Case Study Brand Management

June 2015

First Things

To scale effectively, an influential magazine needed a full-service consultive partner who could fill any gap.

01.
A client facing growing pains in the digital space

With their online readership skyrocketing, First Things struggled with an operational model better suited for a traditional publication. The editorial leadership knew they lacked digital expertise within the organization, but didn’t have the time to train or budget to hire internally. They were working with multiple vendors for various services and deliverables, or doing without them completely. The staff was strained from operating outside their expertise and opportunities to exploit their growth were slipping through the cracks.

Leadership envisioned a more efficient future, one where consolidated services and intelligent content strategy would enable them to save time and money while reaching new audiences. They retained Beck & Stone to help make this happen.

02.
Tackling challenges from within the organization

Our partners connected with First Thing's core leadership, collaborating with Editorial, Finance, Sales, and IT to help plan a roadmap for moving forward. We started with a comprehensive audit of the organization's short and long term goals, to re-frame their success metrics for digital marketing.

A Beck & Stone team would function as a micro-agency embedded within the client, working side-by-side with their staff. Our brand manager acting as a liasion between vendors: managing timelines, budgets, and workflows in a wide array of areas from social media, events, and fundraising. Designers and marketers running ongoing subscription marketing campaigns would also closely support the First Things' staff with graphic assets as needed.

iPad Subscription Program Design


We proposed a new pricing structure for the First Things iPad edition based on detailed observations from their analytics and market trends towards tablet readership of long-form editorial. Based on this change –and a graphic redesign– in the Summer of 2013, the iPad Edition became an instant success, with markedly improved year-over-year gross sales.

Social Media Management


Beck & Stone mentored in-house community managers on publishing best practices, created design guidelines and campaign toolkits for Facebook, and developed an engagement strategy and rigorously-tested content calendars to increase followers and organic reach for Twitter.

With zero paid media, we helped grow the niche upmarket audience of their official Facebook brand page from under 13,000 Followers to over 50,000 Followers in 2 years.

In early 2013, their brand tweets' engagement and impressions had flatlined due to a disjointed posting regimen and uninspired voice. By the same time in 2014, our fine-tuned strategy and community management initiatives had earned First Thing’s Twitter content 1.5M impressions in the first 3 months, and grew the follower base organically to 35,000 followers.

Email Engagement


Beck & Stone turned around First Things' email channel; taking it from stagnation to their most engaged audience.

In the midst of the online audience's upward trajectory, visits from the email list remained stagnant. A dismal open rate and even lower click-through rate kept traffic to firstthings.com on its historical trend of dropping off on weekends, which made selling ad space much harder.

Two newsletter projects were conceptualized: a bi-weekly recap of the top current content for weekday readers, and the ‘Sunday Spotlight’, a curated weekend digest of popular archived content to capture readers who typically did not visit the site when away from their desktop computers… and to ensure that First Things' 30-plus years of articles would not be forgotten.

This required a move away from an antiquated email marketing platform and a set of new responsive design templates. Tasteful interstitials were deployed on firstthings.com's popular articles to capture incoming readers from social media.

Email List Performance

17,583

Organic growth

12.9%

Click rate

48.2%

Open rate

45.8%

Traffic increase

It worked. After we introduced the 'Sunday Spotlight', weekend site traffic increased by 45%, with the list's subscribers going from zero to almost 8,000. The bi-weekly email newsletter in turn grew organically from 16,000 to more than 25,000 subscribers in a little over a year. Open rates have shot into the top 5 percentile in the non-profit vertical and two of the three most popular articles in 2015 were introduced on the 'Sunday Newsletter'. The client is thrilled to have email back in the media mix, their traffic rising instead of dipping on weekends, and to have their treasured archives being explored by a new audience of discerning readers

03.
A comprehensive agency solution

Beck & Stone wears many hats for First Things, unifying brand agency services under one roof. It is work rooted in our honest belief that given time and mutual trust, our partnership model will without fail show real-world value and measurable impact for satisfied clients.

The Beck & Stone team took the initiative from the very beginning of the project, helping us better define our goals in the digital environment. The results have been outstanding. Their work has moved us forward, improving our brand and expanding our readership.
First Things
R.R. Reno

Editor