Rheinische Post: Baby steps lead a giant to stride ahead

Rheinische Post is a large and influential media group in the Rhineland, in the west of Germany, a regional giant. Their flagship title started its Table Stakes Europe, audience-centric journey with “Willkommen, Baby!”, a cluster of digital content targeted at parents-to-be. It was a game-changer, and nudged the publisher forward in its digital transformation. Here is how.

Publisher bio: Rheinische Post Media Group is a large regional media group, which includes four newspapers in the west of Germany. Other activities include interests in radio stations, classified advertising, printing services, call centres, transport and logistics.

The group’s flagship newspaper, the Rheinische Post itself was established in 1946. It covers a region that includes four large cities including Düsseldorf. RP has 260 journalists and is printing 19 local editions. It has the largest circulation in the Rhineland, enjoys 225,000 subscribers, including 50,000 digital subscribers. Roughly, half of these subscribe to the e-paper version, rather than its digital web content, RP+. Overall, the 25-year-old website gets 10 million unique users a month.

Challenge: Truly moving from editor-centric to user-centric quality journalism

From the start of their Table Stakes Europe challenge, the team was clear that whereas RP is a huge, regional player in print, their digital brand needs strengthening.

The crux of the journey was to transfer the impact, trust and loyalty they have been enjoying so far from print to digital. The team also originally admitted that not everyone in the company is sure that most of their current readers would be ready to change their habits and pay for digital news.

The seven-person strong team comprised a mix of skills, including editorial, data, product and marketing. They were confident that RP’s journalism had real relevance locally and regionally. Some online tests had already shown the potential for improving online revenue generation, and a newly launched paid offer had been working quite well. However, although their journalists were working for both print and online, most workflows were clearly print focused.

The lack of targeted content for targeted audiences was an obvious gap, and a lot of questions remained around what content should be placed behind the paywall. On the User Experience (UX) side, RP also knew the journey to subscription had to be dramatically improved.

The RP team was clear: they wanted to move “From product centric To audience centric journalism” and “From success by chance To success by knowing and addressing their readers needs,” as well as their problems, interests and passions.

RP was also ready to adopt clear quantitative goals. Among others, they wanted to reach 2.7 out of 3 million inhabitants in their coverage area (90% penetration) and serve 250,000 total subscribers.

Decisions: You can start with a small audience, even a very small one

The RP team had several specific audiences in mind and ran a few different tests, for example with the Runners community and with participants to certain local festivals. One became vital though: “Willkommen, Baby!” (Welcome Baby!) was aimed at young families or parents expecting a new child.

Across all 19 local editions roughly 100 articles were published between February and March 2022. The primary focus was set on service content (“How to find the right birth clinic”), enriched with a small amount of more emotional pieces, e.g. parent reports on their first 100 days of parenthood.

As Henning Bulka, Head of Digital Desk, remembers: “We have always been experts on reporting and analysing hard news. However, making a dedicated effort to touch the hearts and souls of our readers regarding a certain topic was new to us. The success of these kinds of stories now results in them being standard repertoire for all audience coverage.”

The team published digital content across 3 weeks. It attracted 25,000 engaged users and generated 200,000 page impressions. 75% of the traffic came from women, well above the site’s average; more than half of the readers were aged between 20 and 40, when RP content usually attracts only a third of its audience from this age group. Not only was the content effective with the target audience, it was also helping to redress the overall imbalance of the readership.

Importantly it proved the impact and potential of properly targeting users’ specific needs and created a new community of engaged users. On the revenue side, the project yielded 220 ePaper subscriptions, 26 RP+ conversions and 20,000 Euros of advertising.

It also inspired the team to publish one of their “White Papers”, a digital e-book including their highest performing content over the run of the experiment that continues to have a long shelf-life well after the official end of the project.

Outcomes: Building on the success to widen the audience

The success of “Welcome Baby!” confirmed the potential and power of audience-centric quality journalism. The team started a new iteration and defined a wider audience to target, Urban Families.

They divided targeted content using three sub-types of stories:

  • Stories that are absolutely Core (including issues like Housing for example) and that really fitted RP’s current image within the target
  • Stories that present the most obvious next Opportunities (for example Relationships and Family)
  • Stories that will provide Digital Expansion on the target (for example Self-Growth or Entertainment).

Targeted content has provided clear results. For example, every time the RP team has chosen a so-called “focus-topic”, they report a 20% increase in conversion rate and a larger share of younger readers, the extreme being “Welcome, Baby”.

One of the key remaining challenges around acquisition had been the users’ practical path to conversion. Although this does not directly relate to editorial needs, the user journey had to be drastically improved. RP’s marketing team was able to shorten the checkout process, with the user’s email address becoming the only mandatory field to fill in.

The subscriptions offer itself was made clearer, without a fast ending trial period, and all subscription offers are presented in the now typical three-column view on the paywall landing page. With the favoured one in the middle… of course! All measures led to a conversation rate that has more than doubled.

See also: Rheinische Post boosts conversion rate with a paywall page redesign

As the RP team is looking ahead to their next challenge, they insist they will keep building and creating new mini-publishing teams around key audiences, including short-term, so-called “pop-up” audiences, such as holiday-makers experiencing chaos at Düsseldorf airport.

To move more quickly towards a digital-first approach, they also intend to further “de-couple” the layout of print newspaper pages away from the gathering and writing of stories and freeing up more resources for digital publishing. Finally, they are considering whether RP needs to rethink its options on metering in addition to the premium paywall.


Achievements during TSE:

A growing number of journalists at Rheinische Post is involved in the TSE method and several mini-publishing teams have been launched, targeting audiences such as runners, housing and families, with more to come. The audience-focused content is driving +50% traffic from both female and younger audiences, while a streamlined journey to subscription has improved the conversion rate greatly.

Key learning from TSE:

“The number one learning point has been the need to go out there, and meet and understand the audiences. You also shouldn’t be afraid to set quantitative goals and use data to drive change. Finally, celebrate success – and duplicate it!”