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.”

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