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Financial Times: leveraging Brexit to drive commercial advantage


By Awards Analyst, writer

June 1, 2017 | 7 min read

Financial Times won an award for 'Best Commercial Innovation' at The Drum Online Media Awards 2017. Here, it reveals how it leveraged Brexit to drive commercial advantage, and the challenges faced.

Executive Summary

As one of the world's leading business news and information organisations, the Financial Times was well positioned to provide readers with essential information on the EU referendum and its aftermath.

Given the size of the opportunity, and the FT’s comprehensive coverage, the B2C marketing team leveraged the event as a commercial opportunity to find new quality audiences, drive subscription sales and to engage the existing subscriber base. Content was core to our strategy.

Plans were drawn up to react to both outcomes: stay and remain. This included planning our channel strategy, developing creative and messaging, and coordinating across marketing, analytics and editorial teams. Content marketing was core to the approach, and the most insightful and incisive content was selected to be used throughout the marketing funnel from audience development to acquisitions and through to engagement and retention. This was pioneering for the FT, as in a publishing environment it can be difficult to leverage the fast moving output from the newsroom.

In order to choose the best content to promote at each stage of the customer lifecycle, the team relied on Lantern, the FT’s proprietary analytics solution for editorial content. This allowed the Marketing team to react to reader interest and promote content that was gaining most traction to keep messages fresh and relevant.

Brexit - Financial Times


The audience development team sought to capitalise on the increased demand for quality journalism alongside the EU Referendum. By introducing audiences to FT Brexit content through Facebook, Twitter, paid search and remarketing display we demonstrated value and developed an appetite for a subscription. The team measured success by monitoring ‘quality visits’; a score which indicates an individual is over five times more likely to subscribe than an average visitor.

For paid search, in the run up to the vote, we used a countdown ad copy function to display real time updates on how many days were left until the vote, increasing the relevancy of our ads. New ad groups were created for both Remain and Leave outcomes with tailored ad copy and keywords to go live once the result was announced.

Brexit - Financial Times


Through social channels, we promoted FT content on Facebook in the run-up to the vote and did a creative refresh the day of the results, with increased budget on a global level, to ensure content was as relevant and up to date as possible. We used internal analytics tools to gain insights as to which articles were performing well organically and would benefit from paid promotion, and closely monitored the CTRs to ensure we could update as soon as there was content fatigue. We also joined the conversation on Twitter by promoting tweets to look-alike audiences.

We ran various remarketing display ads focusing on different key Brexit issues, such as immigration and the economy, that directed traffic to the FT’s dedicated Brexit landing page. Specific creatives for remarketing ads were created in the case of Leave or Remain, with the Leave creative quickly going live once the result was announced. Interest and CTRs were closely monitored in the 2 weeks after the vote so that where interest dropped off, we could remove ads and run other creative themes on a higher frequency.

Financial Times


Overall, in the peak period of 22-29 June, audience development Brexit activity drove:

  • More than 10 times the number of visits from prospective quality audiences than the eight days prior to the referendum
  • Over 22 times the number of overall clicks to, boosting remarketing efforts.

The acquisition team sought to capture the new prospect audiences driven by audience development activity and convert them quickly into paying subscribers.

A unique offer strategy was developed and adapted for the referendum result. In the run up to the referendum we offered a longer duration trial of three months, as opposed to the normal four week trial. The aim was to familiarise consumers with our content over a longer period of time to build habit and increase post trial conversion rates.

The paywall was taken down temporarily in the run up to the referendum. This allowed new audiences to visit, familiarise themselves with content and allowed us to retarget them later.

On the day of the result, knowing that demand for our product would increase, the paywall was reinstated and trials were removed from A limited-time discount was applied to our Standard digital subscription if the user committed to an annual subscription term.

Capitalising on short-term growth opportunity, these offers were promoted via owned channels such as email and onsite through digital display ads, acquisition overlays and barriers. Paid media, in particular digital prospecting display ads, digital retargeting display ads and SEM were also used.

This approach led to:

  • 49% growth in total conversions in the six weeks following Brexit against the previous six weeks
  • 245% growth in non-trialist subscriptions in the seven days following Brexit against the previous seven days
  • 320% growth in conversions attributed to paid media in the seven days following Brexit against the previous seven days.
Brexit - Financial Times

The CRM team aimed to capitalise on the strong reader interest in Brexit, ensuring they were exposed to relevant content in a timely manner to drive habit, and to demonstrate relevance and interest among less engaged subscriber groups.

An email series was developed which focussed on the latest, most important content as determined by editorial and Lantern analytics. The campaign ran to engaged and unengaged subscriber segments to keep FT front of mind, highlight core content and drive recency and frequency to site, and a higher volume of articles read.

We ensured the campaign was multichannel, to engage as many users as possible. Using audience matching we targeting relevant content to our audiences via Facebook, Twitter and Google,

Like audience engagement, Facebook Canvas proved successful with subscribers, especially those in the lower engaged segments.

The results of this campaign activity were:

  • Unique open rates peaked with an unprecedented increase that was 35.9% higher than the FT average.
  • Unique click through rate was strong with the peaks 10.4% higher than the FT average.
  • Social channels generated over 85,000 additional clicks to site during a 12 week period.
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Financial Times

The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organisations, recognised internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. It is part of Nikkei...

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