It’s been about two years since the Wall Street Journal last spoke to Campaign Asia-Pacific about its aggressive mission to transform itself into a digital-native news organization.
In a follow-up interview upon yesterday's launch of its global print and digital editions in Europe and Asia, WSJ editor-in-chief Gerard Baker reported "enormous strides" in how the company now approaches both spheres.
"We’ve made huge progress when it comes to digital," he said. "Our entire organization is now fully integrated, with no separation between print and digital, with more digitally centric content from video to interactive graphics. We’re now producing journalism that’s better optimized across all mediums."
It may seem counterintuitive to re-emphasize print in this digitally driven media environment, but Baker said that the company is committed to the medium.
"We believe that there’s a demand for our print products, and this is an opportunity to redefine ourselves in this digital landscape," he said. "The paper will be a wonderful entrée to the extraordinary array of content WSJ has online along with our exciting range of digital products."
Available Monday through Friday, the new editions expand both in size and scope, with a broadsheet format mirroring the US edition and a wider and more diverse selection of the WSJ’s reporting, insight and analysis. While the Journal will now be globally consistent in style and sections, regionally relevant content available throughout each day’s paper will be curated for readers in the separate Europe and Asia editions, the company said.
Distribution of the print editions will focus on key cities closely aligned with the WSJ’s business-oriented readership, while the revamped digital offerings will offer an improved mobile experience to readers around the world, the company said.
The list of key cities in Asia is Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Jakarta, Beijing, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur — all markets that have growth potential in terms of audience size for the media brand’s type of content. All content will also be available via the expanded regional iPad and Android editions.
WSJ vice president of multimedia sales and integrated marketing solutions for Asia Pacific, Mark Rogers.
Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific on the sidelines of the launch event last night in Hong Kong, Mark Rogers, WSJ’s vice president of multimedia sales and integrated marketing solutions for Asia Pacific, echoed the focus on print and said the paper is in a unique position.
"I would call it an enhanced proposition to marketers," he said. "When it comes to advertising and content these days, it’s about the currency of time spent. The hardest thing to get today is attention."
Rogers said that the WSJ places an emphasis on engagement and boasts an average read time of 83 minutes for the paper with its core readership of C-suite executives and government policy-makers.
Rogers pointed to the company’s Make Time campaign, which sought to prove that the WSJ is the establishment that gets people’s time and attention and featured readers such as Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP.
"Digital is important and we will continue to invest in this space as people leverage our products to get snippets of information during the day," Rogers said. "But when you talk about impact, then it’s print first because social media especially, has clouded communications and its easy to get lost in it all."
Rogers also pointed to recent comments made by Martin Sorrell, the chief executive officer at WPP, in favour of print.
Citing research showing that traditional media is often more engaging than digital content, Sorrell told an audience at a Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast in the UK: "There is an argument at the moment going on about the effectiveness of newspapers and magazines, even in their traditional form, and maybe they are more effective than people give them credit [for]."
Rogers said that with print distribution targeting key cities in Asia along with key locations such as airport lounges, and as the company continually works to improve its content, there’s increased likelihood that "the paper will get picked up". Marketers enjoy the undivided exposure that comes with that.
Continued digital evolution
Baker descibed how in recent months, the company has also refreshed its digital portfolio of products, from a redesigned website to new apps for iOS and Android, along with an improved mobile web experience.
It also recently launched premium membership service WSJ Pro, a suite of industry and subject-specific content services combining news, data and events in a single membership platform. WSJ Pro Central Banking, the inaugural product, offers proprietary central banking content and tools to members.
The Pro offering will draw on the expertise of the WSJ’s global team of central-bank journalists to provide essential news, insight and analysis of global monetary policy and economics, as well as the data that drives policy decisions, according to the company. WSJ Pro will also convene on-the-record events, featuring newsmakers and WSJ journalists.
The company chose central banking for the first offering based on the core strengths of the WSJ team and the breadth of specialised information it could provide to professionals, Baker said.
"Nothing is confirmed yet, but other areas we could soon launch additional services for include technology, the rise of private markets, financial regulations and certain commodities markets," he said. "There’s a lot of room for us to grow."
WSJ also launched its What’s News app in August of this year, offering users the 10 most important business and markets stories straight from the WSJ newsroom.
"We’ve made huge progress, but if you ask, are we done yet? I would say no, because you can never do enough and you have to keep evolving," he added.
Baker said that growth and circulation remains an "absolute priority" for the WSJ, with digital subscriptions expected to be a core source of growth in the coming months.
According to figures provided by WSJ, a circulation report released in August and audited by PriceWaterhouseCoopers UK shows that globally, for both digital and print, the brand enjoys 2.2 million in average issue sales, while its global subscriber base now stands at 1.89 million.
Within Asia, out of its total of average issue sales of 95,000, print accounts for 47,000 while digital accounts for 48,000. In terms of its subscriber base, 61,000 comes from Asia, with 13,000 print subscribers and the 48,000 digital subscribers.
"We will continue to pursue the news as we have always done, without fear nor favor," Baker said. "Reactions to our work reflects the fact that we are independent and will continue to be."
When asked whether WSJ will consider leveraging direct-to-channel publishing — such as Facebook’s "Instant Articles" initiative launched earlier this year or the recently announced initiative by Google and Twitter, which is a similar but open-sourced version — Baker replied that it remains a "wait and see" thing.
"We’ve initially decided not to join the Facebook Instant Articles programme, but we are taking a ‘look and see’ stance and should it become a more attractive proposition than what we initially saw, then we will revise our stance," he said. "Nothing’s set in stone."
Speaking of social media, back in late 2013, Baker had a Twitter account but zero tweets. Today he boasts 17,000 followers and 622 tweets.
"I don’t tweet as often as I should," he said. "I haven’t gotten into the habit of tweeting several times a day and I do confess that I do get some help in terms of suggestions on what to tweet. I find it a valuable medium and use it to promote our articles in what I hope is an active and engaged manner, but we have to be careful how we use it."
That said. the brand continually reminds its reporters to break news to paying customers first, then on Twitter, he said.
The rise of native advertising
Baker had previously said that he was not opposed to the use of native advertising, as long as the content was clearly labeled.
"People trust us, we have to be careful," he had said. "We’re perfectly happy for our custom-publishing teams to work with advertisers to create better content, but let me be clear, our editorial [staff] is not involved and the reader must be absolutely clear on the difference."
However a recently released study by Contently, found that "respondents were more likely to identify the native ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed as an article."
The report further found that: "Respondents were clearly more able to identify the sponsoring brand on Forbes, BuzzFeed, the New York Times, and The Atlantic than on The Onion or the Wall Street Journal, but from looking at the individual executions, it’s not immediately apparent why."
Baker had not seen the study in question by Contently but expressed surprise at the confusion over native advertising content.
"I’m surprised by the confusion because we ensure that native ads are very clearly labeled on our site, in fact I believe we do so much more clearly that other news sites," he added.
WSJ. Custom Studios, the content marketing division within WSJ’s advertising department was launched in March 2014 and has since enjoyed an uptake in projects.
Rogers shared that this has been a significant change for the company and for Asia, with approximately 180% growth in custom content over the past year and a half.
"It’s not an official number, but I can definitely tell you that the response has been great and our team has really evolved in the way we approach potential marketers," he said. "It’s no longer transactional but rather a collaborative process that involved business objectives and strategy to align brands with custom content."
He pointed to a recent campaign the team conducted in China for a local finance company, which looked into education and the trend of sending children to Ivy League schools in the US despite more Asia universities populating the higher end of ranking lists.
"We worked with a lot of outside talent for that one, and built events around the subject matter that were very well received," he said. "We’re even going to be producing a whitepaper on the subject form the research and insights gathered. That’s our strength."
While quite a few markets in Asia are "up to speed" with this new avenue of engagement, Rogers reports that markets such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia still require more education.
And while programmatic or real-time bidding (RTB) for ad buys remains an important channel of revenue for the company, Rogers notes that it is not the focus.
"We’re not focused on price with RTB, it’s more about giving advertisers choice when it comes to our inventory, and it provides us with a wider reach as well," he added.
During his toast at the launch party in Singapore, Baker noted that much has changed since the company launched WSJ Asia 40 years ago on Sept. 1, 1976, but some things hold true.
That launch edition carried a somewhat long message on the front page, explaining why the company was doing what it was doing. And it ended with a simple promise: "We appreciate the confidence reposed in our work and we need to make it better."
"And that’s my aspiration for WSJ moving forward," he said. "We need to continue our work holding business and governments accountable and provide valuable insights to our readers to empower them to make decisions," he said.
This article first appeared on campaignasia.com.