Nadim Khammar, Digital Commercial Director in the Middle East for CNN International Commercial, explains CNN's audience-first strategy.
At a time where traditional media are struggling with digital transformation and integration, what are the key learnings you can share from the CNN experience?
Knowing and responding to your audience is key. Audience is at the heart of everything we do and so we take an audience-first approach. We have teams dedicated to this and pride ourselves in understanding our viewers, what makes them unique, what resonates with them, and why they come to CNN so we can continue to be their trusted and preferred source of news.
We also treat our audience as complex individuals and separate interest groups and with this insight, we provide the best user and advertising experience. This benefits our clients too as we maximize the way their messages resonate with their target audience across all platforms.
CNN Arabic, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in January, has been digital-first since it launched and well ahead of many of the competitors from the outset. Mobile has been at the core of the offering from the introduction of smartphones and it remains a focus. This is in line with the Middle Eastern audience’s preference, as we’re currently seeing the majority of traffic on mobile, almost at 90% in some cases. We know that, in the region, the audience is always on; they’re constantly connected and checking in with us. As we understand their interests and habits, we’re always anticipating and implementing innovation.
How to reposition a media long viewed as "traditional" as a legitimate, dynamic integrated platform, especially in the eyes of advertisers and partners?
CNN has long been a multiplatform company and many of our partners have been working with us on cross-platform campaigns for several years. In fact, over three-quarters of CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) campaigns are cross-platform as we utilize every means to connect our clients with CNN audiences across our portfolio.
This means we are supplementing the brand-building power of TV with the precision of digital and social so that campaigns can reach audiences when, where, and how they choose to interact with us.
We’re constantly evolving and responding to our audience needs, for example in areas such as audio and newsletters. This year, CNN Audio launched eight new podcasts, including Tug of War with CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward (premiering October 20), with many more to come in 2022 and beyond. CNN is also continuing to grow and expand its newsletter audience. We launched a dedicated CNN Arabic Breaking News newsletter and are currently developing more concepts for Arabic audiences. There’s been a huge demand overall for CNN newsletters as subscriptions have grown by 21% since January 2021.
Advertisers have responded very well to our audience-first strategy, which we have implemented this year. The strategy is based on four principles that combine data and creativity:
1. Use proprietary and external data and insight to understand our audiences and their needs.
2. Use data to inform our advertising campaigns, sponsorships, and branded content throughout the lifecycle of a campaign.
3. Create the best ad experience in a user-friendly way that is appropriate for the premium CNN environment.
4. Ensure that client campaigns reach the right audience at the right time through a range of sophisticated contextual targeting and semantic tools, first-party data, and data partnerships.
This approach puts the expectations and motivations of our audiences at the heart of how we help our clients communicate to them.
In a context where audiences tend to distrust the media, how to elevate authenticity and consumer trust?
Analysis from a recent brand study that we conducted showed that 91% of consumers from the Middle East and Africa feel the role of international news media is now more important than ever, while the recent Arab Youth Survey showed that TV remains the most trusted source of news for younger audiences.
This means there is an appetite, in the Middle East and elsewhere, for CNN, with our mission to inform the world and tell the truth. In an age of disinformation, it’s vital for people to have access to trusted news and so, CNN is more essential than ever before. For over 40 years, we have built an unrivaled reputation and continue to be one of the most trusted international brands in journalism known for our objective and factful reporting.
How does this pose a challenge with brands and how do you solve this challenge?
For brands, trust is gained and retained when they are authentic in their messaging, have clear values and purpose. 65% of CNN audiences want brands to be socially responsible or support a cause. We, therefore, build this into the work that we do with brands when they work with us to communicate to the CNN audience. CNNIC’s campaign strategists and the production teams at our global brand studio Create are the experts at authentic storytelling that consumers can engage with and trust.
Brands work with CNNIC because we have the tools, technology, solutions, and expertise to thoroughly understand CNN’s audiences and we devise impactful campaigns and media plans for our clients to connect with them to generate engagement, awareness, and action.
The main attraction for any brand is our global audience. CNN’s reporting is widely watched, shared, referenced, and acted upon by political leaders, celebrities, CEOs, and industry heads. Advertisers want to reach their own client bases through CNN, whether that is business decision-makers, opinion-formers, change-makers, high-spenders, or travelers. As I mentioned, we reach these audiences at a scale across all platforms.
As well as our audience, brands want to work with CNN due to the premium content, environment, and user experience.
Context and brand suitability & safety continue to be important. We had the foresight a few years ago to develop proprietary contextual targeting and semantics tools that use neuro-linguistic AI to cleverly determine when content is brand-suitable. We can actively match brands with content that reflects their values and that will resonate with their target audience. It ensures that brand messages are placed in suitable environments, are aligned with high-quality and relevant content, and reach the desired audiences through our targeting technology.
How has the audience of CNN Arabic evolved in recent years and how have digital initiatives contributed to the growth?
We’ve developed a strong and powerful audience over the last 20 years. The caliber of our audience differentiates us from other news media. Along with CNN International, CNN Arabic’s audience is influential, senior in the business world, luxury consumers, and highly affluent. We know that CNN Arabic’s audience is also young, mobile-first, heavy video consumers and social natives. Our analysis shows that our Arabic audience goes well beyond the region and there are growth opportunities with Arabic speakers in the US. As well as breaking news, we know that business, technology, travel, sports, and entertainment are key areas of interest for our audiences.
CNN Arabic is the Middle East’s leading independent news platform and has been digital-first from the beginning. What makes CNN Arabic stand out is the editorial independence and [its] factful and credible reporting. That huge trust in the CNN brand is incredibly valuable to our audience. We offer a global perspective on international news and on the stories that are more regionally relevant or locally focused. Being part of the world’s largest news network, with journalists working on stories from every continent, is a tremendous asset in terms of the renowned quality of our journalism, the resources and wealth of talent in our teams, and the recognition and confidence that the audience has in us.
We are using the upcoming 20th anniversary of CNN Arabic as a way to look forward, not backward. Our product portfolio is growing and innovating as we expand into audio and newsletters, which as I mentioned we’re seeing huge growth in globally. As the product portfolio grows, content formats will evolve and become more immersive.