How Newsweek is pursuing audience and revenue growth this election year

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A presidential election year has the potential to be a boon for news and politics publishers when it comes to drawing in and monetizing audiences. But even though 2024 is a lot like 2020 on paper, platform performance issues and an unreliable ad market may make this election cycle less lucrative than hoped. 

For Newsweek’s global chief commercial and growth officer Kevin Gentzel, this means testing out new audience growth strategies and revenue streams to get back to growth this year.

“We did end the year with some growth, which was great, [but we] didn’t achieve what we set out to accomplish in [2023]. But I feel like we strategically started to sow seeds throughout the year that we knew were going to strategically benefit the business, our readers, brand partners, and start to develop other core commercial aspects of the company that we’re beginning to see in 2024 and beyond,” said Gentzel. 

On the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, Gentzel discusses how his team is generating referral traffic from alternative platforms, why political advertising dollars are hard to compete for and how Newsweek is looking to monetize readers with new subscription offerings. 

Below are highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

Alternative platforms for audience referrals 

As we all know, Facebook referral traffic has fallen off, other social platforms’ referral traffic has also fallen off. And our audience development team got very interested in experimenting with WhatsApp, for instance … And we’ve seen a significant amount of audience come to us now from WhatsApp — I don’t think they even call their product a newsfeed — but it’s interesting, and I’ve been experimenting with that. We also have been leaning into Reddit more and more and we find that platform is a successful one for the reader journey for us.

Pursuing political advertising 

I have a lot of experience with political advertising and what I have found over the last couple of cycles is that it’s so battleground state-focused. And even with some of the targeting capabilities of the platform, [advertisers want] really low level — I mean, you’re getting to undecided battleground states’ certain zip codes — that’s Facebook’s domain, quite frankly. 

Now, does a media company [like] Newsweek and others in our space, do we have access? Sure. Do I think it will be huge for us this year? It remains to be seen. Usually what is a bit bigger, in my experience, are campaigns that ride alongside of election cycles. So that could be advocacy … I think there will be an uptick in revenue because of the election. It remains to be seen by how much.

Niche subscriptions

I think it’s important [to share] the specificity and clarity of your intentions in building a subscription business. … So a big priority for us this year is developing, almost call it real estate development, of our rankings, the Newsweek rankings … Let’s take for instance, our ranking of the world’s top hospitals. Executives within that hospital are very proud to be ranked within our World’s [Best] Hospital list … We started to think there could be an opportunity to build a community with the CEOs, for instance, of hospitals that are ranked on the World’s [Best] Hospital list, including perhaps a membership model … It’s a new business for us to develop and incubate and test and figure out. And so I think that’s a way that we feel that we can build out a membership model with a specific niche person. And if that works, that could lead us to testing even more in that space.

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