Publishers Need to Create Value AND Hammer it Home

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"We talk constantly about pageviews and engagement rates, circulation stats and Nielsen ratings, subscriptions and donation rates, but all that happens when we successfully offer something to human beings that is of value to them," said Tamar Charney, managing editor of NPR One, in NiemanLab's Predictions for Journalism 2019..

"Knowing what we do for people also keeps us clear about why we are doing what we are doing. It helps us know whether we are doing things for the right reasons."

Here are some ways publishers and media execs are providing value:

Emphasize storytelling. SIPA member Dan Grech, founder and lead instructor of BizHack Academy, surveyed his business owners to ask what skills they believed are most important for their knowledge and success, and storytelling ranked dead last. "Yet my seminars on business storytelling... consistently rank the highest of everything I teach." He says that your Brand Promise needs to be present in every communication with a client, prospect or staffer.

Be creative with discounts. In a survey from Disqus, only about 6% of respondents cited discounts as their reason to subscribe to something. But in Marketing General Inc.'s 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, several respondents said that their best performing acquisition was offering an extra 3 months for the price of 12. "We offer it via an emailed campaign as well as a 'look-alike' campaign on Facebook." I attest that a museum just added four free months to my subscription, and I was very pleased.

Get behind a good cause. New data from an exclusive Axios/Harris poll finds that public perception of companies is deeply impacted by how much those companies can promise a better future for society.  According to the poll, the companies with the most momentum include brands that are making commitments towards bettering society. In the Disqus survey, people paid for content to "support a publication's mission and success." The Washington Post recently went to a new slogan in their front-page banner: "Democracy Dies in Darkness." HBO is teaming with the American Red Cross to promote the final season of Game of Thrones through an immersive "Bleed For The Throne" blood drive activation. Bigger entities but can be done on a smaller scale as well.

Hammer your value home. At our BIMS event in November, Grey Montgomery, president and CEO, Farm Journal's Pro Farmer, told interviewer Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Piano, that publishers not only need to create that value but must hammer it home. "If [one of your customers] doesn't want to buy your content because he says it's too expensive for him, then maybe you need to do some soul searching in your content," Montgomery said. "My audience in a lot of ways can't afford it but they do because we also pitch back; for example, 'If you follow all of our hedging strategies with your size crop, this is how much you would have made. Therefore by investing the $500 you'll make $5,000.'"

Give your audience special access. Have your writers and editors do weekly chats or Q&As and/or connect readers with them at events. The Atlantic's membership program, The Masthead, offers weekly conference calls with reporters and editors. Other publishers like Digiday give subscribers access to private Slack channels where they can connect with editorial staffers.

Be clear about your mission. "Our industry faces so many challenges—the political powers that be, financial pressures as our business models evolve, technology shifts and new competition," said Charney. "In 2019, I'd argue the most powerful tool we have is knowing very clearly what it is we are trying to do for our audience. That way they too will be clear about what they can expect and value from us. Something that becomes even more important as people get their information by asking Alexa, Google, Siri, or Bixby for it."

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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…