Concept du travail d’équipe avec les cadres dirigeants qui discutent pour définir la stratégie de l’entreprise au cours d’un brainstorming.

‘Share Journalism [You’re] Proud of’; How the Journal Sentinel Mobilized its Reporters to Grow Subscriptions

I once asked Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a division of the Financial Times, if he’s transparent with his staff. He said that, “when it comes to how the business is doing, yes. It creates accountability and keeps people on the same page.”

Mike Grebb, publisher of Cablefax Group, an Access Intelligence division, also once touched on that idea of the benefits of staff knowing more about their company’s inner workings.

“What’s made it better for us is the [open] way it’s done across the company,” he said. “You get the sense that editors are generally well-versed in the financial part of the business. We try to keep everyone abreast, not segmented off. I’ve worked at other companies—I came from the editorial side. As a straight editor or reporter, I never knew what was going on or how revenue was generated.

“[Here] I run a weekly meeting and bring the entire staff in—ad sales, subscriptions, marketing, events and awards as well as editors. We share as much information as we can every single week. We don’t get too much in the weeds on revenue; it’s more, ‘How’s that conference doing?’ ‘How’s the next awards program doing with nominations?’ Editors are constantly aware which are doing well and which aren’t.”

Grebb added that “generally, that sort of knowledge, even though it’s not directly part of their job, is good knowledge to have because I think they just have a better understanding of what the business is—say the necessity of working with sponsors. And they have to be part of the fold if it’s an event.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently adopted that transparency—meaning they emphasized to the newsroom that growing their subscriber base is the responsibility of everyone—and put their journalists on the frontlines of social media, writing about their work, how they do it, and most importantly, asking for people to subscribe.

Sensing that their digital audience was bigger than their digital subscriber base, Rachel Piper, digital news director at the Journal Sentinel, said that leaders there “asked our individual journalists to be ambassadors for digital subscriptions on social media.” In an article on the site Better News—a project of the American Press Institute and the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative—Piper outlined how they significantly increased their subscriber base:

Empowered their journalists. “Over time, individual reporters have built a strong sense of ownership over digital subscriptions…” Piper wrote. “Advocating for the Journal Sentinel brand and asking people to subscribe no longer seems like the responsibility of someone else in a different department. And when these reporters ask their followers and fans to subscribe, it has a different power than our other asks and offers.”

Gave them specific—and easy—ways to help. The paper’s loyalty and engagement news director wrote Twitter threads and asked reporters to, at a minimum, retweet these. She also wrote tutorials for how to change email signatures to include a link to their subscription offer page.

Made sure it was always about the content. Consultant Jim Sinkinson has always preached that subscribers need to be reminded and led to the great content you do sometimes. This is similar to that push to subscribe. “When encouraging those in the newsroom to share subscription callouts, we’ve made sure to tie it to our journalists’ excellent, important work,” Piper wrote. “Rather than telling reporters just to hawk the cheapest deal, we’ve asked reporters to share journalism they are proud of …and note that people can ‘support work like this by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at”

Here’s a typical tweet: “By the way, if you’re happy that the @journalsentinel has a reporter here covering this floor debate, another in the Senate, and two covering tonight’s State of the State, please subscribe!

Allowed the reporters to be more personal. They found that readers were interested in how reporters worked and wanted to know what stories they could look forward to. “Calls for subscriptions were key to these columns, but they were also a chance for us to be transparent about the work we do and for reporters to build their brands and connect with readers as individuals.” Some reporters even posted photos of their kids and pets.

Made it competitive. The Journal Sentinel runs subscription contests for their various newsrooms with prizes ranging from cash to ice cream socials. “…we stoked internal competition with updating tallies and pointed to successful efforts.”

It worked. Dozens of new subscriptions were tracked to individual pleas from reporters. They use URL codes to track the source of subscriptions. A big push during a contest typically brought in more than 100 subscriptions tracked to the newsroom. And in one contest that used promo codes for tracking, a photographer brought in 25—the most of anyone in Gannett.

Emphasized subscriptions over page views and created new measurements. Because page views are nice but subscriptions pay the bills, the Journal Sentinel kept that top of mind for the newsroom through celebrating milestones. “But we’re only now building measures like ‘associated new subscriptions’ into author-level analytic reports alongside page views.”

They asked for subscriptions, and that’s okay. I always hark back to this one independent movie theater here which shocked people a few years ago when it announced that it was going out of business but never asked for help. They had hundreds of people show up at a farewell the next week—ready to contribute—but it was too late.

They included all their journalists. Who knows what segment of your audience may feel the most loyal? Some of their most successful subscription calls were from their sports reporters. As a former sports writer, I’m not surprised.


‘This Will Take You to a Whole Other Level’; BIMS Speakers Lay Out the Strategies

“Company A Acquires Company B.” “Great, I read the same thing in Google,” Jim Sinkinson of Fired Up! Marketing once told us about a headline he received. “Your content should not be about the industry per se, it should be about the reader. There are important developments afoot in that acquisition that are going to affect me.”

Do you always have the reader in mind and the value you are conveying to her or him?


According to Sinkinson—who led The Ultimate Copywriting Bootcamp: Emails and Landing Pages at BIMS 2020—you should. “Company A Acquired Company B, and This Is How It Will Affect You,” he rejiggered the headline. “There’s a lesson here and we need to be prepared for the next lesson that looks like this. That will take your editorial to a whole other level.”


It was Matt Bailey who told me in September that “the landing page is the critical part that a lot of people forget about in this type of lead marketing or content marketing or even dealing with the [sales] funnel.” So Sinkinson’s bootcamp is must-see TV.


Here are five more strategies from BIMS 2020 speakers:


1. Customers want something to change. They spend money and expect something to happen, Sinkinson has said, perhaps even more so this year. “People do not buy your content because it is content. They are not buying facts from you.” They want benefits. “Learning is not a benefit, updates are not a benefit. Knowledge is sufficient but it is not enough. It doesn’t take you anywhere. You have to tell people what to do with it.”


2. Let your subscribers/audience tell stories. MedLearn Media depends on their Monitor Mondays podcast to bring a big audience in. When COVID-19 began, they “invited more healthcare professionals to the podcast to share and tell their stories of what they have been experiencing and seeing each week,” said executive director Angela Kornegor. “The response on the new format was astonishing. Our live attendance to our podcasts increased by 50% which not only gave us great insight and feedback into what our customers were looking for and craving, but gave us intel on topics we could produce webcast topics around.”


3. Build data products. “None of us spend as much time as we need to envisioning data products that solve specific problems,” BVR CEO David Foster has said. “Meanwhile, so many new market entrants have figured out ways to process results in real time and then build services around that information. Hearing these stories, with all their buzzwords, can scare niche information companies into inaction… The field remains wide open to provide value by creative analysis by market-knowledgeable experts. It’s what we’ve always done. We best add value to data in the same ways we’ve always thrived—with superior product plans for content extraction, refinement and delivery.”


4. Lead customers to the next level. “What’s the last question that you want to leave your client with so they’re going to move forward?” asked Leslie Laredo, president Laredo Group and the Academy of Digital Media. “It’s really interesting how many people haven’t prepared enough to know that question.” Laredo said you need to have your “ask” ready. “How are you going to advance the conversation?”


5. Develop a clear 2021 marketing strategy. “You need a full calendar that builds social media posts around what’s important to your readers,” Charity Huff, CEO of January Spring, once told me. “You can take the editorial you do and use it in so many different ways. We are helping publishers reach new readers, drive them to their site, and then monetizing them to advertisers and sponsors. Without a strategy, you end up chasing stuff that doesn’t matter or turn into revenue.”