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Driving revenue during a crisis? The Dallas Morning News thinks you can

“In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity…” Right? The Dallas Morning News in the US is taking that to heart with the COVID-19 pandemic. “This may be the best chance we’ve ever had to articulate our value proposition,” said DMN’s Chief Product Officer Mike Orren.

by Brian Veseling brian.veseling@wan-ifra.org | March 30, 2020

As news publishers the world over struggle to find ways to try to offset the damage the COVID-19 pandemic is doing to their revenue, some like The Dallas Morning News, are finding opportunities to regain at least part of that money as well as building longer-term relationships with readers and advertisers.

Orren was speaking during a webinar as part of a panel of publishers of various kinds hosted by the US-based Local Media Consortium late last week titled “What Publishers Can Do Now to Drive Revenue.”

Here are our five top takeaways from his remarks, and others.

1. Find out how you can help your advertisers

As a starting point, publishers should be getting their revenue teams together to see what they can do to work with their advertisers to help them now, as well as build those relationships for the long term.

For example, Orren said, “we put into action a plan where we’re going to carve out a certain amount of our inventory for free advertising for the restaurants that are allowing delivery and for virtual events that are happening, that arts-type advertisers are having, because we see that as better use of the inventory by betting on the future of our relationships with those clients.”

2. Ask readers to help support you by turning off their ad blockers

This crisis offers an important opportunity for publishers to ask people to help support their journalism and their journalists by turning off their ad blockers.

“Everyone has traffic that is unmonetised right now, and in this environment, the least someone can do to try to contribute to the industry is to turn their blocker off,” said Dan Rua, CEO of Admiral, a visitor relationship management platform, who moderated the webinar. “You have to be careful that it’s a nuanced message,” he continued, “that you’re being respectful of the situation. But the general idea that this is a easy way for everyone to help each other a bit, is a natural.”

“That messaging really resonates right now. And anything we’re putting out there that is in terms of ‘Support our journalism,’ ‘Support our mission.’ Especially if you’re local,” – Mike Orren, The Dallas Morning News

3. Build relationships to help drive subscriptions

While there have been reports of publishers such as Bloomberg quickly gaining thousands of new subscribers, Rua noted that if someone only recently started consuming your content, trying to get them to commit to a subscription is likely to be difficult.

Orren added that under normal circumstances, The Dallas Morning News has found that many of their non-subscribing readers only focus on one type of content, such as sports, or entertainment and then leave the site.

However, he added that “when you see them starting to jump sections, that is when they are ready to make that commitment. I think there’s a delicate balance right now because all the traffic is on the coronavirus news.

“And obviously now is not the time for a lot of frivolous stuff not related to that, but as this goes on, you have to get people to sample your other types of content, and become committed. You have to use the opportunity to leverage coronavirus into interest for your feature coverage, or your government coverage or something else. It’s a fine balance though.”

4 Create a newsletter around the coronavirus topic

During the past few years, many news publishers have discovered the value of creating specialised email newsletters around various topics, such as sports, finance, parenting, politics and dozens of others, as a means of strengthening their relationships with their current subscribers as well as a way of helping to draw in potential subscribers.

Orren said The Dallas Morning News created a coronavirus newsletter early on and automatically subscribed all of the people who were already receiving their most popular newsletter, called Daily Update.

In addition, they are making their public health coverage freely available, but in order to access it for free, readers are required to subscribe to their coronavirus newsletter, thereby helping to establish a longer term relationship with potential subscribers.

Orren said the new newsletter now has about a half million subscribers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Furthermore, he added that they are working with one of their regular health-care related advertisers to sponsor the newsletter.

“So, it’s driving traffic, it’s driving subscriptions, it’s driving revenue. It’s really been the best thing for us to do, but we definitely had to pivot a couple of times along the way to make it work the way we wanted it to work. And we are still refining it,” – Mike Orren

5 Use Google AMP

The Dallas Morning News had not previously used Google’s AMP, (Accelerated Mobile Pages), Orren said, “but we decided in the current environment, it was just essential. If you’re in a local market and you start searching on this hot topic, you’re going to notice that everybody who is ranking at the top of the search, their pages are AMPed.”

“For those who aren’t familiar,” Orren added, “Google AMP is a way you can construct your pages that are Google friendly and they’re lite, so it’s kind of an alternate, lite view of your page … and we are quickly now AMPing our pages and turning our main coronavirus page into what Google will perceive as a live blog, because that’s another thing that they really look for.”