D2C Summit: Subscription lessons from Bloomberg Media

As the past year has shown, it’s very difficult to think about politics without thinking about money, or to think about business without thinking about the health of workers. One brand successfully occupying that intersection is Bloomberg, providing coverage and information to its international readership from within its global newsroom – the largest international newsroom in the world – and beyond, and growing a huge subscriber base since its paywall launched in 2018.

During the second week of the FIPP D2C Summit, we were joined by Lindsay Horrigan, Global Head of Subscriptions and Consumer Marketing, Bloomberg Media, USA who talked with James Hewes, President and CEO, FIPP, about Bloomberg’s subscriptions success both before and during the pandemic. 

Launch of the paywall

Horrigan has been part of the team since the subscriptions side was first launched. Four years ago, there was no paywall, and Bloomberg’s primary revenue model was its commercial sponsorship and advertising model for its various media platforms. Horrigan drew on her experience with D2C at American Express to identify similarities between the two kinds of businesses. “You think about the value proposition, the customer journey, in a similar way,” she explained.

In mid-2018, Bloomberg officially launched its paywall. “True to Bloomberg’s ethos, it’s an entrepreneurial space,” said Horrigan. “With the launch, we asked how we could get to market quickly, and we had a lot of success right out of the gate which is a real testament to the brand and the loyalty people feel towards it.”

Pandemic growth spurt

Going into January 2020, Bloomberg was therefore already on an incredible growth trajectory – and when the pandemic hit, another round of exponential growth in readership and subscribers began. Horrigan in part puts this down to the brand’s global position at the nexus of politics, healthcare and business: “We were able to provide a clear utility for people worried at home seeking information, and also businesses,” she explained. “This set the stage for us in crystallising the value we can add for people.”

Crucially, Bloomberg has been able to maintain much of that success, with over 300,000 active subscribers globally and 40 per cent of this subscriber base being located outside of the US. The company will also hit nine figures in revenue in 2021, said Horrigan. 

The primary business is still selling the terminal to financial investors, and the media business is a small part of that. “But when revenue is that high, you start thinking about future-proofing the business. You really zoom in on what the future will look like, and who you are serving,” explained Horrigan.

A dynamic approach to audiences 

As fundamentally a business brand that focuses on markets and finance, what many consumers don’t realise is that Bloomberg also provides deep coverage of politics, technology, personal finance, luxury and other areas. This is a direct – and fun – challenge for the marketing team, said Horrigan. “What’s the core that unites all of these things that we do?” she said. “When asking this, we continue to come back to this idea of invention-led growth.”

It is important to consider how much awareness a consumer has of Bloomberg already, because that will change what is offered. After significant customer research and digging into the company’s different assets, the team launched Inventing Possibilities in October 2020 as a way of telling the Bloomberg story to newer consumers. Inventing Possibilities is a global, multi-platform ad campaign specifically designed to promote digital subscriptions for Bloomberg.com, with the aim of establishing Bloomberg Media’s trusted, data-driven global business news and insights as a pivotal resource. 

The message and the campaign is continually evolving according to where audiences are on their relationship with the brand, said Horrigan, and is sometimes tailored according to different markets. However, “just because someone is located in a different country, it doesn’t mean they will behave in a different way,” she explained. “We’re attracting a very ‘global type’ of person, so we aim to have consistency of messaging whether they are travelling in the US, London or Hong Kong. Tone and messaging must reflect the Bloomberg brand wherever you are in the world.”

New launches 

New recent launches have included Bloomberg’s expanded wealth coverage, which launched in autumn 2020 to provide information for those interested in personal finance and related subjects. “Our existing subscribers told us they wanted this, and it ended up being a great driver of net subscribers – we retained a lot of them,” explained Horrigan.

Other launches include City Lab, which provides fun content about how people are living and working in cities; Bloomberg Green, which focuses on sustainability and climate issues; and the Odd Lots podcast, which already existed but wasn’t leveraging its power fully. “Most of the audience were not subscribers,” said Horrigan, “so we decided to use that content as a way in for new subscribers. About a month and a half ago, we launched an expansion of that content with a newsletter, additional content and subscriber-only content.”

Consumer acquisition strategies

Horrigan explained that Bloomberg’s approach to acquiring new subscribers focuses on asking the question: where are our consumers currently? What do they want, and what’s going to get them over the hump to become a subscriber? The company conducts extensive price testing, leveraging introductory offers to make the subscription attractive enough to try out.

“Another key pillar is using the content itself,” added Horrigan. “Letting people experience the product for themselves – identifying key content and themes in our coverage, and giving people a chance to build a relationship with the brand before they buy in.

“I love the saying, ‘the best retention strategy is your acquisition strategy’,” said Horrigan. “Onboarding is critical – what makes this product something that people want to pay for and keep paying for? There’s a different flavour of onboarding, depending on what someone is interested in. You have such a short window for reiterating the value of any subscription product – typically, about 30 days. So you have to think about what the most important thing is that you want them to hear in that time.” 

Dynamic paywall, diverse strategies

Bloomberg uses a sophisticated algorithm to apply a dynamic paywall. Propensity to subscribe is classified according to high, medium and low, and offers are tailored accordingly. We believe that Bloomberg is very high quality journalism, so we’re not giving it away for free; but equally, we think very carefully about what is going to keep people coming back, and eventually be ready to pay. That might be obtaining an email address, or asking them to sign up for a newsletter in order to access extra articles. 

“We can use data to identify if you might have a high propensity to churn, and try to add value before you do. Customer lifetime value is a key metric, as is health and growth of active subscriber base.

“I think about the 20:80 rule, in which 20 per cent of your customers are typically driving 80 per cent of your revenue,” said Horrigan. “But we’re in growth mode from an audience and media product standpoint. So we don’t just limit ourselves to catering to those people we know will subscribe.”

Bloomberg also offers high quality events to its subscribers, which pre-Covid were a key way for subscribers to experience the brand in person. Events can also be a really good hook and retention strategy for new subscribers, Horrigan pointed out.

Newsletters are also very important: “They can be an amazing acquisition strategy,” said Horrigan. “Newsletters with lots of depth are a critical part of our overall strategy, and they stand on their own as a high quality offering.”

Corporate culture: all in the same boat 

At Bloomberg, the culture is driven by experimentation and innovation. “But that only works with everyone rowing in the same boat,” Horrigan clarified. “You have to make sure that everyone is going in the same direction, moving towards accomplishing the same goals. 

Communication and finding the right people are a critical part of that, then matching that talent with the right roles, she added. Reiterating the broader mission, connecting the dots, and taking a step back to communicate these things are essential. 


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