‘Helping Readers Do Their Job Better’; for Money-Media, Subscriptions and a High Renewal Rate Stem From That



















“It’s a simple formula,” Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times division, said. “We create great content, then we drive engagement with that content and then we monetize the engagement. We work very hard not to overcomplicate it. Everything feeds into that formula.”


After listening to Fink deliver a SIPA webinar on Cornerstones of a Successful Subscription Business Thursday, I can most assuredly say that at Money-Media there is no resting on your laurels. Or anything else. Renewals are close to 100%, yet they’re still working it.


“Renewals are critical,” Fink said. “You have to remind people why they bought [the subscription] to begin with. Restate your value proposition—99% of the renewal decision is based on engagement of that user… It’s critical to onboard new subscribers successfully. Make sure they can easily log in. And if they haven’t accessed anything or they’re not receiving your news alerts, you’ve got a problem.


“We use different levels of analysis to look at every subscription we have. Are there any at-risk subscriptions? [If so,] we need to increase engagement to reduce that risk. You have to communicate regularly [with your subscribers]. For each company that subscribes, they have an administrator who we send a report that we generate. ‘Here’s how many users you have—we want that number to keep going up. Here are your top 10 users. Here are the top 10 headlines people are reading across your company.’ We do this every quarter.”


Here are other highlights from Fink’s webinar, which will soon be available on-demand to SIPA and media division members shortly.


This is a good time. “Subscriptions have reverse correlation to economic downturns,” Fink said. “When the going gets tough,” people still cling to their subscriptions. “Society has acknowledged that good journalism is expensive to produce; people are recognizing the need to support high-quality journalism. It’s a simple and straightforward business model. There are very few third parties in the value chain along the way.”


Define your audience. “Make sure you can clearly define your audience in a way that they are identifiable and reachable. For Money-Media, one of our core [audiences] is the asset management industry—retail investment managers, institutional investors, intermediaries in this industry. We’re going to serve people in those specific sectors.”


Know your value proposition. It has to resonate with the audience, and being unique or proprietary works best.


Make your content “simply better.” “Maybe it’s more accurate or more timely. For our Health Payer Specialist, we announced its launch one week before the pandemic became a real thing in the U.S. We converted a beta test into a full-fledged product with a paywall and subscription fee. It proved surprisingly successful… Our news is very specifically dedicated to that audience. The way we write, our coverage, and what we’re not covering makes our product better [in this case] for health insurance providers.


Your paywall has to be aligned with your value proposition and audience. “We use a walled garden where no content is accessible outside the garden,” Fink said. “They can get a tour of the garden but that’s it.” He admitted that it’s pretty severe in this age, but it reflects the confidence they have in their content. Fink called the paywall where access must be paid for special content a “VIP lounge.” And the third and perhaps most popular paywall is the volume meter, where you get access to a certain number of articles a month.


Is your content helping your readers do their job better? “Producing great content is not cheap,” Fink said. “It has to keep people reading and really engaged. It’s helpful to have a clear mission. How does your product affect your audience? At Money-Media our mission is helping our readers do their job better. We’re all pretty much B2B, targeting very specific sectors. That [mission] gets used by us on a daily basis. Maybe they’re interested, but does it affect their success level in their business?”


How do you know if the content you’re producing is great? Audience engagement. “The ultimate measure of quality content is about engagement. ‘Is it great in the eyes of the audience I’ve identified?’ We track everything. It’s very easy to look at clicks, but you have to go deeper than that. We’re looking at page time spent. Most clicks don’t equal aggregate page time. Did they scroll down? Did they share it with colleagues? Did they post it in social media? Did they come back? Even page time is not a perfect measure. They could walk away with it open and make a sandwich.”


Ask for renewals early. “Even 30 days in advance is cutting it close,” Fink said. “We start at 90 days. [If they expire,] we might extend service beyond that date. But there has to be a risk of an interruption in service. Renewal time is also a great time to upsell or raise prices. If you have a great product and people are engaging with it, you really need to raise the price. If you can’t do that, you have a content or product problem.”


Again, the webinar will be loaded shortly on the SIPA website.


Value Propositions, Innovation and Engagement Get People to Join/Renew

In my Q&A with Matt Bailey last week, I mentioned the exercise he had us all doing at BIMS one year: state your company’s definition—what-it’s-primarily-about—in six words. It really made you get rid of the excess language we tend to use, and think about your main revenue driver.
I recall that because in Marketing General’s 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report (download here), they say the following: “The first and most noteworthy condition for membership success is understanding and building the value proposition for your membership. The data shows that members join for networking with others in the field, continuing education, accessing specialized information, and learning best practices in their profession.”

They also say that “only about half of [organizations] consider their value proposition to be very compelling or compelling (48%). On the other hand, 42% find their organization’s value proposition to be only somewhat compelling.

That’s a bit staggering and in need of change. They add that the organizations gaining members are the ones who say that they do have a compelling or very compelling value proposition—obvious but still worth noting.
Here are more highlights from the report.
Even now—or maybe especially now—it’s important to encourage innovation. “Our data shows that a culture of innovation is the critical driver for creating member value. “Try something new or you’ll plateau and decline,” one respondent said. Again, those who have seen member gains “are significantly more likely to have a process in place for innovation and new ideas” and vice versa.

Amplify these areas. We all talk about wanting greater interaction with our audience/members/community. Here are four areas where respondents are seeing it:

– the use of an organization’s mobile app;
– participation in social networks;
– webinar attendance; and
– participation in their young professionals programs.

Have a plan to engage. This is not a surprising one, but respondents have been consistent in sharing why they do not renew—a lack of engagement with the organization. “However, when associations establish an active program to engage members and increase their usage of benefits, membership retention increases. Almost 80% that have seen an improvement in renewals state that they have a tactical plan to increase engagement.”
Get people talking. By quite a large margin, word-of-mouth recommendations is the best channel for acquiring new members. Email is second but its numbers have gone slightly down. Events/meetings came in next but this was pre-pandemic.
Still have to try to facilitate networking. When asked for the top three reasons members join, 61% said “networking with others in the field.” Even on Zoom calls—as much as we all know that Zoom fatigue is real—you can see faces light up when they see people they haven’t seen in a while. And you can see the engagement they get from hearing colleagues talk about their experiences.
Stand for something. In that same category, 25% said “supporting the mission of the organization.” And another 21% said supporting advocacy. Learning best practices in the field is also a common denominator of those organizations that have experienced recent growth.
Offer toolkits. This came from one respondent: “Our largest source of new members comes from current members referring non-members to our organization. We provide toolkits, complete with links to resources, for our membership annually and encourage them to keep up the good work!”
Reach out and touch. One respondent wrote: “Personal touches make the most difference. The challenge is freeing staff from other tactics to make the calls and reach the members.”
Use your data. “We’ve modeled our prospects, scoring them with the likelihood to obtain our certification. This has allowed us significant savings on marketing costs after test results showed drastically higher response rates for the top scored prospects. There are so many fingerprints within data that people can use to identify the most likely to help meet the organization’s goals. Everyone should be tapping into this.”
Again, download the report here.

Monthly Subscriptions and Dynamic Models Can Add to Your Reader Base

SIIA member Piano came up in the SIPA Discussion Forum today. Coincidentally, their director of research, Patrick Appel, just put out some interesting information on subscriptions and renewals at a Readers First Meetup sponsored by the International News Media Association.

Monthly subscriptions have become more popular in the industry of late. And last year saw the increased popularity of billing every four weeks instead of monthly (20% of news publishers are doing this now vs. 3% in 2018).

Appel noted that “longer-term subscriptions tend to be higher value just because there’s such high churn at the beginning of monthly, short-term subscription.” But he added that publishers shouldn’t ignore monthly subscribers entirely: “There is a conversion rate, certainly, by offering monthly as an option … but after a subscription has been around for a year, you’re seeing a majority of annual.”

Here are more notes on subscriptions from Appel and others:

Focus on onboarding. For monthly subscriptions, Appel said that “really you’re talking about the first three months, the first six months, as this risk period. Either [the subscriber] bought it with the intent to churn—we’ve seen that before—or it hasn’t been effectively communicated about the value. Or maybe they bought it and were thinking about it and that first month, they didn’t see the value.” So when looking at monthly subscriptions, Appel said the focus is really on that onboarding campaign.

Think about the balance between short- and long-term commitments, as well as the pricing strategy between those two. “It’s really critical,” Appel said. “When we think about optimizing ultimately for revenue, we want to think both about what is the increase on acquisition, and what is the hit on retention.”

Look to other models besides metered paywalls. “I predict a shift in how U.S. publishers implement their paywalls, with many beginning to operate a freemium-style model (already common in Europe) and others beginning to experiment with dynamic models that ask different readers to pay at different points in their journey,” said Josh Schwartz, CTO of Chartbeat, on NiemanLab. “…While meters assume that each story’s contribution toward a user’s eventual subscription is in some sense the same, freemium and dynamic models let us think about how each story can best contribute to the business—bringing in new readers, driving engagement, driving subscriptions, or deepening engagement among subscribers.

For a price increase, do testing and look at data. “The best thing a publisher can do when they are thinking about raising prices is to start moving away from a gut feeling approach, where you ‘think’ you should move prices, and at least start with some data and see what that tells you,” said Dustin Tetley from a consulting group called Mather. “And test as much as possible before moving forward or throughout the price increase process. We find there’s really a lot you can learn from each price increase.”

And increase engagement. Customers who are more engaged tend to accept price increases more readily than those that are not engaged, Tetley reported. Engagement also has a big effect on overall stop rate and retention. “When you see a group that had no digital usage in the month prior to the price increase, they stopped at a much higher rate than customers that were highly engaged,” Tetley said. He added that new customers won’t like price increases so build loyalty and tenure.

Learn to tell the story of your company: who you are, what your product is, and why it is so important right now, wrote Eduardo Suarez in a new Reuters study. This appeal should be crafted carefully. It must take into account the mission of your organization as well as its ownership and its history. “Few news brands have done this more systematically than the Guardian. The messages at the bottom of its articles are long, conversational, and customized by topic and geography. They are designed to answer frequent questions from their readers before asking them to contribute.”