Thirteen news organizations from Canada recently wrapped up the Meta Journalism Project’s Accelerator program, focused on reader revenue. Local Media Association staff joined and participated in the virtual workshops.
The news organizations were invited to 12 weeks of group sessions led by Blue Engine Collaborative, a consortium of mission-driven consultants and advisors focused on transformative digital audience growth and revenue. As part of the program, participants also received customized coaching from the team at Blue Engine. Together with their coaches, Accelerator teams put together test and project plans to jump-start or grow their digital subscription/membership businesses. Teams also received grant funds to execute on their reader revenue strategies.
Each of the 13 Canadian news organizations that wrapped up the Accelerator program had a common goal: grow their number of email subscribers.
Over the course of nine months, publishers collectively added more than 23,000 newsletter signups. Those signups also led to 4,700 new members, subscribers or donors and generated more than $1 million (U.S.) during the program.
In addition to “buttonizing” their emails and websites, several news organizations launched custom email marketing campaigns, which drove new signups in several ways: highlighting their unique content, explaining the value of their journalism and the impact of the financial support.
Here are some of the examples:
Email onboarding series
Team members at Energetic City knew that when they grew email subscribers, they needed to find effective ways to make them engage with content and consider donating.
The team, which covers Fort St. John in British Columbia, decided to launch an onboarding series – not to bombard newcomers, but to give them an incentive to stay connected.
The month-long email series showcased Energetic City’s investigative work and concluded with a personal note from staff members asking readers for financial support.
Greg Armstrong, reader engagement lead, said the email onboarding series helped double the number of average engaged newsletter readers from roughly 1,000 to more than 2,000.
“That warmed people up, and by the time they got to the end of the month and we were asking for money, they were used to [the content],” he said.
Highlight investigative work
The Hub, a national news site focused on commentary and news analysis, saw a burst in donor activity after it launched an email campaign highlighting some of its long-form investigative journalism.
The email blast, titled Medicare Meltdown, resulted in 21 new donors and raised $1,300 over two days.
Stuart Thompson, editor-in-chief at The Hub, said that healthcare is the hot topic in Canada, so there was a lot of interest in the series.
The success of the campaign showed that the team needed to re-package and highlight its important work more often.
“Anytime we do something good, we’re going to go back and ask people for money,” he said.
Subscription offers in email campaigns
The team at Le Soleil, which covers the French-speaking community in Quebec, wanted to focus on reducing subscriber churn, so team members added some incentives for subscribers.
Like Energetic City, they launched a three-month onboarding series for new subscribers explaining the value of the subscription.
Marc Gendron, director of digital growth for the company, said that since Le Soleil is an employee-owned media company, money spent supporting the company remains within the region.
“They are helping people that live in their neighborhood, so we emphasize that.”
Subscribers who opted to unsubscribe were presented a custom offer to keep their subscription for an additional three months at $1 per month. This resubscription campaign resulted in 224 retained subscribers.
The team continued to push for subscription growth by adding a Black Friday email promotion, which resulted in 500 new subscribers.
Weekly member email campaign
The Capital Daily, a community news site that covers Victoria, British Columbia, has a pretty sizable number of free readers at 55,000 a day; however, the publication was converting only 3%-4% of those readers.
As part of the program, team members focused on rebranding their membership program to build up the true impact of a membership.
Tom Gierasimczuk, vice president of partnerships, said it went from a “tugging on the heartstrings” approach to a benefits-based interactive approach.
They launched a weekly email campaign sent directly to members called Insider that focused on member benefits and arts and entertainment coverage. Readers indicated in a previous survey that they would like more access to information about arts and things to do around town.
“We focused on the idea of positioning them as enablers of the community,” he said. “[Members] empower us to do that locally.”