Saving Newspapers With Direct Mail in a Digital Age

Yesterday, I was riding the train in to work when I saw a fellow passenger doing something a little unusual: reading the newspaper.

Yesterday, I was riding the train in to work when I saw a fellow passenger doing something a little unusual: reading the newspaper.

We are living in a smartphone world, after all. Aside from a little conversation here and there, most people spend their time looking down, quietly staring at their screens.

And I’m one of them too, mostly.

So there she was, flipping through the newspaper’s sections, and circling stories with a pen. I remembered a story I read (online of course) this week.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said in a CNBC interview that most newspapers will probably not survive in the long term. He picked the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as those with a certain future. They’ve managed to figure out a digital strategy to go along with a print one, he said.

I wonder what role, if any, direct mail will play in the years ahead in driving subscriptions for these two brands, and the industry as a whole.

nyt_01The New York Times recently mailed an invitation-style envelope that included a notecard-type letter inside. The top leaf shows a cup of coffee, a pair of glasses, a phone, and sections of the paper, as well as the magazine. I liked the design because I can relate to it. But the letter itself left me a little cold.

After “Dear Reader,” it jumps right into four paragraphs with headings that seem a bit self-absorbed. “The touchstone of news,” “The most engaging storytelling,” “Discover real journalism” … I know it’s a great institution, but really?

The Wall Street Journal’s mail is better. They’ve moved away from relying on bare-bones voucher offers to also use an actual letter. The paper’s Editor-in-Chief says that it “explores the most important world of all. YOURS.” He talks about how the Journal’s “brand new features and expanded coverage” are all devoted to “your interests and passions.”

OK, so it’s not exactly like Martin Conroy’s “2 Young Men” letter, which made over $2 billion for the Journal during its run.

But it’s something.

As long as newspapers can persuade readers to pay good money for high-quality, one-of-a-kind, and relevant content, they’ll survive, and hopefully thrive. Whether it’s direct mail that gets that job done is a big question.

5 Social Media Best Practices for Publishers

When it comes to social media marketing, some magazines and newspapers are doing it right, while some could improve their strategies. These issues were discussed at a session called “Social Media Marketing For Newspapers & Magazines,” held during the Search Marketing Expo East conference in New York, Oct. 6-8.

When it comes to social media marketing, some magazines and newspapers are doing it right, while some could improve their strategies. These issues were discussed at a session called “Social Media Marketing For Newspapers & Magazines,” held during the Search Marketing Expo East conference in New York, Oct. 6-8.

During the session, Adam Sherk, a search specialist at New York City-based search engine optimization firm Define Search Strategies, revealed the results of a survey showing that between the first and third quarters of this year, traffic on magazine sites coming from social media sites ranged from 0.6 percent to 18 percent of total traffic. Definitely a wide berth.

The session also discussed best practices in terms of getting a high percentage of social media traffic to a magazine or publisher Web site.

With this in mind, Chris Winfield, president and co-founder of 10e20, a New York City-based social media marketing consultancy, offered the following strategies for serving up a successful social media plan.

1. Research. “Find out where your visitors are already coming from,” he said. If they’re coming from Facebook, for example, start there. In addition, Winfield said that marketers should determine on which sites people are talking about you and who is already linking to you by tracking your inbound links.

In addition, “figure out what has worked so far in terms of social media marketing,” he said, “what hasn’t and what sites have the most potential for growth.”

2. Decide. “Once you figure out where your audience hang outs and what the demographics of these people are,” Winfield said, “decide if you should continue focusing on these areas. Also decide which specific media sites are right for your content and focus on those as well.”

3. Get your content up to snuff. “Make sure your content is easy for consumers to consume,” Winfield said. “Make it easy for people to share your content.”

But, Winfield warned publishers not to go overboard with social media buttons that users can click on to share content. “It’s a turnoff and people are not going to use them,” he said. He also suggested looking out for evergreen content that can be “easily updated and prettied up.”

4. Make internal changes. “Get key employees and stakeholders on board with your social media marketing plan,” Winfield said. “Get your existing readers on board. You’ll want to educate them and explain to them how your strategy works and how it can help them.”

While it’s important to make internal changes, Winfield cautioned attendees not to alienate their existing audiences.

5. Open up. Once your strategy is up and running, Winfield advised to maintain it by continually adding fresh content to your blogs, while also having a good RSS strategy.

“Many companies are not really sure what they are doing now when it comes to RSS feeds,” he said, “and they don’t understand how important a good RSS strategy can be.”

When working with microblog sites, such as Twitter, “don’t just be a feed,” he noted. “This can be boring. You want to be more than that — to gain new followers.”