LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Faced with challenges to ad sales and circulation growth, British dailies are finding new ways to top up their revenues by targeting their most loyal readers, in the hope of building more intimate and financially rewarding relationships with them.
Guardian News and Media is leading the way with the Guardian Club, a new offering based on a "friends" scheme or members' club. The newspaper has come out in opposition to charging for online content, but is developing a way to draw in readers by offering access to exclusive stories and special events in their brand new, state-of-the-art office building.
A Guardian spokeswoman said, "It makes sense for the business and for our readers to both harness and reward their loyalty. The [club] proposal is still very much in the early stages of development. We are currently researching the idea and have advertised for a general manager of the scheme on a one-year contract basis."
Other newspapers are rumored to be thinking about developing similar initiatives, although the negative publicity surrounding Washington Post's planned "policy dinners" debacle will be front-of-mind when events are planned.
Aware of the need to lock in faithful readers, most newspapers are turning online to deepen these relationships. No print publications can attract the high numbers that Google, Yahoo or even TV companies boast, so the quality of the relationship becomes critical if they want to bring advertisers on board.
The Mirror is experimenting with a more targeted approach with the launch of an irreverent celebrity news website, promoted as "gossip gone toxic." Instead of taking the usual search-engine optimization route and packing the site with keywords and famous names that will show up on Google, 3am.co.uk is using a navigation bar with words such as "Ooh," "Gasp!" and "Grr!"
The site isn't looking to attract millions of unique users -- it wants to establish a smaller, loyal community that advertisers will value over people who click in and out in a flash because a search engine has sent them there. CK Free for men and HMV (the U.K.'s biggest music retailer) are currently running major campaigns on the site, proving that at least two premium advertisers want to reach this audience.
The Daily Mail, the U.K.'s top selling "quality" tabloid, meanwhile, is also focusing on developing more intimate relationships with readers. Its owner, Associated Newspapers, has developed new initiatives to monetize areas of the business, including Mailshop, which offers co-branded, targeted products. Jane Bardsley, head of enterprise, said, "Our customers place a lot of trust in us. This two-way relationship is central to the Mailshop philosophy."
Associated Newspapers also runs Hyperlocal, a network of community websites that combine social networking and user-generated content. Said Roland Bryan, strategy director Associated Northcliffe Digital, which works to extend the newspaper group's services online, "This strategy also gives us the opportunity to build relationships and targeted advertising products for local businesses that are often poorly served by online media today."
The Telegraph, the UK's biggest-selling broadsheet newspaper, has had success in paid-for services such as its Fantasy Football online game, which a spokesman describes as a "great model on which to base other similar activity." However, the paper's overall policy is to stick with the more traditional strategy of trying to grow its audience in order to increase ad revenues.
The Financial Times is unique among the major dailies in the U.K. in that it charges for online content, but the result brings what is fast becoming the Holy Grail for newspapers -- a more direct relationship with readers.
A Financial Times spokesman said, "Our successful access model allows us to be less advertising dependent but also offers us valuable, targetable inventory, which helps increase ad revenues at the same time."
The newspaper has also launched China Confidential, an investment advisory newsletter that costs around $3,300 a year, and it also looks to its conference business to generate extra income.