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Financial Times - Brexit and the US Election

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2016 was an unprecedented year for both the Financial Times and the world it chronicles. Audience research indicated that the Financial Times’s core readers devoured reporting on politics, business, and finance, but overall the brand was experiencing a decline in interest and subscriptions.  

More broadly, the global populist movement that year created an unforeseen dilemma for media organisations. As these ideas spread, so too did misinformation and fake news outlets pushing their own agendas. Bias became an infection that threatened to consume even the most respected publications. 

The potential financial, legal and social impact of these events prompted the wider public to seek out more information. News organisations like the FT had the opportunity to be guides, engaging with large swaths of the population that were previously disinterested in politics. Readers around the world followed news about Brexit and the US presidential election -- both would have global consequences -- making it important for the FT to have a marketing presence in Europe and Asia. 

By leaping into the conversation on Brexit, the FT could expand beyond its core readership. By engaging in the US election, it could gain a foothold in the US. It would be a challenge, though; it was a new entrant in the US at a time when the volume of media was overwhelming consumers. 

How would the FT stand out in markets inundated by competitors across the political and quality spectrum? By standing out as a steady voice in the cacophony.  


If consumers wanted to learn more about Brexit and the US election, the agency would make sure they knew that the FT was a trusted information source. To do that, Essence developed a strategy focused on three areas:  

1. Multiple touch points via channel mix - These political discussions took on many forms, so media did the same. Essence's search strategy ensured it was present for any demand. On social, it connected with consumers engaging in the debates. It pushed out the latest headlines on display to reach and remarket to relevant users who weren’t as active on search or social.  

2. Staying present – The agency blended proactive and reactive approaches to the changing news cycle. It prepared banners, ad copy, keyword lists, social stories, landing pages, and available budget for many possible outcomes. Yet it knew it couldn’t drive these narratives; Essence had to keep pace with the public’s changing mindset. That’s why it was important to align paid media, editorial, and onsite messaging; it could rapidly create new messaging if the conversation suddenly shifted in unexpected directions, especially on Facebook and Twitter. 

3. User journey - Essence focused on accommodating the public’s need for news. From the first search query to their arrival on the landing page, it gave the audience what they wanted even if it didn’t readily align with the FT's subscription goal.  

A close relationship with the FT was vital to this strategy; without this partnership, its voice would be lost in all the hot air. 


To execute the strategy, the agency had to be nimble. Essence coordinated with FT’s editorial team to create new display and social creative to align with the publication of new articles. In the week surrounding the EU referendum, it made 16 headline changes on display creative and completed 23 refreshes on Facebook and Twitter. 

It had proactively identified 650 new keywords related to the vote, but as the discussion reached a crescendo in June, it tracked general search results to react in real-time to what mattered most to readers in different regions. For example, it increased budgets for exchange and interest rate keywords in EMEA and APAC after noticing a spike in searches post-referendum. It also switched the landing page for brand terms from the subscription page to the Brexit hub, which led to a 65% increase in subscription conversions despite adding an extra step. 

Essence planned for more scenarios for the US presidential election in November than it did for Brexit, developing keywords lists and copy based on the candidates’ policies. The ads counted down until the vote, keeping the focus on election day. That night, as FT shared the results for each state online, the agency served in real time a Facebook ad that highlighted the leading candidate. The ads promoted Trump’s victory 12 minutes after it was announced by Associated Press, well ahead of most news outlets. By 9:30 AM GMT, it was promoting content about the results around the world on social, search and display. 


Overall, in the weeks surrounding the US election, subscriptions increased 33% versus average levels. For Brexit, they increased 75%. Results show that the impact of the media went beyond subscriptions: 

Brexit: The media accounted for a 308% increase in subscriptions from 22-29 June, compared to the previous eight days, but other metrics indicate that readers looked to the FT during this whirlwind. On the day of the referendum, Google trends indicated that demand for the FT was comparable to that of bigger publications like the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.  

The US election: The acquisition campaign drove a 39% increase in subscriptions, building on a 230% increase in site-wide visits. But the clearest example of FT’s role as a trusted information source occurred the night of the election. The real-time updates on Facebook prompted thousands of people to engage with the FT, with 12,000 reactions, 1,700 comments, and over 1,000 people sharing the ads within their personal networks. 

Though world news was tumultuous in 2016, the reaction to it wasn’t. A steady approach, buoyed by a partnership with FT’s editorial team, increased subscriptions and solidified the publication’s role in these conversations as a true voice of authority. 

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