These are some experiments and lessons that can be applied right away from our latest regional innovation mission

By Jed Williams
Chief Innovation Officer, LMA

LMA’s recent San Francisco regional Innovation Mission was all about a few core themes that are paramount to local media’s success: deep audience engagement, unique user value, actionable data strategy, and ultimately, consumer revenue growth. Every visit, meeting and networking opportunity zeroed in on these big ideas. Even if your company wasn’t on the trip, there are still experiments you can run and lessons that can be applied right away.

Here are a few that aren’t a particularly “heavy lift” and can help you reimagine your relationships with users and the value of your content. Don’t wait, don’t overthink it: test, learn, experiment some more, and start down the path to uncovering breakthrough ideas!

Get Vertical

Every local media company has specific, deep expertise that stands apart in their market. Prep sports, lifestyle and culture, politics, business, technology. There are lots of categories, and chances are you’re already covering them to some degree. Now, take one and dive deeper…a lot deeper! Don’t think about your expansion merely as creating more content; rather, impersonate your users. Understand what their “jobs to be done” are in a specific area, and tailor your content and storytelling to help them achieve these goals. But don’t just guess – ask them! Surveys, user groups, site analytics – all can unlock fresh insights about user needs and coverage gaps.

This is exactly the approach that NerdWallet and The Information – two of the most popular visits on the SF IM – have taken to their coverage areas, NerdWallet in personal finance and The Information in tech and entrepreneurship. “Our audience is highly educated and actively looking for answers in areas such as picking a credit card or selecting a mortgage lender,” NerdWallet VP Content Maggie Leung said. “We use our expertise to help people make decisions.”

The Information focuses on unique technology content for entrepreneurs and executives.


Invest in Newsletters

Whether the San Francisco Chronicle, The Information, or even Google, one of the lasting takeaways of the trip was the power of email newsletters as a critical mid-funnel conversion point on the path to a user becoming a paying subscriber.

In just the past year, the Chronicle has quintupled its newsletter volume from five to 20, with more in the works. Some are daily news briefings; others are more vertical-focused and publish less frequently. But the upshot is the same. Head of Consumer Revenue John Rockwell quantified the impact: 200 new leads per day from newsletter signups.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers a wide array of email newsletters.

Newsletters can then be personalized as the paper learns more about its registered users. And email remains a vital platform post-conversion. New subscribers enjoy a customized journey that includes a different email every day for the first seven days to spur engagement and minimize churn.

The evidence is everywhere. The Information has 300,000-plus registered readers, which more than 10 percent converting to paying subscribers. Moreover, Google’s News Consumer Insights dashboard (see sample below) suggests that email often carries one of the highest User Value Scores (UVS), a call to action to publishers to invest more in this traffic source.

Getting started with newsletters isn’t a complex technical challenge. But it does require a willingness to invest in email acquisition and an openness to experimentation on the topics, formats, and headlines that register with readers. Industry intel suggests the investment is well worth it.

Curate (don’t just create)

A pearl of wisdom I’ve heard from many of the brightest minds in local media is to “be the place where someone starts,” even if you’re not always the place where they end. Make your content about user enablement, not user captivity. Smart curation is a central part of this strategy.

A look at the San Francisco Chronicle’s free website, SFGate.

SFGate, the free sister site of the Chronicle, adopts this approach in its mission to “provide a 360-degree of San Francisco that is wildly reflective of right now.” Executive Producer Brandon Mercer notes that the site openly partners with lots of third parties, including NerdWallet, GeekWire, Business Insider, Hoodline, and many more.

Hoodline’s Oakland site.

Speaking of Hoodline, their hyperlocal, automated stories – largely built upon localized data sets from companies such as Yelp, Eventbrite, Zillow, and Zip Recruiter – can help local media fill in coverage gaps, particularly at a neighborhood-specific level.

Innovation Missions In The News

Top Lessons for News Sites in SF Innovation Tour: Identify Users and Win Them Over One by One

LMA’s Innovation Sleuth Finds ‘Compelling’ Breakthroughs in News Industry