The Crisis Editorial Strategy That the FT and Northwestern Agree on

“It may seem to be verging on madness to make this move during such unusual times, but we have found this new currency, properly communicated, has given everyone involved a new sense of purpose at a strange time.”
That quote comes from Tim Part, a manager at FT (Financial Times) Strategies in London, in an article on the INMA website yesterday.
The new currency he is talking about is the introduction of a reader lifetime value (LTV) into their editorial lexicon. “Long ago we realized the story of reader engagement was a better one to tell to the newsroom compared to a simple volumetric yarn about pageviews,” Part wrote. “Quality reads and RFV (revenue, frequency, volume) scores have long been embedded in the newsroom, but it was important to move toward LTV as a key metric.”
Interestingly, I looked up reader lifetime value and came across pre-pandemic research from Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center that also pushes retention and individual subscriber value over the effort and expense of attracting new subscribers—though with different initials: CLV.
“Being able to move a reader to a subscriber, while important, has much less leverage and value than growing the long-term value of that subscriber,” said Tom Collinger, Spiegel’s executive director. “Understanding and then working to grow [customer] lifetime value (CLV) is a well-known goal and measure in the retail and e-commerce space. [CLV is a] far newer and less familiar goal” in American news organizations, but it’s one they should embrace as customer revenue becomes more of a priority and advertising dollars become less of one.
Here are key takeaways from Northwestern’s research and FT Strategies’ “new currency”:
Add dedicated Slack channels. While Zoom meetings can work internally, FT’s Part said it’s the “informal chatter around the main news desk” at events that needs to be created virtually. “Dedicated Slack channels were set up to replicate this as much as possible.”
Look at new technology. A new tool, Spark, “enables our journalists to collaborate more on articles. It means the messaging platform is less cluttered,” Part wrote.
Keep your audience informed. “The [FT Strategies] audience engagement team also beefed up its existing daily e-mail communications to ensure this remained the place to keep track of the many new initiatives the FT has launched during these unprecedented times.”
Keep your newsletters strong. “The newsletter is one of those things that is going to bump you from 97 to 98 [retention rate],” said Ed Malthouse, Spiegel’s research director. “The way someone running a newsroom should think is as follows: ‘I’m going to need to devote a reporter to create that newsletter. What’s that worth?’ There are costs associated with having that reporter. Everybody who subscribes to the newsletter—let’s say they go from having 25 to 40 future payments. You can then do the math to determine whether it is a smart thing to do.’“
Monitor engagement, even more now. “Many news organizations, understandably, have been laser focused on acquiring new digital subscribers,” said Medill Senior Associate Dean Tim Franklin. “But what this research shows is that isn’t nearly enough, and is not even the most important thing. News organizations need strategies to build long-term loyalty with the subscribers they already have. Otherwise, they’re just pouring water into a leaking bucket.”
Take into account the patterns of the new normal. I wrote a column about this last week when a dryer vent cleaning company targeted Saturday as the best day to schedule everyone, even though so many people are home during the week now. FT’s Part said they see their audience’s new behavior and hours in their metrics and reminds us that “the commute has disappeared, leading to a flatter level of consumption, but one which starts an hour earlier and finishes an hour later. Journalists need to understand these new patterns and be able to produce content tailored to them.”

‘An Opportunity to Tout Your Vital Role’ – Moving Past All-Crisis News

The excellent site What’s New in Publishing has put out a new report titled The Publisher’s Guide to Navigating Covid-19, looking at eight trends that have emerged globally, as well as strategies that publishers have implemented as a result of increased web traffic.
Let’s take a look at four of those trends and see how they affect smaller publishers.
COVID-19 has changed our media habits. We’re spending more time with streaming services, social media and messenger services. Gaming has also seen a major pandemic bump. “Many people say that they expect their new habits to continue after the COVID-19 outbreak passes too,” said Simon Kemp. “One in five internet users say they expect to continue watching more content on streaming services, and one in seven (15%) say they expect to continue spending more time using social media.” Given this, they say, publishers need to find more ways in which they can make their new relationships with audiences as “sticky” as they can—to take advantage of the now-waning COVID bump.
“We need to think how we can make our news and information [continue to be] relevant, but especially how we can make people aware about the width and breadth of coverage we can do…,” Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post, told us in May. “We’re thinking very deeply about what are the things, the products, the tools that we can offer our audience and how can we bridge [new subscribers] from caring about the news in the time of the virus to caring about the news when things are going better.”
Publishers are producing new products. As I wrote recently, we’re seeing new whitepapers like InsideARM, which addresses the debt industry, promoting a free whitepaper titled Succeeding in Collections Today Requires More Agility. Future plc must have read the WNIP report because independent media analyst Alex DeGroote said this: “Some of its products skew towards gaming—like Techradar—and gaming has gone nuts in lockdown.”
According to members of WAN-IFRA’s Global Media Trends Panel, more than half of the editorial executives they surveyed had launched new products as a result of the pandemic. “Newsletters are the most common product,” they found, “with some 55% saying they have launched them, followed by infographics (49%), and videos and live blogs (30%).” Interestingly, further research found that the decrease in commuters has been offset by consumers listening to more podcasts (ranging from 13-16% globally). There has even been growth in advertising revenue for podcasts.
People, more than ever, need a broad content mix. The Pew Research Center reported that, “about seven-in-ten Americans (71%) say they need to take breaks from news about the coronavirus, and 43% say the news leaves them feeling worse emotionally.” So even if you draw people in with COVID-related content, you can only keep them engaged with more variety. “This may involve telling stories in fresh and innovative ways, exploring new beats and approaches to storytelling (such as solutions journalism),” they write. “To this, I would also recommend looking more at the power of your archive, evergreen content, and highlighting stories from the past 3-4 months which may have been overlooked as a result of the pandemic.”
Focus on starting and building a long-term relationship. “At the risk of sounding too cynical, the increased digital readership is an opportunity for publishers to tout their vital role in providing news and information to their communities—and to form ties that can last after the crisis subsides,” wrote Rob Williams on MediaPost. Although Deloitte’s latest Digital Media trends survey said that U.S. consumers had an average of 12 paid media and entertainment subscriptions pre-COVID-19, their data also shows that consumers are busy adding new subscriptions (often taking advantage of trial pricing and ad-supported services), cancelling old ones, and also trying out new services.
Again, you can download here.