The New York Times has long sustained its reputation as a trusted source of high-quality, independent, original information and a digital innovator. Joy Robins, global chief advertising officer, shares how The New York Times stays attuned to the shifting needs of its audience and, by extension, its advertisers.
At The New York Times, our mission is to seek the truth and help people understand the world. Building on this commitment, in 2022 we unveiled our new vision and strategy: to become the essential subscription for every curious, English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world.
The truth is, both our subscription and advertising business models work together in harmony, and they are critical to our success.
As global chief advertising officer, I’m responsible for what happens on the other side of that equation: our global advertising business. I’m often asked, How does The Times balance being a subscription-first business with generating advertising revenue?
The truth is, both our subscription and advertising business models work together in harmony, and they are critical to our success. By delivering our subscribers content and experiences that are worth paying for, we also give advertisers compelling, high-quality opportunities to connect with these audiences. Here are some of the guiding principles we use to achieve this complementary balance.
Maintaining subscriber trust as our North Star
As of the third quarter of 2023, The New York Times has more than 10 million subscribers, with over 3.7 million of them subscribing to multiple Times products — for instance, News and Cooking. By forging direct relationships with our subscribers, we unlock meaningful ways for businesses to reach our incredibly passionate audiences.
While our roots are in news, we are expanding advertising opportunities across our full wingspan, including in Wirecutter, Games, Cooking, Audio, and The Athletic. For example, The Athletic’s advertising business continues to grow and scale, and we’re seeing exciting interest from a wide spectrum of brands — from luxury to financial services. We’re continuing to focus on major deals and sponsorships, as well as carving out a premium space in sports, including launching new verticals and formats (like newsletters), creating talent-driven IP that can live in multiple formats, owning sports moments, and connecting brands to them.
The trust we earn from our subscribers is the cornerstone of our operations. As we work to extend advertising across our portfolio, we are laser focused on offering a premium and nondisruptive ad experience for each of our unique formats. As an example, for NYT Games like Wordle, in which users stay on a fixed screen, we conducted testing with different types of ad formats to ensure a seamless gaming experience that’s also effective for brands.
Delivering better experiences using first-party data
Our ability to craft premium experiences that resonate allows us to attract and retain subscribers. We use a range of tools to achieve this, including A/B testing. Even with quantitative signals, we are constantly innovating and taking cues from our newsroom: for instance, to understand what makes a headline compelling across both news articles and advertisements.
We constantly strive to deliver additional value to our subscribers, and we are always exploring ways we can provide them with the best experience possible across our products. A few years ago we surveyed our readers with a simple question: would they be willing to share more about themselves to help our advertising business? Their response was, overwhelmingly, yes. We began collecting voluntary, unpaid survey data from readers that our data science team was able to use to train machine learning models for audience targeting. This laid the foundation of our first-party data platform.
We have built a portfolio of more than 160 audience segments, including demographic and interest cohorts, which perform well for our advertisers — letting us know that our subscribers engage with the ads we deliver to them. Interest targeting is rooted in readership behaviour and allows advertisers to reach readers passionate about topics such as comedy, entertainment, books, software and connectivity products, luxury watches, and more.
At the same time, Google Ad Manager enables our independent solutions, built using first-party data, to effectively serve the right ads to the right audience.
Deepening our understanding of subscribers
Our audience research extends to understanding the emotional resonance of our coverage. A few years ago, we wanted to know whether how an article makes a reader feel matters for engagement or for ads. As a result, we developed a proprietary, first-party targeting solution based on article content and topics known as Perspective Targeting, which encompasses 42 distinct emotions and 10 motivations. Advertisers can use this solution to reach audiences on a deeper emotional or motivational level.
The emotion-driven approach resulted in one of the highest click-through rates for the museum’s entire campaign.
Perspective Targeting has yielded some compelling success stories. For example, we worked with a prominent museum to align its ads with articles tagged with the emotion “boredom.” We worked with this advertiser to present readers of those articles with a solution to counter their feelings of boredom. This emotion-driven approach resulted in one of the highest click-through rates for the museum’s entire campaign. Now “boredom” consistently ranks as the top-performing emotion and one that continues to thrive in their media plans.
A modern approach to responsible, personalised advertising
As we look to the future, The New York Times’s North Star remains constant: to build the essential subscription for every English-speaking, curious person who seeks to understand and engage with the world. At the same time, we plan to expand our first-party data capabilities so that advertisers can smartly align with reader journeys.
This synergy between subscriber engagement and advertising effectiveness helps ensure that our business will continue to thrive in an increasingly dynamic digital landscape.