October 4, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

What PR professionals can learn from the New York Times’ transformations

What PR professionals can learn from the New York Times’ transformations

Even though it’s recently been deemed “the Failing New York Times,” the news giant has been anything but failing in the last year. Between breaking major stories and adding thousands of subscribers each month, the newspaper is forging a new frontier for itself.

A recent Nieman Labs interview with the Times’ CEO Mark Thompson and former CRO turned EVP and COO Meredith Kopit Levien revealed some of the strategies that propel the paper’s success.

Understanding the way they’ve evolved their business and media model can provide useful lessons to PR professionals and communicators looking to keep up with changing technology and trends.

The New York Times’ model

In the Nieman Labs interview, Thompson stated that transformation occurs at the Times every 18 months. He stated that the most recent transformation, involving Levien’s appointment to her new positions, is the third reorganization in the nearly five years he has worked for the Times.

He explained that these evolutions occur to keep up with changing audience expectations and technology. Among the transformations they’ve introduced in recent years are a paywall model for digital news, revamped approaches to advertising, and strategies that balance the needs and roles of journalism, product, advertising, and subscription departments.

In previous years, newspapers have experienced a stark decline in readership and revenue, with many newspapers laying off portions of their staff or closing entirely due in part to a shrinking number of readers consuming and paying for print news. A 2015 report from Journalism.org, for example, reported a seven percent decline in regular circulation and a four percent decline in Sunday circulation.

Despite these changes, the Times added 276,000 digital subscriptions, more than 2013 and 2014 combined, and 25,000 print subscribers during the fourth quarter of last year. The NY Times’ ability to remain relevant and well-read in this climate speaks to the success of their strategies.

The shifting, ever-evolving nature of technology and audience expectations influence how PR professionals plan and enact strategies. The methods the Times has implemented teach PR professionals important lessons about remaining relevant and successful.

Set measurable goals

Thompson stated in the Nieman Labs interview that he aims to increase the NY Times‘ digital subscribers to 10 million, expanding from the 1.6 million subscribers it had as of the end of 2016. This goal sets a specific number around which a campaign to expand subscriptions can be created.

Similar to the Times, PR professionals should set goals and maintain data to track the progress of these goals. A communication professional, for example, may aim to expand an email list by 1,000 subscribers. Tracking outlets promoting subscriptions to your list, such as social engagement with posts and clicks on banner ads, will show the efforts that garner the most attention from your audience. Having this knowledge allows communicators to decide how to tailor campaigns to yield the best results.

Tying PR efforts to business goals and measuring these efforts is a vital part of PR and communication campaigns. Professionals have a variety of tools to achieve this objective. Google Analytics, for example, provides free access to metrics and reporting features that show data on web traffic.

Having plans and tools in place to collect data about ongoing efforts allows you to track success and plan new tactics that contribute to the overall success of your organization.

 Optimize media

In recent years, countless articles have been published about the purported death of the traditional media. Thompson stated, however, that he expects to print physical copies of the Times for the next ten years. This statement indicates that the relevance of this channel can persist, even in the current media landscape seemingly dominated by digital media, with proper planning and allocation of funds.

With this in mind, it is important to consider how different channels of media can best benefit your organization. Using various mediums allows you to reach a larger, more diverse audience. After launching communications on various channels, you may realize that only certain channels benefit your organization. You may find, for example, that print is too expensive or, conversely, that your audience responds more positively to messages in print. Diversifying your channels and subsequently studying the ones with the best responses optimizes media efforts.

The New York Times’ recent digital innovations, measurable goals, and media tactics provide useful lessons to PR professionals and communicators looking to evolve and improve their strategies.

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About The Author


Jordan Gosselin recently began her career in marketing and communication with CARMA. Her experience includes social and digital work, creative content production, and marketing operations.

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