How we grew one small publisher’s audience revenue by 1,745% in six months

Indiegraf Audience Strategist Trevor Jang reflects on executing Peterborough Currents’s successful growth strategy.

Last summer, Indiegraf helped journalist-entrepreneurs Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson raise over $20,000 to launch the website for their small digital publication Peterborough Currents. 

The $20,000 had come in the form of one-time contributions with a very specific ask: help us build our website. The next step? We needed to grow monthly recurring contributions from readers in order to sustain the local journalism long-term. 

Indiegraf was tasked with developing a growth strategy to help Peterborough Currents strive towards sustainability through a reader-revenue business model. After six months of execution, we were able to grow monthly recurring revenue by 1,745 per cent, setting Barmania and Pearson up for a successful second year in operation. 

Here is a breakdown of the two reader revenue campaigns and one lead generation campaign we ran during this time that contributed to sustainable growth for Peterborough Currents. 

Holiday 2020 campaign leverages super engaged email subscribers 

In December 2020, we executed a 10-day reader revenue campaign targeting Peterborough Currents’ 1,700 email subscribers and 900 social media followers. We knew that the email audience was highly engaged — nearly 50 per cent of subscribers were considered “super members,” a distinction given to those that have either a four or five-star engagement rating in Mailchimp. 

At Indiegraf, we hope that at least one-third of our client’s email subscribers become super members eventually. That’s healthy, strong audience engagement. To have nearly half of the subscribers be super members indicated to us that Peterborough Currents’ audience was small, but incredibly engaged, loyal and loving the in-depth reporting Barmania and Pearson were providing. 

We sent out five emails during the 10-day campaign. We crafted our email marketing strategy around an eight-episode podcast series breaking down the City of Peterborough’s municipal budget, as well as a deep-dive investigation into Peterborough’s homeless shelters. We knew from survey feedback and Google Analytics data that this was the type of in-depth local journalism that residents came to Peterborough Currents for. 

Our emails were mini-case studies sharing the methodology behind these stories. We explained how being an independent news outlet not beholden to corporate shareholders or advertisers empowered Barmania and Pearson to pursue these long-form investigations — and it allowed them to dig beneath the headlines, covering local issues in a way that no other news outlet in the region was doing. 

The messaging focused on showing readers the value of their journalism and letting them know that their ongoing financial support was needed to ensure the publication they love could continue for the long run. By the end of the campaign, we converted 50 readers into paying supporters and grew monthly recurring revenue from $62 a month to $683 a month. 

Facebook lead generation campaign brings in new readers

In early 2021, we switched focus from revenue to lead generation. We wanted to grow Peterborough Currents’ audience so that we had a larger pool of potential supporters in their upcoming spring revenue campaign. 

We ran lead form ads through Facebook for two months with a $2,000 monthly advertising budget. Lead form ads are native to Facebook, meaning users don’t click a link that takes them outside of the platform to sign up for the newsletter. Instead, users stay where they are on their newsfeed. This ease of use results in higher conversions and a lower cost-per-lead (CPL). 

Indiegraf aims to have a CPL of $4 or less when running lead generation campaigns for small publishers. If the CPL rises to between $4 and $5, we spend a couple of weeks tinkering with audience segments and creative options, like headlines and images. 

If we are unable to bring the CPL back down after these adjustments, then it is a clear sign that we have exhausted the publisher’s audience through this tactic and platform. Luckily for Peterborough Currents, that was not the case. We spent $3,840.42 on lead form ads over two months, generating 1,352 new email newsletter sign-ups for a CPL of $2.80. 

Peterborough Currents has two newsletter products: a news-focused issue and an arts-and-culture-focused issue. We ran lead form ads for both products and found that the CPL was consistently lower for the news-focused product. This showed us there was more interest in the market for local news coverage than there was for arts and culture coverage. This was a valuable insight to share with the publisher. 

One-year anniversary spring 2021 campaign celebrates local independent journalism 

In March 2021, Peterborough Currents celebrated the one-year anniversary of their newsletter launch. We leveraged this moment to run a three-week reader revenue campaign. We felt good about the timing of this campaign because we had just built the email list up to 2,700 without compromising our strong super member percentage in Mailchimp. As newsletter lists grow, you can expect engagement to drop a bit. But nearly 40 per cent of Peterborough Currents’ subscribers were still considered super members. 

Not only did we utilize celebratory messaging around Peterborough Currents’ one-year anniversary for this campaign, but we continued to leverage strong in-depth reporting. This time, the publisher was releasing a six-part podcast series on the opioid overdose crisis, and had just released a deep dive on affordable housing

Over the 21-day period, we garnered 62 supporters, raising monthly recurring revenue from $738 a month to $1,144 a month. Email remained our strongest marketing tactic, with more than 30 of the 62 supporters coming from our newsletters.

We sent out 10 emails over the three weeks, and boosted all of Peterborough Currents’ content on Facebook as it was published, which brought more than 5,000 readers to the website. On the site, we set up inline and popup ads, which were directly responsible for converting 13 of those supporters. 

Next steps for Peterborough Currents 

Peterborough Currents has now converted eight per cent of their current email subscribers to paying supporters. Indiegraf bases our client’s financial projections on being able to convert 10 per cent of subscribers to supporters over time. 

This means Barmania and Pearson have nearly maxed out their financial potential with current subscribers and need to grow their “top of the funnel” audiences. This means attracting more casual readers to follow them on social media and visit their website, bringing them further down to the middle of the funnel (newsletter subscribers) and ultimately to the bottom of the funnel (super members and paying supporters). 

It’s been clear from the very beginning that Barmania and Pearson are providing Peterborough with a news product that is greatly needed and valued by residents — a fact that is solidified by their steady and sustainable growth over the past six months.

In the news

Opportunities and education

  • Google News Initiative is hosting a fireside chat with The 19th founder, Amanda Zamora. 
  • Poynter has a newsletter, called The Cohort, all about “women kicking ass in digital media.” Have you subscribed yet?

And one more thing…

Last week, Indiegraf’s Rachel Chen shared her thoughts about the term “BIPOC” with The Other Wave’s Anita Li. Missed it? Find it here

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