The New York Times’ Innovation Report of 2014—the publisher’s clarion call to “crack the code” in the digital era—indicated the need for a specialized role that would focus on getting more content in front of its readers.
Since then several publishers, including the Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Slate, and Vanity Fair among others, have created roles and teams that focus on driving audience growth. They are variously referred to as audience development editors, audience development czars, or growth editors.
The stated goal is how I get our work in front of a larger and larger audience without compromising who we are. How do I do that while figuring out how to tell the stories of Denver and Colorado effectively.Dan Petty, Director of Audience Development, The Denver Post
Engaging readers with thoughtful resurfacing
The common goal of growth editors is driving audience growth and deepening reader engagement. However, there may be some difference in their strategies across various organizations. For example, The Atlantic has found that resurfacing relevant content from its archives at the moment its audiences need it, is one of the most effective ways to get readers to consume more content.
Lymari Morales, Managing Director, Editorial and Insights, Atlantic 57, the Atlantic magazine’s consulting service, says that in a given month more than 50% of the traffic at The Atlantic comes from content not produced in that month.
In fact, the timely resurfacing of a March 2015 story, “What ISIS Really Wants” in November 2015 set an all-time audience record of 31.5 million monthly unique visitors in that month. She suggests that just like The Atlantic, other publishers can revive older content or nuggets from the archives that may be relevant to current stories.
Smart resurfacing is a powerful tactic that organizations without a growth editor tend to miss.Lymari Morales, Managing Director, Editorial and Insights, Atlantic 57
Resurfaced content could include evergreen content that has done well before but is still relevant. It could also include pushing high-value content that required a considerable investment of resources. It’s a task that requires thoughtful analyses on a daily basis. For example, In June 2017, The Atlantic published the story, How to Deal with North Korea. This was when North Korea was aggressively testing its missile launch and bomb-building capabilities. The article outlined four approaches the United States could take in its interactions with North Korea.
It was resurfaced each time there was a new development around North Korea’s tests. The article drew audiences every time. This was because it was relevant and valuable to readers, as it went beyond the current headlines and helped them develop a better sense of the issue.
Driving growth strategically with growth editors
Morales credits the Atlantic’s Senior Editor, Caitlin Frazier, for the Atlantic’s success with resurfacing older content. Frazier oversees social, audience, partnerships, and the archives for the Atlantic with a team of five. But this is just one way that growth editors can help. “Given their obsessive focus on audience needs, social media, and analytics, growth editors amass useful insights into what makes great content. They often independently produce content tailored for specific platforms and advise other content creators on the best angles and approaches to reach their audience,” adds Morales.
At Quartz, every morning, growth and news editors work together to create a list of story assignments. According to Thomas McBee, Editorial Director for Growth at Quartz, “We’re kind of like a ground zero for story assignments if people choose to come to us for those”.
Adding value, optimizing resources
In its work with publishers, Atlantic 57 has found that organizations without growth editors, spend about 80% of their time on content planning and creation, and only 20% on distribution and resurfacing. Those that add a growth editor find the ratio improving to about 50%-50%. And they can achieve this ratio with their existing resources.
Publishers looking for sustainable growth strategies may find value in putting together a multi-disciplinary team that specializes in driving growth. It can consist of people from journalism, sales, and marketing. This will introduce a holistic approach, and a degree of discipline and focus to growth efforts that can yield positive results with consistency.