New York Times Goes Niche: Smart Event Growth Strategies to Adopt

Post authored by Gary Schirmacher, CMP, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing

NYTimesIt’s no secret that the newspaper industry is navigating through some very disruptive waters. As readership declines, advertising revenue follows suit. Publications that stick to their guns and fail to adapt to the New Normal for journalism (largely defined by readers) will have a tough time surviving.

Then there are the smart ones who spot behavioral shifts early and act on them, like The New York Times. The Times recognized that a growing number of readers preferred to consume news in a different way. They’ve been testing and perfecting their digital strategy for quite some time. Their persistence is being rewarded, as they build new and potentially more profitable revenue streams.

There are many similarities between the newspaper and event industries:

  • Subscribers/attendees are their most important customers.
  • Profitability is largely dependent on subscriber/attendee satisfaction.
  • Content quality (determined by subscribers/attendees) is a major satisfaction driver.
  • Both industries rely heavily on contributors – reporters & columnists/speakers & facilitators.
  • Print remains somewhat relevant, but it packs less punch than it once did and it’s costly.
  • Digital opens up new and more affordable ways to woo and acquire subscribers/attendees.
  • Millennials are disenchanted with newspapers/events that embrace “old school” methods.
  • Sustainability rests squarely on accurately forecasting future needs and preferences for subscribers/attendees.
  • If subscribers/attendees encounter too many advertiser/sponsor & exhibitor pitches, they will unsubscribe/stop coming.

Newsletter Niche Marketing Win for The New York Times

In August, Digiday ran a story called, “How The New York Times gets a 70 percent open rate on its newsletters.” There’s plenty of marketing insight to be gleaned from that piece. When you get a chance, give it a read.

In the meantime, here are highlights (with a few asides for event professionals):

  • The Times has been rapidly expanding their digital newsletter portfolio. In 2014, they launched 12 newsletters. Today, the total count is at 33.
  • Initially, these newsletters mirrored sections in their newspaper. Before long, the Times questioned whether this approach aligned with topics their readers were most interested in. (Another similarity: Newspaper sections are similar to conference learning tracks.)
  • The Times engaged two new and opposite strategies: (1) Go Wide – rather than sections, themes that span several sections; (2) Go Narrow – identify niche topics of greatest interest.
  • This new approach appears to be working. Newsletter subscriber rates increased 14% in the past six months. Total subscribers for each edition run from tens of thousands to several million.
  • Average gross open rates across all newsletters are at 50%. Average gross open rates for the newer editions (Columnist Nicholas Kristof, Times Magazine, Booming, and Motherlode) are topping 70%. That’s impressive, when you consider that typical open rates for media and publishing newsletters run at 38.5%.
  • The Times sells ads for their newsletters, but their primary mission is audience development. Why? Times users are twice as likely to become paid subscribers if they signed up for a newsletter first.

It stands to reason that event target audiences nurtured with high-quality newsletter content would convert to paid attendees at a similar rate. Niche newsletters are also a smart way to extend the event value runway, convert more first-timers to regulars and protect/grow loyalty.

The Times has a 12-person dedicated newsletter team. Many of you are probably rolling your eyes at this and thinking, “We don’t have those kind of resources.” That’s okay—start with what you have and build from there. The Times didn’t go full guns from the start, but the results they’ve garnered over time are meaningful. It’s also a compelling success story to share with leadership.

Look for opportunities to repurpose the wealth of content you already generate for your conference. Stop publishing everything in one full, post-event swoop. Instead, chunk it down, sort by relevance and drip conference content out in smaller chunks over a longer span of time.

The same goes for newsletter email lists. Identify the smaller, like-minded tribes within the big tent live event experience. Start with your top targeted attendee segments. Feed them helpful and highly relevant content regularly that helps them improve, personally and/or professionally. Do this well and in time, you’ll be rewarded with increases in attendance and loyalty.

Is your organization struggling with stagnant or declining attendance? Would you like more insight and tips on best ways to leverage niche marketing to increase attendance? Contact me with the specific challenge(s) you are facing.


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