The #BackTheCable campaign

Eliz Mizon is the strategy lead at The Bristol Cable

In September 2023 our local media co-op, The Bristol Cable, launched an incredibly ambitious membership campaign. Our goal: to raise membership revenue by £60,000, a 50 per cent increase, within a year.

Pretty much all independent news organisations, particularly locals, are struggling to make ends meet, and to not use up all of our reserves as we build revenue, so the stakes were high. But to make them even higher, a grant funder had offered to top this up with £40,000 if we succeeded. Success would mean an extra £100,000 for the Cable's independent, investigative journalism this year, and transform our ability to make our media co-op sustainable long term.

An extra £100,000 would mean one-to-two years more runway to continue building our membership, and develop further sustainable revenue streams now that our staff of ten is big enough to incorporate this. One more campaign like this, plus a couple more income streams, could see us able to break even for the first time.

So as we looked ahead to the beginning of our 10th year in operation, we began our #BackTheCable campaign with trepidation, but excitement.

At the time of launch, we had a plan, but absolutely no idea what was possible, and where we might be at this point.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, to have been incredibly hard work, but work very much worth doing. Our projections show we are on track to succeed by our deadline of 31 August. Here is the story so far:

The Plan

We began the campaign at the end of September, and our original plan was to ride a wave of momentum to halfway by the end of 2023. This meant, let’s face it, a two month window before Christmas (when the majority of people are doing more important things than reading my emails) to increase by £30,000.

We had a three-pronged strategy:

  • Firstly we worked out that, over the year, we could achieve the entire target simply by convincing every one of our existing 2,500 members to give £2 more per month. We thought that might be a little ambitious, so we settled on a target of 25 per cent of members making a £2 uplift, encouraged by direct email marketing messages.
  • Secondly, to encourage new members, and at higher contribution levels, we embarked on a multimedia campaign, and relaunched our membership benefit tiers. Previously, the only 'soft' benefit tier we had was to send the quarterly magazine to members' doors if they paid anything more than £3/month. We rearranged the tiers with a range of benefits at £5/month or more and £10/month or more to encourage more people to contribute more. We hoped for 250 members (net).
  • Thirdly, we added a specific tier for those people who can afford to pay a significant chunk more – £1,000/year or more – to pay it forward. Our new Patron membership, which preserves our democratic membership ethos (one member, one vote, no matter your contribution) means that people who can afford to pay more for our journalism can subsidise those who cannot. In return they get all member benefits, as well as the opportunity to opt into receiving an annual impact report for how we have used their money to boost our sustainability. We were looking for £30,000 in contributions from Patrons.

The Results

By the end of 2023, we had reached a neat £20,000. So not the momentum we were hoping for, but momentum nonetheless.

The better headline is that we continued campaigning hard all through the first half of this year and, at time of writing, we are now two thirds (65 per cent) of the way to our target. We have raised our income by almost £40,000 and we have a few months to find the rest.

I would love to be 95 per cent of the way by now. But I am incredibly happy with what we have achieved against the odds: this week, the Reuters Institute's annual Digital News Report revealed that only 9 per cent of Brits pay for online news and around two thirds (69 per cent) say they would not pay anything. The average Brit mostly wants to pay between £2 and £5 for news, which is not a sustainable level for most local papers unless they have a huge membership or subscriber base.

So far, it has been useful to have our plan as a guide - but while I feel we have been successful, and it looks like we are on track to cross the finish line with the final leg of our campaign over the next couple of months, it has not flourished exactly as we expected.

  • We have not particularly seen a net increase in new members, but we have in member income. Fighting with the cost of living crisis is hard - people are cancelling memberships and subscriptions across our industry and others. But our new members are consistently joining at a far higher average price point (68 per cent higher) than those older members who are leaving. So while our exact number of ongoing members has only increased slightly, our increase in income from new net memberships is £9,600.
  • We were expecting our members to be very happy to increase their membership by a few pounds, and we have seen this become a hugely successful part of the campaign. 496 existing members (20 per cent) have increased their contribution by an average of £3.27, and I have even spoken to members who have increased their contribution more than once during the year, as the campaign has progressed and they have been inspired by our success. The total increase from member uplift is £19,500.
  • We have managed to attract 13 Patrons so far, contributing a total of £25,000. Famously, this is an unlucky number, and so I am making a strong appeal to you, dear reader - do you know our 14th Patron? Feel free to send them my way.

Taking stock of what has worked and what has not, this week we have launched the final leg of the effort with a new campaign and a rebrand of the Cable itself.

'Keep the Lights On'

Our 'Keep the Lights On' campaign, running from now until our 31 August deadline, celebrates a decade of the Cable. For the past 10 years, we have been a voice for the city: local news was not working as it should, so we changed the narrative – and plenty of lives in Bristol in the process.

Now, we are powered by 2,500 people - but we need to keep growing. There are more people than ever who agree that proper reporting of the issues on our doorstep matters: a mass of local people who can help us push for change and spark a movement. We are asking people to help us keep the lights on where they are needed for another 10 years.

Find out more on how to contribute to the Cable's campaign and Patron membership.

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