is much higher.
But that does not mean publishers can find success in the digital subscriptions space. Piechota said performance is linked to good long-term strategies, internal alignment and collaboration, operational excellence, and — critically — a readers-first culture.
During the master class, media leaders shared how their companies are bolstering their readers-first culture by deepening their understanding of current and prospective audiences, as well as using that knowledge to better serve them.
1. Build a deep understanding of audiences
Understanding the best ways to attract and engage new audiences is a challenge for all publishers. Agnes Stenbom, head of Schibsted’s IN/LAB, explained that the name of this initiative is short for “Inclusion Lab.” It focuses on audiences who are not currently consuming news by using design thinking to study specific groups of news outsiders and conduct experiments to see what these groups find appealing.
“Our work always starts with trying to understand the lived reality, the perspectives, the needs, and the wants of a specific group of news outsiders,” Stenbom said. “And we do that with the ambition to turn those insights into future opportunities, both for that audience and for Schibsted brands.”
That has taken the IN/LAB team out of the office and onto playgrounds, community centres, youth recreation centres, and more. It has organised workshops and invited teenagers to share their perspectives so it can better shape research experiments going forward.
That approach is similar to what Mónica Guzmán, senior fellow at Braver Angels and author of “I Never Thought of It That Way,” has used. Guzmán said much of the success of such efforts depends on asking questions at a high level to help remove assumptions. This helps lead to greater discovery.
“Rather than just say, ‘what kind of crime news do you want?’ [it becomes] ‘tell me your relationship to political news,’” Guzmán said. “You don’t put parameters around what their needs should look like or what the shape of it is. You really try to get to the sentiment; you know, what is the thing that ultimately matters to them?”
2. Reinforce your product’s value
On top of consumers changing, so is the economy, which is bringing about even more need for businesses to innovate, be creative, and find ways to adapt to market conditions. Kunle Campbell, co-founder of e-commerce acquisition platform Octillion Capital Partners, stressed how important it is to reinforce the value of what you’re selling.
“People are paying money for your product and in the news subscription space for your subscription,” Campbell said. “You need to reinforce the fact that it is valuable to them by essentially reminding them of the problem your product solves.”
Segmenting customers is one way Campbell suggests companies better understand how their customers perceive value.
“Value to you and value to me may differ,” Campbell said. “Through the power of segmentation, you may be able to translate value to that particular segment so it’s more personalised value communication to those segments.”
Surveying customers is another way to gather deeper communication. Campbell wants to see companies ask consumers why they’re in the market: “Until you get to the single source of truth, you really can’t take decisive action.”
3. Get the right content to the right people
The daily news reports these days don’t exactly get people to their happy place. But it is possible to deliver them to a happier space. Especially for next-gen consumers, who want to be distracted from events that trigger negative emotions. So how do you get them to come to you?
That’s where Sarah Marshall and Vogue’s audience development team come in and do their part: fashion as fantasy as well as news.
“Average audiences feel anxious, we feel powerless to change things,” said Marshall, Vogue United Kingdom’s global executive director, who also is in charge of social media and analytics. “We feel angry, we feel mistrustful of the news these days.”
Marshall described her team’s mission using key phrases that should be familiar by now to most in the media industry: strategic analysis, multi-platforms, growth and engagement.
In plain terms, getting the right Vogue content — and more of it — to the right people. The “one-and-done” audience will take a look at the next big streaming service choices, while the “returning” audience will consume the latest runway offerings. The “loyal” audience will delve into non-traditional subjects such as fashion NFTs and cultural diversity in the industry.
4. Be deliberate in event coverage
Planning for big news events and being more deliberate and calculated in live news coverage is a strategy that’s worked well for The Times and the Sunday Times in the U.K.
Magnus Cohen, deputy head of digital at The Times, said the company has spent years preparing to cover the death of Queen Elizabeth II, having the Queen’s obituary ready the moment she took the throne in early 1950s. When it came time to cover the event, The Times found the wants and needs of consumers changed by the day.
“Readers weren't so much interested in looking back at her life but more interested in looking forward in terms of immediately what was going to happen with the funeral, but also further away than that in terms of what’s going to happen with King Charles,” Cohen said.
On the day of her funeral, The Times saw peaks and valleys of viewership and content engagement throughout the day, Cohen said: “That just shows how these big news events can really skew how and when our consumers read our content.”