Publishers dangle access to editorial staffers in a bid for subscriptions

Among publishers looking for the right consumer revenue recipe, access to editorial staffers is becoming a common ingredient.

New York magazine’s membership program, New York by New York, is focusing on exclusive events, which are often hosted or guided by editorial staffers like food critic Adam Platt. The Atlantic’s membership program, The Masthead, offers weekly conference calls with reporters and editors. The Information — and Digiday — give subscribers access to private Slack channels where they can connect with editorial staffers.

For ad-supported publishers, the line between the advertiser and the editorial staff is supposed to be clear. But as publishers explore consumer revenue, many are bringing reader and writer together.

“It’s important for the editorial side to collaborate,” said Christina Shih, chief operations officer of the News Revenue Hub, an initiative that helps publishers set up reader-revenue programs. “Member benefits should be designed to retain your members, not attract new ones. Benefits that connect your members with your core product, your editorial content, deepen the relationship you have with them and will increase their propensity to give again.”

Fitting an editorial team into a membership program takes some work. Camilla Cho, New York Media’s gm of e-commerce and the person who oversees NYxNY, said when the publisher asked members if they wanted access to New York magazine writers, the answer was “an overwhelming yes.”

But deciding whom to tap for this role was another matter. “Some editors are game, and some are not,” Cho said. “It takes work figuring out who’s good, who can communicate clearly, who can gauge a room.”

Then, there’s the question of which staffers are good fits for specific events. Cho reviewed New York’s editorial team to determine who was open to working at events. When producing an event, she now regularly checks with David Haskell, New York’s editor for business and strategy, to find out what staffers are working on and see if that work might fit into an event. “[David] became the booking agent, in a way,” Cho said.

At most publishing companies, meeting with the public isn’t a job requirement for reporters. But publishers with membership programs say senior management clearly communicates the importance of membership to reporters. Jim Brady, the CEO of Spirited Media, said every reporter he’s hired to work at Spirited Media’s titles knows memberships are a core piece of the business. “We have the massive advantage of telling people upfront,” Brady said. “It’s different from telling someone who’s been covering city hall for 20 years that he has to start hosting events.”

Limiting the amount of time asked of reporters represents an important piece. At The Atlantic, the conference calls were rotated around the newsroom. At New York, Cho said NYxNY tries to avoid over-booking specific editors.

In some cases, the communication between editorial staff and audience leads to new products. On April 12, Politico held a launch event for Politico Space, its newest area of coverage, which it launched after enough Pro reporters and client services reps heard from subscribers that they were interested in learning more about it.

Bobby Moran, CRO of Politico, said Politico Pro subscribers have zero say in what Pro’s reporters cover. But the editorial staff is kept apprised of what subscribers are interested in; Pro’s client services and editorial teams meet on a weekly basis to compare notes.

Every publisher embeds its reporters in its membership product in a different way. But they mostly agree that the reporters are the best way to distinguish any kind of membership product. “The editors themselves are the best reflections of our brand,” Cho said.

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