From lockdown lifts to Trump bumps, how CNN is hitting record highs

Inga Thordar, executive editor of CNN Digital International

With CNN Digital having reported the best quarter in its history according to Comscore visitor measurements, the news organization’s Inga Thordar shares with The Drum some of the lessons she thinks marketers can take from the newsroom.

CNN Digital registered 226 million unique visitors globally in May, which was an increase of 61 million year-on-year. Having already been in the top spot, it widened the gap on second-placed BBC and hit record heights as its news product became ever more important in lockdown.

Inga Thordar, the news brand’s executive editor, tells The Drum that this is down to CNN Digital focusing not just on telling audiences what is happening in the world, ”but putting important developments in the right context and giving a global picture”. She says it in an approach that has ”proven popular with audiences that are looking for the meaning of stories as well as facts”.

Audiences are staying on the its longer and they are reading further down the page. Mobile has also become its dominant channel of consumption, with Thordar saying great effort goes into making sure stories are ”accessible and easily digested on those devices”.

She says: “We are seeing a great desire from audiences to be better and more informed about their world, and that interest doesn’t stop with content related to Covid-19. We are seeing this trend across other topics as well. CNN Business, for example, is now up 98% globally when compared with June 2019. Our international team is very focused on covering significant and diverse global stories in an intentional way that explains the world. And there are also stories like our recent coverage of Bollywood and the locust plague in Africa that have had high audience engagement.”

Hundreds of journalists provide live reports on TV, streaming shows, in-text stories and alerts on mobile devices. But it has a platform advantage over many other news publishers.

“We are a rare publisher in this current media climate, in that the majority of our traffic comes directly to us. We still see the power of the brand and the strength in our journalism result in people coming to CNN when news breaks and checking our digital platforms multiple times a day to stay across the news. We don’t see the majority of our engagement on social platforms, but on our own owned and operated products.”

Part of this strategy is built upon newsletters that are aimed at global audiences. ’Meanwhile in America’ focuses on explaining US developments to those outside the country (“It has a sizable and incredibly loyal readership that regularly communicates with us”). Its ’Coronavirus: Facts vs. Fictionnewsletter, produced out of London, gives audiences a daily rundown of Covid-19 globally. And the daily ’5 Things newsletter is a digest of the world’s top stories and now has more than 2 million subscribers.

So, what lessons can marketers learn from the CNN newsroom and the power of its brand? “At a time of crisis, it’s natural for people to turn to brands they know and trust, so it makes sense that people are wary of misinformation and come to publishers like CNN when they really need the facts,“ Thordar says.

“We have built up this trust, credibility and the relationship with the consumer over 40 years. Audiences place a value on premium, relevant content, and while this is true for us in the news business it can also be applied in other disciplines.

“It’s important to be true to your brand purpose – we know people are coming to CNN primarily as an essential news source, but it’s also our job serve them with a wide mix of diverse content.”

As we look forward to the US election this year, can we expect as big a ride as when CNN famously rode the ‘Trump Bump’ while trying to hold the presidential candidate to account?

“Globally, we expect there to be even more interest in the election than ever before. Journalistically, we will approach it in the same way that we always have, by holding the two candidates and their campaigns to account. That includes scrutinizing their policies and fact-checking their statements in addition to covering the news as it unfolds for global audiences. We will put extra efforts into the fact-checking work this time around too!“

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