How The Guardian used planning, purpose and products to revive revenue

‘Marketing for a sustainable future for The Guardian’ was a three-year plan to turn around the troubled, though still much-loved, national newspaper.

The GuardianBack in 2015, to a backdrop of dwindling sales figures, and fear and loathing in an ailing print industry, The Guardian kicked off a three-year turnaround strategy, one with the ultimate aim of turning the paper’s fortunes around and securing its sustainability.

A recent price rise could well have been a complete disaster, but it offered an opportunity to remind readers of the pleasures of a newspaper, juxtaposing it with the hectic world of digital.

Critically, the campaign also drove subscriptions, creating deep and sustaining relationships with readers.

The original brief was to do more, with less. Ambitious revenue targets were set across subscription and newsstand products, along with a push to support The Guardian’s most innovative and flagship journalism.

The plan centred around four key areas: integrated marketing campaigns to launch, reinvigorate or sustain The Guardian’s products, building insight-led retention and customer experience plans, extracting more value from first-party data and delivering purpose messaging in all communications.

By the final 12 months of the three-year strategy The Guardian’s marketing department was beginning to feel the heat.

The Guardian
The Guardian’s marketing campaign focused strongly on brand purpose

Declining print sales didn’t help, nor did the challenging ad market and ever-fractured media landscape.

Undeterred, the team set about working across multiple products, channels and territories to drive the highest level of revenue direct from readers on record.

A redesigned app was launched, The Guardian Weekly magazine was given a facelift and a new daily podcast was introduced. The work saw The Guardian walk away with the award for the best campaign in media, gaming and entertainment at last year’s Marketing Week Masters awards.

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Retaining and sustaining the support built up over the previous years was key.

With supporter numbers hitting 1 million in November 2018, the team needed to support revenues across nine Guardian brands, including advertising and the newspaper’s Jobs services.

The Guardian readers tend to be a fairly loyal bunch, but getting more of them to commit to financial support was a challenge, as was growing revenue in the B2B sector and other streams.

There were strong assets to build on and the team worked safe in the knowledge that both readers and advertisers valued The Guardian’s editorial principles and believed that the paper was worth protecting.

How to frame the different ways to support The Guardian in the most compelling way for different target audience groups, while also maintaining a consistent brand tone (and keeping a keen eye on budget constraints) was another constant concern.

A digital subscriptions campaign promoted new features in the mobile app and digital pack. In the UK, Australia and the US, the campaign was built using owned, earned and paid channels.

The campaign evidenced editorial successes such as Windrush and Cambridge Analytica as proof that journalism still has the power to change the story.

The new Today in Focus podcast included brand positioning, design and multi-channel promotion, while the relaunched Guardian Weekly was promoted via owned and biddable channels.

The Guardian
The Guardian’s popular Jobs section and service was a big part of the campaign

Guardian Jobs was repositioned, unifying the paper’s candidate and recruiter marketing under the line ‘Find good company’, establishing identity in both B2B and B2C comms.

The retention and customer experience teams were brought together in October, with a new data and insight-led approach bringing significant wins in retaining and developing subscriber and supporter bases.

In-life programmes were designed around churn points and integrated customer management around key moments, campaigns and prioritisation of activity based on churn indicators introduced.

A detailed forecasting approach allowed better revenue management during a crucial year.

In 2018, Braze, a campaign management tool, ushered in a fully customer-centric approach across all channels, and a cross-functional team drove revenue to help reach revenue targets. In addition, the acquisition team optimised furiously across all campaigns to increase volume and reduce CPA.

Purpose, a much-championed touchstone of readers’ support for the brand, was foregrounded through all of the team’s work, help up as a vital, valuable part of the values and sensibilities that the Guardian stands for.

In May 2018, the team revealed that the objectives set in 2015 by CEO David Pemsel and editor-in-chief Katharine Viner in 2015 had not only been reached but exceeded, with the announcement of an £800,000 operating profit.

The Guardian
The Guardian weekly was revamped as part of the overall three-year plan

Critical to this success was a growth in revenue across all the products outlined above. Profits of £223m were the highest for the Guardian for a decade.

The marketing team’s three-year plan transformed The Guardian into a sustainable, reader-driven, global digital media business, that delivers on its mission ‘to promote and sustain liberal journalism in perpetuity’.

In November 2018, it was announced that 1 million readers had supported The Guardian financially, with a newly focused target of 2 million by 2022. Not bad for a business that just three years ago was showing some £80m in operating losses.

Reader revenues were up across the board, with marketing beating targets, bringing in new audiences and increasing efficiency.

There was a 48% increase year on year in new print subscriptions, Guardian Jobs applications were 11.6% over target and there was a 39% increase in conversion through activation of new data points in email.

The Marketing Week Masters awards 2020 are now open for entry. To find out more, visit the website.