Publisher Profits After 2 Free Issues and a Collaborative Campaign

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“What better way to prove to practice managers that this was the information they needed than to put the content directly in their hands and in a cost-effective way? Answer: Send two free issues of Part B News via email to our best house lists jam-packed with the hottest content available.”

Lindsey Harris, director of marketing, DecisionHealth, a UCG company, in her 2015 SIPAward-winning entry for Best Editorial and Marketing Collaboration


For this campaign, “DecisionHealth had a forecasted Net Profit Ratio of 1.3, slightly above breakeven as they were confident in the content and marketing approach they selected,” Fuller wrote. “…the effort came in at a 2.62 Net Profit Ratio.” In other words, revenue doubled the forecast. How did they do it?

First, raise your hand if you’ve struggled with “free”? (I’m now typing one-handed.) Do you give full articles? Do you tease with first graphs? Do you offer metered paywalls or a free trial? How long? If you’re building a community, at what point do you start charging? And for what?

I reported earlier this year on an association that offered free membership in March of 2014 for the rest of that year. They enrolled 451 members; of those 103 renewed at the standard dues rate, 61 paid to attend the conference, and 111 purchased a product. Not bad.

On the other side, Access Intelligence removed free exhibit hall pass offers from its 2014 CLEAN GULF Conference and increased revenue 49%. In the past, free passes “have not only been given to exhibitors as a marketing tool, but CLEAN GULF has sent emails and print pieces to our prospect database offering a free pass,” Carey Buchholtz, senior marketing manager wrote.

So it can go both ways. DecisionHealth marketing manager Kathy Updegraff developed an effective direct marketing campaign to convince practice managers in medical practices that Part B News should be their go-to information source. The challenge was finding the most effective delivery method and message to sell annual subscriptions.

Besides the two free issues, the key to their strategy was the collaboration between marketing and Karen Long, the editorial manager. Long analyzed the metrics of Part B News Online and monitored the topics being discussed on their listserv. Using that, they crafted a mix of email and direct mail to create a compelling electronic force free trial campaign to drive newsletter subscriptions.

Part B’s marketing strategy included:

  • One-click access to read the free issue online;
  • Clear instructions on how to order online, mail or customer service;
  • Testimonials to reinforce the value of the publication;
  • Links to the top articles in the email;
  • $300 discount offer (usual discount is $100, but they “wanted to pull out all the stops”);
  • In the re-sent emails, they changed the “From” line and added “Re:” in subject).

Looking at the flyer they sent out after the second free newsletter, the biggest takeaways are:

1. A clear “Warning” that “You will not be sent any more free issues of Part B News.”
2. Three bullets of the most prominent stories that were sent;
3. A big Subscribe Now button followed by a long testimonial.

The forming of cross-functional teams has proven successful for entities large and not-so-large. FierceMarkets brought in 10,000 new subscribers through a collaboration between editorial and audience development. Popular content and a gated newsletter signup page were keys there. The New York Times wrote in a recent memo that “with news, product, design, technology, marketing and advertising working shoulder to shoulder, [we are creating] more cohesive and comprehensive products…”

Ready, set, collaborate.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…