How the Financial Times is building brand loyalty among young readers

For subscriptions publishers like the Financial Times, cultivating regular reading habits with younger generations is essential to securing future paid customers. That’s why the publisher has established a long-term program to get school kids and teachers regularly reading FT content.

The program has been designed to help students contextualize their school curriculum with relevant news articles written by FT journalists. The publisher lifts the paywall with participating schools and students and students can create their own online and mobile accounts. Those that do are sent weekly email newsletters, curated by the FT’s global education editor, Andrew Jack. These feature links to stories that are relevant to their specific fields, whether it be economics, the environment or politics.

In doing so, the hope is that 16- to 19-year-old students can more easily contextualize fact-heavy text-book information by reading relevant, real-life, contemporary examples of world and businesses news.

“Historically, the FT has been perceived as [having] an older audience already in working life or advanced education,” said Jack. “But this is important in terms of thinking about our future readers, and with the wider debate around fake news and poor quality information so readily available, we feel providing high-quality information to that next generation is very important.”

The program, which began in the U.K. in 2017, has rolled out to 2,300 schools globally. While around 75 percent of those schools are in the U.K., there are around 100 involved in the U.S. and other schools are participating in countries where English is a second language, like China. This is where the FT’s development of audio text articles has come in handy because students learning English can hear how the article sounds, added Jack.

More than a million FT pages have been accessed by students and teachers in the program over the last year and 34,000 individual accounts created, according to the publisher.

“The FT, like other publishers with older readerships, worries that the next generation will not grow into reading their types of news,” said Nic Newman, senior research associate for Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “So most of these types of initiatives are about establishing the brand and the value early on with the hope that they will continue to identify with the brand as they move into the world of work.”

To ensure students make the most of the program, the FT has cultivated relationships with the teachers. The publisher sends a weekly email newsletter to 20,000 individual teachers who have signed up. Typically, there will be five different subject fields covered in the newsletter, spanning economics, politics, global affairs and culture.

“We have built a network of teacher curators,” added Jack. “They know what is useful and what resonates; they contact me with articles they want shared.” The publisher has started adding two to three question suggestions to accompany articles sent in the newsletter as lesson-planning aids.

To appeal directly to students, the FT runs multiple-choice quizzes and three writing competitions. The quizzes test students on the biggest news stories of the year, published by the FT, across a range of subjects.

The publisher has partnered with credible institutions for the competitions, including the Bank of England, Chatham House and World Bank. The partners don’t pay, but they do offer tickets to major annual events they hold to the winners. Competition challenges have asked students to describe the future of money or to write about what their first priority would be if they were appointed United Nations secretary. The winner gets their article published on as well as the website of the partner institution.

The FT has a stable subscriptions business with 985,000 print and digital paying subscribers. But to sustain and grow that, the publisher must cultivate loyalty among younger generations, for whom the current paywall is prohibitive. “By engaging with the younger generations, introducing them to the brand from a young age, creating the habit and building up the longer-term relationship The Financial Times will look to coach the individuals through their life cycle and eventually migrate them up to being fully paid subscribers,” said Greg Harwood, director at strategy and marketing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners.

The FT also wants to do more to engage younger people with its video coverage in 2019, though it wouldn’t reveal details. So far it has run a short-form video competition, but wants to develop more ways to get young people viewing its video, added Jack.

“It’s vitally important for the FT to engage with new audiences at all points on the age spectrum, but particularly at the younger end,” said Jon Slade, group chief commercial officer at the FT. “We think the FT provides a really important, helpful tool to help young people navigate the world they live in, and help with their studies. And we hope in doing that we are also building the paying reader of the future.”

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