3 tactics news publishers should steal from the advertising industry

How creative strategy can attract new readers and build habits.
Times Square in New York City. Advertising industry tactics.
Photo by Jose Francisco Fernandez Saura on Pexels.

As a fledgling news startup, every opportunity to attract new readers counts. When there’s a chance to get the publication’s name out there — whether through a newsletter swap, social media ads or another growth tactic — it’s vital to make an impression. Advertising agencies have long mastered the art of entertainment and persuasion. Here’s what publishers can learn from the giants on Madison Ave.

Don’t just inform, entertain

Storytelling works — but have you ever wondered why? Multiple studies have shown that strong emotions strengthen memories. As Annemarie Dooling and Sam Ragland shared at the 2023 NPA Summit, “Awe is key to understanding how we can open the minds and hearts of our audiences.” 

Journalists are already skilled storytellers. Now, it’s about applying that thinking to advertising. How might you write ad copy that speaks to the people you want to read your news? Or how might you design a graphic that is not only attention-grabbing but will leave a lasting impression?

Tap into your creative juices! For example, Indiegraf partner publisher The Rover produced a short video announcing the outlet’s shift to Indie Tech and why readers in Quebec should support their journalism. You don’t need to create a Super Bowl-worthy ad — you just need to delight the people in the community you serve.

IndigiNews four points framework. Advertising industry tactics.
IndigiNews four points framework. Advertising industry tactics.
Examples of four points frameworks for IndigiNews. Credit: Pearl Leung

But keep strategy at the heart of your asks

Use the four points framework to develop promotional strategy. This tool helps you find a common thread between your audience, the problem they’re experiencing and what your publication can uniquely offer—providing a starting point for campaign ideas.

First, define your audience and the problem your publication is solving for them. Does your publication fill a gap in local news? Do you produce journalism for a specific community? 

For example, IndigiNews primarily wants to reach Indigenous Peoples across North America, but they have a secondary audience of non-Indigenous allies that want to learn more about Indigenous culture. For both audiences, there is a lack of Indigenous-led, Indigenous-centered journalism across North America. 

Second, identify an “insight” — something your audience has yet to realize about the problem at hand. For Indigenous readers, this could be that there is a place for their stories in news media, stories that are representative of their lived experiences. For allies, this could be that there is so much more to Indigenous Peoples than what legacy publications cover in their reporting.

Third, clarify your publication’s unique advantage for your target audience. How does your publication address the larger problem? IndigiNews is Indigenous-led and keeps Indigenous folks at the heart of their reporting. This is exemplified in the publication of Alphonse Little Poplar’s oral histories and how the publication pursues justice for Indigenous Peoples in its series on birth alerts and police accountability

Lastly, tie the problem, insight and advantage all together in one strategy. How does your publication show that you can solve your audience’s particular problem? From there, you can put on your creative hat and begin to entertain, keeping strategy in mind. For example, in one lead generation campaign, IndigiNews used the tagline “Our stories. Our truths.” to show that they bring a uniquely Indigenous perspective to their storytelling. 

Help your readers build habits

We all know how difficult it is to start something new. The best way to encourage adoption of a product or service is to embed usage in an existing habit. 

Candy bars advertisements are a prime example. For instance, the tagline “Have a break, have a KitKat” encourages people to associate KitKats with relaxation. “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign plays on how filling a Snickers is, encouraging people to reach for the chocolate bar when they need a quick snack. 

As a publisher, you can send newsletters in the morning so readers can browse during breakfast. Or publish podcasts just before the end of the workday so listeners can tune in on their commute home. 

Make it easy for your audience to include you in their day. And if you deviate from routine — like sending out a newsletter later than usual—explain why. Be honest about being human, and you’ll develop even more loyal readers.

Want help developing strategies and creative campaigns to promote your journalism? You’ll get a dedicated strategist with Indie Audience services!


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