Strength in numbers: Dow Jones and The Atlantic on how commercial partnerships drive growth after Covid-19

This article is written by Piet van Niekerk and Pierre de Villiers

“It is so crucial for the publishing industry to collaborate and to share, to the extent that they can, their fears and their findings,” explained Jonathan Wright, Global Managing director for Dow Jones, while taking part in a recent FIPP Insider Webinar that looked at challenges and opportunities in a post-Covid world. “Publishing survives together, there will be no last person standing. It is about how we collaborate, share and work together.”

One way Dow Jones is doing just that is through mutually beneficial partnerships that accelerate growth for its brands in new markets outside the US – something that was set up five years ago when its most revered title, The Wall Street Journal, realised it had a perception problem.

“After doing research we realised one of the barriers to uptake by new readers outside the US was the perception that The Wall Street Journal was very American, right wing and not international,” explained Nick Pimm, Vice President Commercial Partnerships EMEA. “But once people had sampled our content, it dramatically changed their perceptions and increased uptake. We knew we needed a better way to get our content out to as many people.”

Reaching out

The answer was creating commercial partnerships with a particular focus on membership brands.

“When we thought about the needs of other brands, especially major publishers and other brands that rely on deepening engagement and a direct customer relationship, we decided to align our partnership model with the move in our industry to establish and grow sustainable subscription models,” added Pimm.

Currently Dow Jones have 50 partners around the world who are successfully using their premium content, memberships, brands and knowledge in different ways. Pimm pointed out that the agreements are not a case of “one size fits all” with Dow Jones working with partners across a number of different fields including enhancing the editorial proposition, supporting subscription acquisition initiatives and creating new revenue streams by franchising some of the Dow Jones brands.

“Mutually beneficial partnerships are a great way to combine resources to drive growth,” said Pimm. “What is important is to be really clear about what we can bring to a partnership and also what we need from a partnership and what we don’t have. It’s much more of a two-way partnership than before. We are aligning along mutual goals.”

By striking up a partnership, The Times of London has seen a 20 per cent improvement in its churn and The Australian a 25 per cent improvement in churn. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the need among publishers to enter into partnerships, according to Joe Martin, Vice President of Commercial Partnerships APAC. “Part of the reason we set up a (commercial partnership) team was for us to work closely with publishers, but it’s clear to us that there has never been a more important time to do that than now.”

A partnership that pays off 

Partnerships between publishers is not the only collaboration set to flourish. Bespoke, mutually beneficial agreements between advertisers and digital publishers can also grow despite publishers increasing their subscriber base where an increasing amount of content is hidden behind a paywall. 

Asked about the balance between advertising revenue and increased subscription revenue on the back of the subscription spike seen during the Covid-19 crisis, Sam Rosen, Senior Vice President of Growth at The Atlantic magazine said: “If anything, having more digital subscribers will assist advertising efforts because it gives advertisers an opportunity to engage with subscribers.” He was speaking during a FIPP Insider Webinar examining data-driven pricing strategies that grow subscription revenues.

Rosen explained that as their digital subscriptions base increased, brands started to show a growing understanding that online media and news journalism are growing increasingly to a subscription-first world. “Brands are starting to enquire about different ways they can sponsor exclusive content or unique experiences for subscribers. 

“Some advertisers are looking at bespoke partnerships that will allow them to reach subscribers which are the most engaged. This creates opportunities to optimise page content and find a balance between how they make the most of finding a balance between subscriber revenue and revenue from bespoke, mutually beneficial agreements with brands. “We certainly don’t see the two in conflict.”


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