The Speed of Culture Podcast: Catering to Every Consumer Passion Point

Digital media strategies from New York Times chief marketer David Rubin

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For nearly two centuries, The New York Times has been building a legacy as a company with its finger on the pulse of the public. Since David Rubin joined as its first chief marketing officer in 2016, the Times’ subscriber base has shot up by nearly 7 million.

What are the tactics behind this growth? And why did it take the Times well over 100 years to add a CMO?

In this episode of the Speed of Culture podcast, Suzy founder and CEO Matt Britton sits down with Rubin, chief marketer and communications officer at The New York Times, to discuss subscription-based marketing in news media. Together, they go into detail on strategies for content marketing, acquisition and expansion, and connecting with customers. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history at Yale, Rubin went to work on Capitol Hill and at the Department of the Treasury. Two years later, he decided to get an MBA from UPenn’s Wharton School and start in brand marketing, becoming instrumental in the digital transformation and growth of some of the most innovative brands in the world including Axe and Pinterest.

Stream the new episode below, listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or find it on Spotify.

Key Takeaways:

  • [01:13 -02:49]Career Advice – Rubin summarizes lessons he learned early on, including the importance of knowing where you want to go, playing to your strengths while being aware of your weaknesses, and how companies with limited budgets can create a massive audience by connecting emotionally with consumers.
  • [07:02 – 12:13] Why Did The NYT Wait 100 Years to Hire a CMO? – The decline of traditional media, the shift toward ad-driven models and technological innovation were some of the reasons why the Times finally decided to hire a CMO. Rubin notes that although the publisher still operates on a subscription-based model, it has always made higher profits from advertising.
  • [18:08 – 21:45] – The Essential Subscription Strategy – Rubin’s ultimate goal is to “offer people news and information for all their passion points.” He details a few of the Times’ most successful products and acquisitions (i.e. Wordle, Serial, NYT All Access) to illustrate his point. 
  • [22:26 – 24:08]Connecting With People – How do you communicate your core promise across different channels and demographics? Rubin emphasizes that the Times’ ethos is to “seek truth and help people understand the world.” It helps to frame the initial problem as, “What can we help them understand?” rather than “What do we need to do on this channel?”
  • [24:56 – 25:42] Subscription-Based Marketing vs. Traditional Consumer Product Marketing  – One of the biggest differences between the two marketing models comes down to measuring impact. Traditional products typically sell through third-party retail, while subscription-based products like newspapers are sold direct-to-consumer. Real-time data from interactions with subscribers provides an instant feedback loop, which in turn enhances speed to market.