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‘Insights Were Phenomenal’; Audience Conversations Fuel Agenda’s Growth

Let’s say you run an enterprise subscription-based publication for corporate board directors and have seen two years of declining traffic (2016-2017). You’re an accomplished journalist—like Melissa Anderson, managing editor of Money-Media’s Agenda—so you think sensibly. “Maybe if we position ourselves as covering the news of the day, as it pertains to corporate boards or a corporate governance angle. Yes, that’s what we need to do.” She paused. “But it really wasn’t working.”

Anderson recounted this in her excellent, there’s-a-moral-to-this-story section of a recent webinar hosted by our AM&P Network—titled The New Content Metrics: How Publishers Are Measuring Engagement and Using That to Grow.

In September 2018, Money-Media managing director Dan Fink launched a growth plan with several prongs for all divisions, including marketing, sales, operations and tech. “But I can only speak to the editorial ones that I was involved with,” Anderson said, “which were to perform a traffic and audience engagement analysis. And what we found doing these things was that we were on the wrong path—which is why I titled this presentation, Talk to Your Audience.”

Because Agenda, which also prints and mails twice weekly, only sells enterprise subscriptions, you’re not going to read it through search engines or on social media. It has to come to your inbox or mailbox. “That drives the need for us to tend to our audience really carefully, as a community almost,” Anderson said. “Because the same 12-15 people on each license who are reading Agenda are the ones who are going to vote up and down each year if they want to renew the subscription.”

The first problem she found was a biggie. “If we had a company’s name in the headline for a story, people didn’t read it. They weren’t as interested if they knew who the story was about which suggested that we were we were on the wrong path [with] that kind of this news-of-the-day sort of approach.”

(Interestingly, the next speaker, Davide Savenije, editor in chief at Industry Dive, said that seeing company names brings a completely opposite response for their audience. But that only underlined the moral here, that talking to your audience—not reading what specifically worked for Money-Media—is the elixir of choice. I’ll be reporting soon on Savenije’s also-superb presentation.)

“But that didn’t tell us the whole story,” Anderson continued. “So beginning in January 2019, we launched this audience engagement analysis. We basically emailed a bunch of prospective readers as well as a large chunk of our readership. I ended up doing extensive one-on-one conversations with more than 40 corporate board directors and about a dozen other executives who were in our audience, like corporate secretaries, chief legal officers, people like that who could be reading Agenda, even if they weren’t a director. These conversations took about an hour each. They were very lengthy and detailed, and people were really excited to share what they liked about publication, what they thought we could do better and how they use it. It was a really great exercise, and the insights were just phenomenal. We built them into how we cover corporate boards, our news for our readers and build out our audience. And it’s really been successful.”

That assessment speaks highly of Fink for giving the time for that process to play out, and, of course, to Anderson, for engaging and listening—such a time-honored but often under-appreciated skill—and not rushing through that.

“What we found was that our audience reads Agenda for the analysis,” Anderson said. “They print out—I heard over and over again—‘I love to print out your issue and take it into the boardroom.’ They mark it up, they talk about what they want to do and don’t want to do—things they think are good ideas or bad ideas about how they want to run their own companies. So that’s what we found.”

And the results?

“In 2018 we began implementing what we found from the traffic analysis, and we saw a 15% lift in traffic in that first year and then we continued to see traffic increase over the next three years by positioning ourselves as a resource for our audience,” Anderson said.

That included a pandemic-related, pop-up newsletter that ran for about nine weeks around the beginning of the crisis last year. “We had extremely high engagement from that,” Anderson said, “contributing to the new sales, and it also led to something really interesting and I was excited to see: a double, year-over-year rate for forwards and sales for a newsletter.

“Our readers really aren’t on social media; they’re not sharing these things with their network that way. But they largely are forwarding them and that rate had been pretty stable for the past few years, and this year it skyrocketed… which shows us that people are really finding a lot of value in the content that we’re producing about how to solve problems and how they can take these into their communities. That was really exciting for us.”

What’s next on the agenda for Agenda? “We’ve been piloting an influencer program where we’ve heard again and again from people in the consulting space that they wish they could get our publication, but since they’re not a corporate board they can’t,” Anderson said. “We’ve experimented with providing a few comp accounts to those people [who] we want to be sharing our stories with their clients, and that’s been really successful. We have seen those come up through influential people who want to be sharing our pub.

The most exciting thing, she added, was that the tech team at Money-Media has been hard at work on building an entire new “stats platform that’s going to include metrics like scroll depth and time on page to produce this view into how in-depth our readers are looking at our stories, which again is another view on that value beyond just click-throughs.”

We’ll definitely stay tuned for that.

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‘We Found That This Coverage Was Helping to Convert’; How ACS Uses Metrics to Grow Their Audience

For months, we have heard of excellent COVID coverage from association publishers across the topical spectrum—medical, financial, psychological, etc. But we all knew that at some point, the readership bump that was gained by this coverage would have to be converted into a longer-term commitment.

In a recent webinar hosted by our AM&P Network—titled The New Content Metrics: How Publishers Are Measuring Engagement and Using That to Grow—two editors/digital strategists from the American Chemical Society (ACS) joined two other leading editors from B2B publishers to talk how metrics and engagement are helping retain that bump—and, in general, help grow their organization’s audience.

“When we covered the COVID-19 pandemic, as the science news organization, [we knew] this is part of our mission,” said Sondra Hadden, manager, C&EN (Chemical & Engineering News) audience development, ACS. “We put the articles in front of the paywall so it was free to read. And our site traffic exploded. We had very viral articles routinely, and this helped us.

“Our loyalty report really helped us measure whether people coming from search and social were able to move down this funnel of loyalty, and [we could] convince them to keep reading. We found time and again, month after month, that this was true—that this coverage was helping to convert in that sense. So that was a really good data point to go back to our editorial team and let them know.”

The “loyalty” refers to a loyalty dashboard that they launched early in 2020. This is a completely free resource, Hadden said, from the Center for Cooperative Media. “It’s less about new metrics and absolutely more about categorizing your site user in a different way based off of frequency to the site,” she said.

The different buckets are: casual readers for someone who comes once a month and that’s it; prospective loyalists who make 2-5 visits a month; and brand lovers who visit six times a month. “For us, those are the metrics of the numbers that the report actually came with. It aligns very nicely with our metered paywall article limit, so we didn’t change that.”

This helped ACS measure success beyond the simple page view. It told them who is reading, how are they reading and where they come in from. Still, while coverage of the pandemic brought in so many readers, ACS had to wonder at what point fatigue might set in, and people would need a pause. But it never really happened.

“All of the past year that we’ve been doing this reporting, the coverage is still a top read amongst all these different buckets of people,” Hadden said.

While Hadden painted that overall picture, Dorea Reeser, senior audience engagement editor, C&EN, ACS, presented more of the day-to-day picture from their daily news meetings. Every morning she pulls metrics on how stories are performing on their website, as well as on social media, and collects it in a spreadsheet.

“I collect the obvious things like date, story head links, story type, but the data that I pull also includes social media engagement,” Reeser said. “We have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and a LinkedIn one coming. I also take notes on how [stories] rank in terms of page views and where [visitors] are coming from because certain web referral sources are more valuable than others.”

Reeser, and the other speakers, agreed that time on page is another great engagement metric. “The benefit of doing this every day and manually gives us insight into what content, in addition to our viral content, is doing well. That content may go crazy from search, and while that’s great it’s not necessarily high engagement. Not all those people are going to become brand lovers and loyalists.”

All this data helps to inform ACS staff each day on what content to post. Are there any pieces of content that they should resurface more in social media? And is there something that they want to make sure not to overlook for their weekly newsletter? “It’s important that we give them the content that we’ve seen that people want and our readers want in various spaces,” Reeser said.

Aside from COVID-related content, Hadden spoke about one of their large editorial packages called C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch. It wasn’t getting a lot of metric love, so they wondered if just judging it by page views was doing a disservice.

“Writers were asking about it,” Hadden said. “It’s a huge effort; there’s a nominations component to it, creative, everyone’s involved in this package. By having the loyalty report and being able to drill down into behavior a little bit better, we were able to tell that, yes, maybe it wasn’t a viral article in that sense, but our brand lovers are engaging with us there when it’s released.

“They are reading it and spending time with it, and our brand lovers are members so we’re serving that audience that we as a society [can classify] as a member benefit. So this report did help us do better than the previous concept of defining loyalty, and turning our non-member readership into becoming members.”

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‘Understanding the Needs as the World Is Changing’; Events Need to Keep Adapting

“This is the time to make changes, to come back and do things differently,” Kelly Helfman, commercial president, Informa Markets Fashion, told us last week. It’s a common refrain, especially with events. Virtual events have greatly expanded our audiences but also can bring fatigue, technology problems and a lack of networking. So as organizations look to revamp and recharge, here are areas to look at in your events world.

Going forward, there will be a need for “constant communicating in different channels, personal calls, consultative, more surveying, understanding the needs as the world is changing,” said Helfman in a discussion last week in an AM&P Network CEO Council meeting. “And we will forever have a hybrid [event] strategy moving forward.”

Desiree Hanson, EVP, Clarion Events, said that they had just acquired a business in the one-to-one meeting space. She wondered when the best time to return to in-person events will be. While it may be safe to do it soon, “is it worth it for us to run this in the fall when everyone else is doing it too? Or should we just do it in March?” They both said if you are planning for the fall or winter of 2021, get space now!

In the past year, “we’ve developed new products that are here to stay; content we run as a series in our energy sector has done very well for us,” Hanson added. It’s brought Clarion “a new audience. Eighty percent of the people have never been to our [in-person] events. It’s keeping our audiences engaged throughout the year. The advantage there is it’s always evolving. You can see the immediate signs of audience engagement. You don’t have to wait a year to make changes” as you would for an annual event.”

Here are more factors in how events may change going forward:

More preparation and instruction. In their Part 2 report issued this month, CEIR lists a number of recommendations for virtual events. Many have to do with preparation and communication. “Recognize the importance of training and communication with speakers, exhibitors and attendees to assure sessions go well and that participants understand how to maximize the value of participating and overcome technology issues to have a seamless experience. Planning efforts need to start early, and elements of a program must be completed earlier than for in-person events. [And] the sales cycle needs to be longer to convert prospects to customers.”

Make it more of an ongoing event. The idea of a series of content as opposed to a 2-3 day event has certainly taken hold, as organizations—big, small and everything else—try to figure out when and where to return to in-person events. By doing a spread-out series, one event planner in our webinar said that by the third month this year, “the audience had become larger. And by the time you get to June, the next event is only six months away and not a year.” “Keep the brand alive 365 days” was a common sentiment expressed to CEIR. Networking continues to be a struggle virtually, but one planner in the CEIR survey did write that, “The interactive elements of a virtual meeting such as live video chats, exhibitor appointments, etc. have been extremely popular among our attendees.”

Global reach. Virtual events have allowed people from across the world to access our events, so it would be foolish not to continue to cater to that audience. One respondent wrote this to the CEIR survey: “Global outreach to new target groups was increased. Event community experience and cohesion was kept ‘alive’ during times of social distancing. Quality of conference/education content sessions was improved due to higher access to more top-quality content providers” worldwide.

Should vaccinations be required? This is going to be a difficult decision for organizations. Helfman from Informa said they have decided not to require that. Others have said they will require vaccinations for their in-person events. Things may change. The president of the European Commission said Sunday that for the summer “all 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved” by the European Medicines Agency. A study from Ricochet titled The Conference Road to Recovery found that “the vast majority will not attend an in-person conference until they are vaccinated. Only 30% might or would attend an in-person conference before being vaccinated.”

Climate change. Helfman was not specifically talking about carbon footprints in calling for change, but she could’ve been. Almost 3/4 (74%) of the Condé Nast audience told them that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” John Capano, SVP of Impact XM, said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with.”