Know Your Readers: How Suzi Watford is Pioneering a Change in the News Industry

Today, with the increased prevalence of online communications and social media, one might predict that newspapers would struggle to stay relevant. However, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has proved quite the opposite. Despite the disruption technology has created in the journalism industry, the WSJ has more members today than ever. They have over one million print subscribers, and their digital subscriptions have more than doubled over the past few years. Part of their success in the fluctuating market is owed to Suzi Watford, the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the WSJ.

Watford has kept the WSJ relevant by shifting the company’s focus to the customer. Watford said, “developing a relationship with them [the customers], and making them feel like part of the newspaper, for me is the aspect that will ultimately grow the business in the long term.” She set up programs to make the customer feel valued, most notably the WSJ + membership program. This “membership,” which comes for free with any subscription package, emphasizes the relationship of the reader with the newspaper. Members are invited to events and conferences, receive special offers, and can enter exclusive giveaways. These loyalty programs offer readers a chance to be more involved with their newspaper, fostering a sense of loyalty.


Watford has also revamped the journal’s advertising strategy, capitalizing on customer needs. After surveying readers, Watford concluded that people who paid for a WSJ subscription all had similar goals from the paper. She said, “[our customers] wanted to be more successful, and they felt that the journal could help them achieve that. The thing that united them was ambition.” Capitalizing on the ambitions of the readers, Watford created the ad campaign “Read Ambitiously.” This campaign features photos of business leaders – including designer Tory Birch and musician – reading the WSJ at work. The inclusion of well-known designers and artists in the ad suggests that the WSJ is a tool for ambitious and creative people. This vision caters directly to the readers’ desires, validating the status of the WSJ as a catalyst of success.

In Watford’s opening remarks at the Business Today International Conference, she compared the WSJ to the conference as a whole. Just as the journal facilitates the exchange of ideas, the conference is a “networking of ideas,” and a promotes cross-cultural connections. This was an appropriate comparison: Watford stated that her overall goal for the WSJ is to be “the world’s foremost membership for the ambitious.” She hopes to attract members who are students, CEOs, and VPs, and what better place to interact with these people than at the International Conference?