First Things is a non-profit publication that explores and addresses issues at the intersection of faith and culture. Beck & Stone worked with First Things for three years on various initiatives such as the design of their website and digital brand, the initiating and growing of their social media and newsletter, and the conceptualizing and organizing of their intellectual retreats and reading groups. This active relationship was instrumental in dramatically broadening the magazine’s audience, powered by an editorial team fully bought into making First Things the most influential publication on religion and public life.
The audience had grown in demographics and usage habits that were very different from the print readers of the past twenty years.
With this rising readership, First Things struggled with an operational model better suited for a traditional small publication and a brand suddenly had demands for digital mediums that were not previously considered. Their leadership knew they lacked digital marketing expertise within the organization, but didn’t have the ability to train or hire in-house. 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.
Management 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.
Beck & Stone tackled challenges together with staff from within the organization, not as an outside force.
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. A consultant would act as a liaison 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 visual assets as needed.
Beck & Stone was tasked with mentoring the in-house team on publishing best practices, creating design guidelines and campaign toolkits for social media, and developing an engagement strategy and content calendars to increase followers and organic reach.
With zero paid media, we helped grow the niche upmarket audience of their brand channels. Working with a collaborative staff, we set regularly scheduled posts for essays and events while creating spontaneous visual content based upon happenings relevant to the brand.
In early 2013, First Things' branded 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 three months, and grew the follower base organically to 35,000 followers. The Facebook brand page went from under 13,000 Followers to over 50,000 Followers in the same period.
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.