At the opening keynote for SIPA 2019 last month, Danica Stanciu, a vice president at Politico, spoke about Politico Pro, a policy intelligence platform designed for pros on the frontlines of policy that they launched in 2011. It now reaches 4,000 subscribing organizations and 25,000-plus individual subscribers—and accounts for 60% of Politico's revenue.
Given the seriousness of the subject, it was enlightening to hear that they are doing successful initiatives like a Game of Thrones Playbook. "We're just taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there," Stanciu said. "Game of Thrones is everywhere. We drew in potential subscribers by producing a playbook [based on the show]. We're always looking for ways to focus on our audience and draw them in."
Stanciu went over what they've done right and wrong with Politico Pro in the last few years.
What they got right (that's led to double-digit growth since launch):
1. Leveraged existing brand. Politico has established a well-known and respected brand. "One of the first questions my sales team asked was, 'Are you familiar with Politico?'"
2. Focus on editorial depth and breadth. "We're live on Capitol Hill every day, Stanciu said. She related a story about running into a friend/subscriber with a phone in his hands in a Whole Foods after work—in front of the lettuce—and he said, "Guess what I'm doing? Reading your financial services vertical. "We have the depth and insight that will stop an individual in the middle of grocery shopping.
3. Editorial and business collaboration. "We all meet on a weekly basis," she said, while emphasizing a "thick wall" between them. "My editor believes that being close to subscribers keeps us relevant, getting feedback. He wants to know how the business is performing."
4. We listen to the audience. Our sales team is relentless in providing feedback to our staff—the good, bad and ugly. Editors will seek feedback from readers and can incorporate that into the content.
What they got wrong:
1. Underinvested in data processes. They had no sales metrics and accurate financials until 2016—five years without a sense of individual renewal and growth rates. "It hurt us as we tried to analyze and understand what drives our subscribers to renew."
2. We diversified very late. They invested heavily in reporting—130 reporters spread across the verticals, almost the same size as Politico's newsroom. "We focused on building editorial muscle but now we're playing catch-up with legislative and regulatory tracking," Stanciu said. "Subscribers want a single platform to get news and technology.
3. A limited definition of success. A reporter's metric is eyeballs on a story. "All of us want that," she said. "But Politico Pro is behind a paywall so we won't get that exposure." They're starting to put some stories in front of the paywall now. "We invested late in data and metrics. What are the number of influencers? Are they reading this piece of content? How do we bolster that and measure that. How do we best measure success within Politico?"
Today they are investing quite a bit in infographics. "The use cases for this are myriad," Stanciu said. "There are lots of ways to provide content and news to subscribers." They were also a bit late to the game in marketing and a focus on personas. "What are the use cases for each individual? The decision maker may not be the person who discovers us."
Now every piece of content is tagged and overseen by humans, and a focus is placed on corporations. "We have subscribers who literally have hundreds of seats with us," Stanciu said. Renewal rates are at 90%, after they invested a lot in onboarding. New subscribers get a welcome call. "Hi, we're your Politico Pro team." They'll schedule another call in a couple months. And then check in again through the year—most subscriber terms are for two years. "We've seen a [positive] reflection in our first-year renewal rates.
"People still come to us for the news and not tools and datasets," Stanciu said. "Our new platform will allow people to discover more data sets. That feed will not just have the news. It might have a recent committee hearing transcript that you can pull into your feed."