La Presse turns quality journalism into an advertiser opportunity

Being transparent and staying committed to its mission has not only grown the paper's audience, but made them more open to new ad formats and data collection.

Its not-for-profit model and mission to provide quality journalism free to the entire province of Quebec already puts La Presse in a unique position. Completely ad-supported and subscription-free, La Presse is also on a crusade to educate consumers about quality journalism.

Since 2017, La Presse has not only gone fully digital, but dropped all of its paywalls, adopting a non-profit model that allows it to solicit donations from readers who want to support its work, rather than require a subscription to read it.

But because its content is free to everyone who wants it, the need for La Presse to monetize that mission becomes that much more important.

On the ad side, one of the units it offers buyers is an unskippable video ad. Typically a scourge to viewers on the internet, La Presse tried to make it more palatable last year by running its own video message, explaining that by watching the video, readers are supporting the production of quality news that’s available to everyone.

The effort to get Quebecers more open to ads takes a cue from how La Presse’s commitment to universal access to quality journalism for French-speakers has resonated with audiences.

Since moving to its non-profit model, Geoffrey Bernard, VP of growth marketing, data and consumer insights at La Presse, says readership has increased, especially over the past year. “This increase is not solely related to the fact that we are in a not-for-profit structure. The evolution and quality of our content, our product, our communications, by being more transparent with our readers, has contributed to the increase in readership.”

La Presse has set ambitious targets for its ad sales team. In 2020, it not only retained many of its advertisers in an environment when many brands were scaling back budgets, but also in attracting many new partners as more of those dollars shifted to digital, growing ad revenue by 10%, and it is looking to continue that momentum through this year by giving more advertisers the digital capabilities they are looking for.

Besides the unskippable ad on the app, La Presse also offers native advertising, branded content, pre-roll, in-stream, all standard advertising formats, and is continuing to develop new ad formats. Bernard says a new ad format for the mobile app is in the works and he expects it to be launched this year. “We have also greatly optimized the use of the programmatic over the past year and will further develop use of this type of advertising this year.”

The company has also been investing in its team, recently hiring Émilie Goudreau to the new position of senior director of national sales and media solutions, plus Nicolas Houle as senior director of programmatic sales and operations.

But Bernard feels one of the most important developments is voluntary data acquisition from La Presse readers, which has allowed the publisher to build rich segments for advertisers. Much like convincing readers to sit through an entire video ad, he says this has been possible thanks to the transparency La Presse has demonstrated by clearly explaining why it was doing each initiative and how the commitment of readers was needed to succeed.

“It’s not a secret that the industry is being challenged, something that accelerated in last couple of years,” Bernard says. “What we see happening is less quality journalism being available where on the other side, more and more misinformation is readily available. So, we wanted to make sure that we could find a model that would reach the largest portion of the population. Our job as an industry, our government is to make sure that people are equipped to discern what is verified news vs fake news.”

In October 2020, the Fides Group bought La Presse, which enabled it to continue to publish as a non-profit. Last month, Stéphanie Grammond, a 20-year veteran of the publication, was named editor-in-chief and head of the op-ed section, the first woman in that role. Part of her mandate as editor-in-chief is to continue to build a closer relationship with the La Presse reader community, and to keep demonstrating transparency.