Two key questions for publishers, then, become: which audiences should they address and how should they go about it?
During the past year, Germany’s Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (KStA) began answering these questions for themselves.
Owned by DuMont, a regional publisher based in Cologne, which publishes several news products, KStA is a daily print newspaper and web publication. In 2019, they launched a paid content product called KStA PLUS.
Re-focusing on audiences
In October 2020, KStA joined the Table Stakes Europe programme, and between September 2020 and August 2021 they doubled the number of their digital subscribers.
Designed primarily for local and regional news organisations, Table Stakes is a programme to help drive digital revenue growth by re-focusing on audiences.
About to begin its third year in Europe, it is a collaboration between WAN-IFRA and Table Stakes architect Doug Smith in partnership with the Google News Initiative Digital Growth Program.
“During the Table Stakes project, we really broadened our view about our audience,” Sophie Rohringer, Audience & Analytics Manager for DuMont, told participants during WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media Europe conference.
“Over the last 12 months we adopted the mini-publishing concept,” she said. “We built editorial teams for specific audiences. We addressed them with different products. And we started to look at our readers not only as one big group of anonymous readers, but to really segment them and listen to their needs, their interests and to provide them with the content they need in their daily lives.”
Using data to analyse coverage
To address these audiences, Rohringer said KStA did a lot of data analysis to identify which topics to cover, and to discover how successful they are. As a result, they identified:
Topics they wrote about often, but which didn’t generate much traffic.
Topics that are great for conversions as well as topics that are better for retention than conversion.
Topics to stop doing, or at least do differently to save resources and editorial capacity to align them with their focus audiences.
Data, dashboards and feedback
Working with data and dashboards has become essential in this regard, Rohringer said.
They now have detailed feedback sessions with each editorial team about once a week to go through their data and dashboards and explain what the data means and ways to improve.
Rohringer stressed the need for regular feedback sessions to offer journalists help with new tools or technologies in order to give staff a sense of security as well as the freedom to make mistakes, and then learn from them.
Marketing, paywall improvements
KStA also made improvements on the marketing and technical level, Rohringer said.
For example, they created new online marketing channels as well as different offers.
They now focus on long-term offers and their paid product, which has a much higher retention than the monthly trial period, she said.
To improve the paywall they do regular A/B testing while trying out new designs, new products, and new call-to-actions on the paywall itself.
Another crucial element is to look at the audience itself and ask “How big is the audience? Does it make sense to target them? Will we get enough revenue from them? Is the audience willing to pay?”
Based on these criteria, KStA came up with three topic-based audiences:
Teachers and Parents. “That was our very first audience. We came up with it during COVID because all the information for teachers as well as for parents, they were really lost with all the regulations, government information and stuff,” Rohringer said.
Living & Housing. As is the case in probably every big city, she said the housing market in Cologne has gotten crazy. Thousands of people are looking for places to live. Many others are looking for ways to make improvements on their existing one and so on.
Foodies audience. Launched this summer, they basically collect everything from new restaurants in town to testing of the best falafel places and, so a mix of different styles and places to eat. That’s their newest addition and something that has started off well, she said.
They also have a school newsletter called “Wie war in der schule?” which translates to “How was school?” the question that every kid gets asked every day, she said.
While those products are all relatively new, Rohringer said the initial subscriber numbers and opening rates are very promising.
Key lessons from Table Stakes
She also offered three key lessons based on quotes from Table Stakes’ Doug Smith that have helped them in their journey.
“Passion before manpower.” Passion is definitely the decisive factor when you set up audience-based teams, she said, because when you have passionate people working on a topic, they can help you create a movement within your company.
“Encourage and empower.” KStA’s journalists get regular feedback on how their content performed as well as suggestions on how they can work on it to make it better.
“Change is a marathon.” Table Stakes is about huge changes in the newsroom. Creating such changes is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that’s going to take time, Rohringer said. “While there will be setbacks, it’s important to also regularly look back at where you came from and what you’ve achieved,” she added.
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