The Wall Street Journal is one of the few more traditional subscription businesses to participate in Apple’s paid magazine bundle. But, aside from using the platform as an acquisition tool, certain ad units on Apple News were performing better than on the Journal’s own site, according to Josh Stinchcomb, global chief revenue officer, media sales for Dow Jones.
Stinchcomb joined the publisher last August to turbocharge its ad revenue. Since then, The Wall Street Journal has been growing its teams and capabilities across three areas: content marketing, events and new ad formats. In the last six months, the Journal has won back branded content clients and increased the contract renewal rate, partly thanks to incorporating data from its other properties, like information service Factiva and sister company Storyful, as well as launch a new contextual targeting tool, which has become its most-highly sought-after format with advertisers.
“Our digital reach is bigger than in print, so in many ways, digital advertising is the most important revenue stream looking to the future. It’s growing, and it’s where we have scale,” said Stinchcomb. “We’re hyper-focused on creating valuable ad products. As an indication of how important, we now have a sizable ad tech team to create ad products that didn’t exist eight months ago.”
Stinchcomb discusses why Apple News Plus makes sense for the WSJ and working more closely branded content partners. The conversation has been edited and condensed.
What was the appeal of Apple News Plus, and how big is the concern of diluting the brand?
The opportunity brings us to a broader and qualified audience, those are good filters for someone who is selling advertising against it, so it’s an expansion of inventory and ad capability. We’ve always had different products for tranches of members. It increases the size of the funnel of people coming into the brand where we can upsell them to other areas of membership or C-suite council.
Were you getting meaningful revenue from Apple News?
We found things that were working well. One of the most effective formats in Apple News for us has been the native units and pushing our branded content. We found they performed as well or better than the native units on our site. It’s proving to be particularly good for pushing branded content at a time when we’re investing in our branded content entity.
Explain the changes to your branded content studio and the impact they have had.
As an industry, we’re at risk of undermining the value of branded content. Calling it “The Trust” means no blurred lines and no blind spots. More important than the rebrand is expanding the team and building capabilities in technology, event programming and audience development. It’s early days, but revenue from this up-coming quarter is going to be significantly better from branded content than quarters preceding. We’re seeing a major upswing in business. We’ve just brokered five custom deals, some with partners we haven’t worked with in a couple of years. It’s more interesting and more effective to work on a longer time frame with ad partners. The change I’m perpetuating is fewer, bigger, longer partnerships.
What’s a typical campaign look like now?
We work with [financial service provider] Tech Mahindra on an annual basis. We’re surveying global CEOs about what keeps them up at night, which will be our road map to what stories [the client] has to tell to address these issues there’s an appetite for. The length of partnership allows us the time to do that. They are also a sponsor of our CEO council meeting where they could present this research. There are smart ways to connect the insight we have: from the access to our audience to content creation to live moments to make a difference for clients.
How are you driving business outcomes?
With [aviation company] VistaJet we were able to tie back new plane lease customers, those are worth millions of dollars to them. We worked with a real-estate company where we sold multimillion dollar houses through our activation. We’re getting closer to being able to prove the business outcome. Branded content will be increasingly relied on to do a lot more than just general vague brand awareness. It’s going to have to work harder as people rely on advertising less. The insights part is strong. The content part, which everyone seems to focus on: That’s the commodity. We are focused on that chain — from insight to creation to distribution to performance — at either end. That’s where you’re going to differentiate.
Besides data from your membership base, how do your services enhance your ad products?
Last year, we launched a new ad format called DJID which takes Factiva and applies artificial intelligence to understand the nuances of what a story is about. As a contextual targeting tool, an advertiser can put their message next to stories on really specific topics like how AI impacts healthcare or how transportation is being transformed by this technology. It’s our highest CPM and highest in demand; we’re struggling to keep up with the number of segments advertisers want us to build. There are dozens of segments but ultimately will be hundreds. There are other contextual targeting tools, but they are crude by comparison, often keyword-based and retroactive.