In October, about 15 participants will have a special opportunity to attend Local Media Association’s first Innovation Mission in Philadelphia, focused on consumer revenue and digital transformation. Visits to The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and other innovative companies will offer deep insights and actionable takeaways.

For an indicator of what attendees can expect, we looked back at the Innovation Mission in New York City last November, where more than a dozen local media industry leaders gathered to explore consumer revenue and digital subscription innovations during visits to companies including HearstThe Wall Street JournalChartbeatThe Membership Puzzle Project, and more. As experiential and immersive learning opportunities, LMA Innovation Missions are truly unique, offering exclusive, closed-door meetings with leaders and exposure to cutting-edge concepts across media, technology, nonprofits and other disruptive industries.

Ron Rainey, lead developer at the Record-Journal in Meriden, C.T., attended the New York City Innovation Mission and brought back actionable takeaways for the Record-Journal’s consumer revenue roadmap. He shared valuable insight into how the Record-Journal has used lessons from the Innovation Mission to grow newsletter subscribers and digital audience.

1. Can you describe your role and the work Record-Journal is doing around digital subscriptions and consumer revenue?

My official role is as RJ’s lead developer, which means if we’re investing in a technology to improve consumer revenue, I’m hands on in shaping how we bring that technology into the company and how we maintain and utilize it. Of the many other hats I wear here at the RJ, I co-lead our consumer revenue team with EVP and Assistant Publisher Liz White and I co-lead our digital content team. Both of these teams are responsible for increasing consumer revenue: one through marketing, business and our acquisition funnel, and one from the content and reader-engagement side. In these teams we strategize and create long-term road maps for the company to increase our digital revenue. Most of the discussions we’ve had in these meetings over the last year have been around information and initiatives that we were able to take away from the NYC Innovation Mission.

2. The NYC Innovation Mission included nearly a dozen visits. Which were some of the most impactful and why?

Our stop at Hearst with Mark Medici was highly impactful. As they were coming out of a recent consumer revenue project of their own they were able to share a lot of success stories as well as pitfalls to avoid. I was grateful that they were so open and able to share so much – from the technologies they are using, to power their consumer revenue engine, to the specific subscription metrics and benchmarks they’ve standardized. They’ve had great success with the and we looked to that for many examples of positive changes we can make to our own websites. I think this was the single most influential stop of the entire trip. Mark definitely has his finger on the pulse of consumer revenue innovation. His emphasis on reader engagement really helped us make the decision to pivot toward engagement goals with our newsroom and digital content.

Chartbeat was also a great visit. Their presentation was based on solid site analytics collected across the industry. They presented the data clearly and without bias. It was a great eye-opener to see trending reader habits compared with historical habits, which allowed us to see the trajectory of readers across the internet over time. They have a great product with great technology that many publishers could benefit from.

3. What were some ideas or lessons you gained from the NYC IM?

There were so many, but the biggest general concept I came away with was this: Those publishers that have good audience data, segment it and are able to act on it are the ones finding success. Publishers need to get that granular audience data in order to give the right offer to the right person at the right time. The biggest hurdle, especially for smaller companies like ours, is that getting clean, actionable, audience data is either really expensive and requires significant investment in technologies, or is extremely difficult to build in-house and have the resources to run it.
I could go on and on about the takeaways form the trip- from networking to newsletter best practices, from reader reward programs to paywall behavior.

4. Have you been able to implement changes since the IM that have impacted business and specifically consumer revenue?

We’ve done a lot since the mission and I think we’re still only about halfway through our consumer revenue initiative. That’s how many takeaways we had from the trip and are able to act upon.

  • Using many best practices and benchmarks from the innovation mission, we focused on our newsletters both as an acquisition channel and as a mid-funnel conversion tool. As a result we’ve grown our newsletter audience by 450 readers month over month.
  • We’ve adjusted the language, type and timing of our digital subscription offers through newsletters, paymeter, etc., based on the success story data we got from others on the Innovation Mission.
  • We integrated Chartbeat Analytics with our sites and paymeter so that we are able to see engagement data from our readers and act upon that data. Our newsroom has pivoted from using overall pageviews as a key benchmark to session durations, time on page, returning readers and pages per session.
  • We’ve changed paymeter partners to a much more modern and flexible paymeter. We lowered the meter from 5 to 3, adjusted our messaging and changed how we meter social referrals. As a result we are seeing 3x the digital subscriptions on a daily basis.
  • We’ve implemented more personal touchstones with readers with editor-curated newsletters.
  • We’ve put together the outline of a reader rewards program for release in 2020.
  • We’re in the process of putting together a comprehensive onboarding strategy based on many success stories from Hearst, Second Street, and more.
  • We’ve implemented a slew of site updates to increase engagement, recirculation and time on page.

5. How does the IM experience compare to other professional learning opportunities you’ve utilized?

Rarely have I been at an event so immersive. To be suddenly surrounded by industry peers from around the country as well as “stars” of the industry, while simultaneously visiting some of the best and most successful companies who are actively giving data and information that you can act on — well it’s bar none, top notch. Or to put it in industry terms, the ROI is through the roof.

Learn more about LMA’s upcoming Innovation Mission in Philadelphia, Oct. 17-19, and register today.