The Philadelphia Inquirer shares successful strategy with ad-supported content hubs
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
For 192 years The Philadelphia Inquirer has been providing essential journalism for diverse communities in the Philly area. The successful, established institution reaches its audience through its newspaper, online, newsletters, apps and live events.
On this month's Big Branded call, we were happy to welcome National Digital Manager & Strategist Paul Turkavage and Creative Director Paul Siegell to explain how they're successfully transitioning some lifestyle verticals from printed special sections to ad-supported digital subdomains, giving advertisers a return on investment and the newspaper a boost in revenue. Check out the presentation deck here.
In the past, The Inquirer had frequent special sections aligned with arts, entertainment, education and lifestyle that was sold by the sales team. These packages were print focused, with a digital add-on. Over the past few years, advertisers showed more interest in digital promotion which was good news for the Inquirer because it would bring print costs down and allow for more in-depth digital content. Turkavage says branded content was the perfect marketing solution to present to advertisers for effective brand messaging.
"It was different than a traditional ad, of course, because it educates and informs the reader and it builds trust because you're aligning yourself with a 192 year old organization," he said.
He says they use paid social and display ads to drive traffic to the specific branded content article on the digital page section or subdomain where these digital verticals live. Advertisers benefit from paid social media amplification which helps drive traffic to the article.
"Newsletter integrations we just started that last year and it's been great to increase the sale of our average value order, but it also gives them another channel where they can amplify their branded content," he said.
The Inquirer used this strategy for their brand new digital Fall 2021 Education Guide. Education advertisers received a short form article with guaranteed page views and traffic drivers from The Inquirer's owned and operated site, as well as a paid social post, open house calendar and interactive map. They guaranteed page views and engagement and exceeded all KPIs for the local sponsors.
Paul Siegell emphasizes that with the education guide it was important to come up with a streamlined process ahead of the pitch in order to make the guide appealing to audiences and advertisers.
"We want an article that they're proud to share, so the first step of the process is the kickoff call. We meet with the client and try to uncover what makes their school different. Is it a special program or is it summer camp, something that only they have," Siegell said.
He uses freelance writers and then the client reviews it as needed. They also collaborate on social media captions and images. The articles are engaging, informative and tell the brand story - all crucial elements of branded content.
Because it's important to clients that they reach certain KPIs, Turkavage says if articles are performing low and the campaign isn't finished, they go to paid social first by taking some of the budget from traffic drivers and into social, which led to exceeding the page view guarantee. Because it was a new initiative, they've pivoted how they address this.
"This time what we did is we split the budget so we can measure it and look at pacing in a more holistic way and make sure that it's a true pacing," Turkavage said. "We'll do one organic post at the beginning of the campaign and spread them out so it's not all just a dump on the Inquirer's Facebook page." he said.
Philadelphia is known for education, so it was a great choice to target as a digital vertical. They wanted to target private schools that weren't really spending big amounts of money with the organization.
"We looked at what the market is doing and what we can do is leverage our branded content expertise and really tell individual stories about these schools, because every school has a unique selling proposition," Turkavage said.
Most of the education sponsors were new business, and the few existing customers hadn't been big spenders. They've also been able to turn on the new clients to other tactics with the paper, in addition to the branded content in the education guide. It ended up being a great stream of revenue for the team, and they've already increased their sponsorship goal for the next guide.
"Reps really buy into branded content, because it's a unique product. It's something that it's in our DNA as a publisher that we're a storytelling brand so really it just makes sense from an advertising perspective to leverage that. It's a big buy in from our salesforce," Turkavage said.
Since launching the successful education guide, The Inquirer has also created the Silver Linings content hub, which had been a print edition but now lives digitally. Next up is a college edition of the education guide which will focus on Philadelphia-based universities and others outside the market that are interested in capturing The Inquirer's audience.
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The Meta Branded Content Project is designed through a strategic partnership between the Meta Journalism Project, Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium to help facilitate additional growth, engagement, and revenue success for more publishers of all shapes and sizes.