- Kirsten Ballard
Renee Clark is the Vice President, Membership Experience with Gannett’s Consumer Marketing group, supporting Gannett’s 92 local media properties. She and her team work to reinforce subscription value, drive member engagement, and improve retention and loyalty through a range of programs, offers, experiences and content. Clark has been with Gannett since 2014 and led the launch of the company’s first consumer loyalty program, Insider, along with several other membership initiatives. Prior to joining Gannett, she managed direct marketing, retention marketing and partner marketing groups with Verizon, Network Solutions and Simplexity.
1. What drew you to working in news media?
I knew that the news media industry was in a transformational period, with a keen focus on digital, which was very exciting to me. I thought my experience in the telecom industry with subscription-based services and also digital marketing and ecommerce could translate well. With all of the recent changes at Gannett (all good), it’s certainly been in a transformational period! I’ve brought with me some new ideas in the areas of loyalty and engagement that we’ve already put into action.
2. What are the key parts of growing a loyal audience?
I believe that the key to building a loyal audience is in making them feel that they are more than just subscribers. We want them to know that we are part of their community and want them to feel that they are members of each of our media company’s family. We exhibit this by becoming immersed in the community through philanthropy, and through local meet and greets with our staff (publishers, editors, reporters, photographers). We also strive to provide more value by providing access to unique and special experiences and events, with great coupons and deals around town, and of course being their trusted source for local and national news, including investigative reporting, things to do and high school sports. We also need to deliver news and information in the way people want to receive them… via mobile, web, apps, etc. and in the formats that interest them most, including video, virtual reality, etc.
3. What is the most exciting thing you are currently working on?
I guess I’d have to say the Insider loyalty program that we just launched last year. It provides subscribers/members with access to special deals, unique experiences and events, and additional content, just by logging into their digital account. The program has rolled out to 33 of our local markets and we plan to expand a version of the program to all of our local markets in the next few months. What’s been rewarding has been the opportunity to work with a great team from all around the country. We started this from scratch together. And, it’s been successful — we’ve found that those subscribers who have visited the Insider pages on our sites are doing all the things we want customers to do — get more engaged with us. They log in more frequently, come back to the site more often, stay on our sites longer, and remain customers longer than those who have not visited our pages.
4. How has Insider changed since it was launched?
A few things come to mind… As far as coverage, we’ve been adding more markets over the course of the year. As far as content, we’ve started to leverage the power of the USA TODAY NETWORK by finding content from throughout the network to highlight on Insider. For example, we can highlight a story with broad appeal from a market like Asbury Park, NJ, and feature it in our other markets like Phoenix, AZ, through our Insider program. We’re also doing more digital events these days. One example is a monthly series we recently launched in partnership with Random House called Q & Author, where best-selling authors hold a live video chat. While the chat is open to the public and hosted on USA TODAY, our Insiders get special perks including exclusive access to book excerpts and chances to win signed copies of books. We plan to expand this part of the membership. In the area of technical enhancements, one exciting update we’ve made in the last couple of months is personalizing our email newsletters based on the types of content in which each reader has shown prior interest. As we continue to track our members’ behavior, we should see increases in our open and click rates.
5. How do you see the future of news media?
It’s all about mobile and making content and experiences as mobile-friendly as possible. While the print editions will not completely fade from existence, they will become a much smaller focus overall. Also, utilizing data to bring a much more personalized experience to readers will become much more the norm. Finally, traditional news media will have to evolve just as other industries have. Just as other subscription services are looking at new business models, so too, will media organizations. Meeting the consumer need with new subscriptions or ways to engage in content will be key to success.
Five Answers is a weekly series that features a member of the newspaper industry answering five questions. If you’d like to participate, email Kirsten Ballard.