Six steps that helped NWT gain younger readers and increase reader revenue

Main image: One example of NWT’s projects aimed at young readers was a series about new graduates that included reporting from a student trip to Ayia Napa. This was combined with a special offer campaign for under 25-year-olds.

An ageing subscriber base in print. A weak flow of new young paying digital readers. And no real focus on how to tackle the problem. That was the situation for NWT, a regional Swedish news outlet, in October 2021. One year later – a total change. This is how NWT succeeded in reaching young audiences and increasing revenue from that target group, and what six steps it took to build a better and younger future.

Publisher bio: NWT covers regional and local news in the region of Värmland, in west-central Sweden. The main city in the region is Karlstad with a population of 100,000.

Founded in 1837, NWT is Värmland’s main news outlet, with a print edition published six days a week while its website is updated 24/7. Online, it has about 300,000 unique visitors a week. 40 journalists work in the newsroom, and the publisher also has podcasts around sports and crime.

NWT is part of NWT Media, one of Sweden’s leading media houses with 279 permanent employees. Through 17 local brands in three counties, it delivers local journalism via sites, apps and print products. NWT Media also assists companies with media consulting, strategy and production of advertisements, films, campaigns and broadband.

Challenge: Finding new paying readers to replace churning subscribers

The challenge ahead was tough. Really tough. NWT were about to start working on one of their most difficult and intricate challenges ever: increasing the number of readers under 45 and getting them to stay as paying subscribers.

“At first, I was quite uncertain about what we could expect. We had tried different things in the past to reach young audiences but with little or no real success,” says Patric Hamsch, Deputy Head of Media and responsible for NWT’s Table Stakes Europe participation.

Nya WermlandsTidningen, or NWT, is a legacy news outlet and a stable part of people’s lives in Värmland as the main provider of local news. NWT’s business model is subscription based, and the outlet has a hard paywall with articles free only for the first hour after their publication. Reader revenue forms 70 percent of the total revenues with advertising generating the other 30 percent.

During the past decade, NWT’s print edition has been losing both readers and revenue. Of course, strong growth in digital has helped moderate these losses. But there is no avoiding the harsh reality. The average age of their print reader is 71, and online platforms can’t fully compensate for the speed with which the company is losing print subscribers.

“When we looked at our situation more in depth, we could see that we needed several parts of NWT to work together with the challenge. The newsroom solely did not have the capacity to drive the change, and we had bad examples from the past of working in silos with no real effect. That’s why we started by connecting the newsroom with colleagues from marketing, analysis and editorial development,” Hamsch says.

A working group of five people at NWT was formed, consisting of managers from different parts of NWT: Patric Hamsch (Deputy Head of Media), Kasper Norling (Editorial Director), Sandra Thörnstrand (Head of Data), Sara Prieditis (Head of Marketing) and Caroline Englund (Project Manager Editorial Development). Two reporters focused on young audiences were also recruited: Amos Friedman and Nea Liljegren.

“This was key for us. We had little or no experience in working together like this. And the most important thing was, this group shared all the challenges,” Hamsch says.

Decisions: Actions to understand the target audience

The group started with an analysis of the target audience: people younger than 45. The aim was to learn about their needs and interests, with the goal of feeding that knowledge into the activities of the newsroom and the marketing department.

Realising that more precision was needed, NWT divided this target audience, and the insights it learned, into two groups:

18- to 29-year-olds. For this target group, the best suited actions were brand building measures and generous campaigns. This group likes to read about:

  • Entertainment
  • Relationships and touching stories
  • Careers, either of other young people or celebrities
  • Breaking news

30- to 45-year-olds. This target group was seen as having more potential for digital conversion to support reader revenue. This group likes to read about:

  • Society and investigative journalism
  • Real estate
  • New stores and restaurants
  • Topics about kids and family life

These efforts were supported by an external focus group, which helped get more insights on how young people viewed NWT. The company also did a similar type of research internally.

The results included some positive findings:

  • NWT is a well-known brand.
  • It has high credibility and strong relations and collaborations in the local communities.
  • It has a high local reach (146,000 people every day, half of Värmland’s population).

… as well as some negative ones:

  • NWT is more closely related to history than present.
  • The goal to attract paying customers is a challenge because many of the competitors are free.

“It was very helpful to receive feedback from the external focus group,” says Hamsch. “Together with our own analysis and research, we could see that we had to focus on effective change. We also saw that we needed to sharpen our activities aimed at younger audiences.”

After the period of insight gathering in October and November 2021, NWT formulated its challenge statement:

“We will guarantee the future of NWT and local independent journalism by dramatically increasing the number of younger subscribers and becoming Värmlands number one digital news brand for people under 45.”

Image caption: NWT’s competition “Värmlands ugliest tattoo” received a lot of traffic from under 45-year-olds. The prize of the competition? A new tattoo.

“We almost immediately started producing both journalism and marketing activities totally focused on the challenge statement and the new knowledge we had around these target groups. We could instantly see the results with early wins and reaching the set goals,” Hamsch says.

One of the best performing projects was “Värmlands ugliest tattoo,” which the newsroom, marketing department and social media editors worked on together. Readers were asked to take part in the competition and send their own examples, which generated several articles both online and in print as well as Instagram Reels. The tattoo project both converted a lot of readers and gave NWT a number of new followers on Instagram.

NWT also did successful live reporting and interactive chats focused on young audiences, such as a chat with a relations expert on love, live reporting when the bars opened after the lockdown and stories on dating locations in the area. All of these were combined with marketing activities to ensure reach and engagement.

Outcomes: A strong influx of younger readers

From the beginning, NWT had five objectives for their TSE participation:

  • 20 percent of subscribers will be under 45. Check
  • 65 percent of all new digital subscribers will be under 45. Check
  • 30 percent increase in subscriptions on e-paper. Check
  • 20 percent of page views from logged in users under 45. Check
  • 37.4 percent increase in digital subscriptions. Check

For the team, the results were stunning. NWT reached all five objectives and can clearly see the digital transformation advancing in other measurements. For example, an analysis from the survey company Novus showed that from October 2021 to October 2022 NWT increased its digital reach among 18- to 39-year-olds by 10.7 percent (from 24.4 to 35.1). The same trend is apparent regarding total reach among the same age group: an 11.8 percent increase. During this period, NWT’s digital reader revenue also improved more than expected.

“We are so happy and thrilled about the results, they are amazing! We can really see why this has been so successful,” says Patric Hamsch.

Finally, as promised, the six steps that NWT advises others to follow to reach more young readers:

  • Learn more about younger audience’s needs, interests, problems and passions.
  • Start to produce relevant content for the right people, on the right channels at the right time.
  • Educate and recruit both current and new staff.
  • Radical change of the current digital product to serve younger audiences.
  • Constantly test and evaluate against set goals.
  • Develop and implement a social media strategy.

Achievements during TSE:

In addition to its success with attracting and engaging younger audiences, NWT Media is introducing the TSE mindset at two of its other newspapers. It has organised dedicated workshops to distribute the TSE tools and methods internally. NWT Media has also changed the organisation inspired by TSE and since September, NWT Media has a department for reader revenue including all of the company’s 15 newsrooms, marketing, print and product teams. A big mini publishing team!

Key learning from TSE:

“The most important thing is that we started to work directly with focus on the goals and activities, not on the process itself. And that we connected the newsroom with data and marketing.”

– Patric Hamsch