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Renee Kaplan on how FT ‘integrates audiences into journalistic process’

Renee Kaplan joined the Financial Times in May 2015 as their first Head of Audience Engagement. Lisa Oberndorfer talked to her about her position entails and why media companies should invest in their audience. 

Renee will speak at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, from March 20-22 (with the main Summit in the 21st and 22nd). Save hundreds of Euros on the final delegate rates by booking with our Early Bird offer – ending soon. 

You're the Head of Audience Engagement, a role that hasn't existed before at the FT. What does your job look like? 

It is newsroom-based, and I am a journalist, as are many people on the Audience Engagement team, but it's a job that cuts across many different parts of the FT organization. As a team, we are aiming to grow the reach and impact of FT journalism. So that means aligning efforts from all across the different parts of the newsroom -- and also from the rest of the organization -- which share those objectives. We work with editors and reporters, but also with the graphics and interactive teams, with our product teams, our marketing department, our communications department, and even our events teams.  

How many people are working for the audience engagement team? 

The team is about ten people and still growing. The roles are quite diverse, including both journalist and non-journalist roles, which is quite innovative for a team that sits in the newsroom and reports to FT editors. They include the social media team, with editors in London and New York; engagement editors; a data analyst; a marketing manager, who coordinates with the other commercial parts of the FT organization to grow the impact of our promotional efforts; an SEO expert; and an engagement strategist, who helps structure all of our projects with relevant, insightful metrics. I am also currently recruiting a community manager to lead the FT strategy around comments and onsite engagement.

What are you aiming to achieve with your work? Are you trying to gain more subscribers or engage with the existing community? 

We are trying to achieve both of those objectives – and another, third one, as well. Our first goal is to get our journalism out in front of more of the right audiences, the ones most likely to be affected by our content. And that includes targeting new audiences—potentially new subscribers—but also reinforcing the relationships with our current audience, working on making sure they continue to get value out of our journalism. But many of the practices involved in growing our reach and impact -- using data and metrics, optimizing our journalism for digital and social, aligning those efforts with other parts of the FT—much of that is new to newsrooms. Which means that another objective of the audience engagement team is also to help change the way we actually produce our journalism, helping to create an outlook and a culture in the newsroom in which the audience gets integrated into the journalistic process. 

What do you think is the overall benefit for news media to invest in audience engagement? 

News media organisations have been focussed on thinking digital-first for a while, but now it’s time to start thinking audience-first. As audiences begin to migrate away from our websites and homepages and toward all sorts of off-site platforms, we can’t count on audiences coming to us anymore. Finding out more about our audiences – where they are, when they’re there, what they like, and in what format – is quite simply becoming an integral part of any news media’s editorial strategy. It’s part of the evolution of the news media economy, away from advertising-driven models and toward paid content and subscription models in which the relationship to audiences is central.

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