“We have a dual focus on reaching and retaining our subscribers, and reaching new audience segments,” says Hannah Sarney, the FT’s deputy head of audience engagement, explaining how her team aims to help grow the FT’s subscriber base from currently more than 900,000 to 1 million.
“This involves creating a audience-focused editorial strategy in both our daily and special projects output. A rolling schedule of experiments is running at all times.”
The 15-person strong audience engagement team brings together experts in data, social media, SEO, community, and curation, while collaborating closely with other departments – an approach that has led to direct product action. Focused on growing the reach and impact of the FT’s journalism, they strive to put readers’ needs first and drive editorial analytics deeper into newsroom practice.
“We always want to know more about our audience, what they value, and how we can help them find and engage with it,” Sarney says.
Ahead of her appearance at the Newsroom Summit, taking place October 29 to 30 in Oslo, she shares some insight into how the team operates.
WAN-IFRA: How closely does the audience engagement team work with other teams at the FT, such as your Product team or your Data team?
Hannah Sarney: We work very closely with other teams around editorial and the wider company. A concerted effort is made to bring stakeholders together from the newsroom, product, analytics, marketing and events.
For example, audience insights from our mobile project discussions recently led directly to product action. The AE team has been focusing on Due Diligence (DD) – our daily email newsletter on corporate finance, mergers & acquisitions, and private equity that goes to our premium subscribers. London DD team leader, Arash Massoudi, shared feedback from dedicated readers who said they were struggling to find DD in the app. We passed on this feedback to product. The app team were then able to add a Premium component to the apps – mirroring our homepage. The update caused an astounding 353.63% increase in the amount of Due Diligence briefing views in the app – lifting all Due Diligence views by 55.56%. The volume of premium articles read by premium users also increased by 9% which helped grow engagement.
How would you characterise the data analytics culture within the FT, particularly in the newsroom?
We have a heavily data-informed newsroom. All of the audience engagement projects aim to drive editorial analytics ever deeper into newsroom practice.
We have two data analysts in our team. They either kick-start or advise on all of our projects – whether it be product and/or editorial based – and lead reviews with clear measures of success. Our analysts are also closely looped in with the company’s wider data team.
On a daily basis, insights from Lantern (our in-house analytics tool) are presented at the news conference. Journalists and editors have constant access to Lantern. And so does the rest of the company. We always want to know more about our audience, what they value, and how we can help them find and engage with it.
How does the fact that the FT has a paywall influence your approach to engagement?
Our paywall was introduced in 2002, so it hasn’t been a recent pivot for us.
Our subscription model has evolved over the years from a metered model to a trial model and now into flexible sampling. Flexible sampling, clicking through via search and social, allows readers who are fresh to the Financial Times the chance to sample the FT in a frictionless way before they need to enter the conversion funnel. It puts the needs of our readers first.
What are some of the audience engagement team’s strategic goals for the next year or so?
We are working toward the company goal of reaching 1,000,000 paying readers (we currently have over 900,000 subscribers). To do that we have a dual focus on reaching and retaining our subscribers, and reaching new audience segments.
This involves creating an audience-focused editorial strategy in both our daily and special projects output. A rolling schedule of experiments is running at all times. For example, we’re currently testing engagement with messaging platforms, targeting specific audience segments and optimising for our mobile readership. We’re always working to get our readers involved in the reporting process as much as possible.