News UK CMO: ‘Audience value, not reach, key to unlocking digital revenues’

News UK is crafting a strategy that nurtures personalised content at a “deeper level” across multiple channels, claiming audience value not “big” online reach is key to unlocking value from its pay-wall.

The plan aims to build momentum around digital revenues for The Sun and The Times newspapers after they were split from their financially heathier TV counterparts in 2011.

Advertising now accounts for only 44 per cent of revenues for News UK, highlighting the need to offset the decline in print and ad revenues at its newspaper titles. The low return is compounded by The Sun’s struggle to adapt to its recently introduced paid-for digital strategy, which failed to offset a drop in print circulation below two million for the first time in October, according to ABC.

Rather than chasing huge audiences to ease its digital transformation, News UK is trying to build a single view of an individual reader’s behaviour across print, digital and social media to hike up the value of its inventory. Driving big browser numbers is a “means to an end” for subscription acquisition and not a success metric, said News UK CMO Chris Duncan, who believes the best approach is giving new customers a “sense of the story” without “giving away the crown jewels”.

It is a stance the publisher will back through content marketing initiatives in 2015 through its newly-formed native advertising arm. Whereas in the past News UK’s branded content deals were limited by specific channels, the unit is working with advertisers on more rounded strategies expanding the breadth of its titles and internal resources. Whether it’s tapping into its revamped CRM offering or creating social media strategies for campaigns, the business hopes to forge an advertising proposition around “deeper audience management”.

Speaking to The Drum Duncan said: “Increasingly, media owners are having to think about audience management on a much deeper level as a result of advertisers wanting to understand how our relationship with readers can be used to benefit their product. There’s a difference in an audience who are committed to a news title and [how they behave] on a social platform.”

The rush for deeper audience insight is being filtered through to The Sun and The Times differently to maximise the former’s accessibility and the latter’s larger pool of subscribers. Where the tabloid is to channel much of its growth efforts through additional services around sports coverage, its broadsheet sister title will look to lift revenue via “experimental” subscriptions that offer additional services such as Spotify or an iPad mini.

The aim is to build lasting relationships with a smaller number of valuable readers of The Times instead of pursuing huge audiences. It harks back to the publisher’s dismissal of the free online publishing model, despite the increased traffic propelling digital revenues for the Guardian and Mail Online by 24 per cent and 46 per cent in their respective financial years.

“We’ve been very clear that from a News UK perspective we think about total paid sales [as our key performance metric] and so our digital approach has been about realising that in a sustainable way,” said Duncan. “One of the benefits of running a subscription business is that [advertisers] know the number that we have.”

From a marketer’s point of view, the clarity around audiences could prove a key factor in what publishers they choose to work with, a point News UK hopes to exploit amid the advent of automated advertising. Duncan said Google’s recent revelation that half of online ads are not seen is “worrying” and would be felt across the industry once the value of display rose.

“[Viewability] matters less when advertising is dirt cheap in that medium,” he said. “As prices start to rise and people become more concerned about how ads are traded programmatically and where those ads are turning up then viewabaility will matter more.”

News UK will be hoping the increased investment can put it on firmer ground in the digital space at a time when publishers’ bets on emerging channels are starting to pay off. Online spend is predicted to be a key factor in UK national newspapers generating £1.42bn in ad spend in 2015, a 1 per cent year-on-year surge, according to a report by the Advertising Association and Warc.

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