Brand Strategy

You really want to know.

Last autumn, our agency worked hard on the Republic, developing an ambitious brand positioning for the online medium. In March of this year, the ultimate test came: Can the Republic deliver on its brand promise in a triple crisis?

After the surveys, research and analysis that went into our brand profiling, we came to the conclusion last September that the Republic should be open, transparent and uncompromising on the one hand, and bold, brash and nimble on the other. In two words: clear and bold. To appeal to the readership, we developed a claim that challenged them to read the Republic: “Do you really want to know?” The Republic team agreed with the analysis and suggestions and we developed a campaign to match, profiling the Republic through its core benefits. So far, so good. But as is always the case when positioning a brand, we were then faced with the question: does the Republic have the staying power to convincingly deliver on its ambitious brand promise in everyday life? Then came March 2020, which took everyone’s breath away.

The month of March brought not only Corona but a triple crisis to the Republic: First, the finances showed that things could not go on as they were. Unless at least 19,000 subscriptions could be secured by the end of March, and an additional 2.2 million francs raised from investors, major donors, foundations or generous readers, the online medium would have to go offline, lay off all its staff on 31 March and dissolve the company in an orderly fashion. Second, the Republic, like all media, was extremely challenged in terms of content during the Corona crisis, and working from home required top performance. Thirdly, the team suffered a tragic loss when Brigitte Meyer, the Republic’s picture editor, died in early March after collapsing unexpectedly a week earlier. In short, the editorial team really did have other things to worry about than how to deliver on a brand promise.

But as is well known, there are people who rise above themselves in times of crisis. They are clearly well represented in the Republic. Despite the difficult circumstances, the editors did not lose focus and asked themselves the central question: “What do people really want to know about the Corona crisis?” They provided the answer with a “Covid 7pm Newsletter”. This summarises the really important information from the daily and overwhelming flood of news and offers readers practical support. In the words of the Republic: “Useful information about the pandemic – whenever it gets dark”. From a letter to readers, the Republic continues: “The situation is changing by the hour. This is overwhelming for many and is fuelling fear and panic. We bring you only what is important and true – we leave out the noise. (…) We research the facts for you, expose the lies and tell you honestly where we don’t know either.” The Republic does not only write this newsletter for paying subscribers – it is free for everyone. An example of text from the newsletter: “Be cautious and assume that airborne transmission is possible, but much less likely than transmission via larger (coughed up or sneezed out) droplets. If you want to be absolutely sure, here’s a tip from a researcher: imagine that all the people you meet while walking or shopping are smokers. And move to avoid the smoke.”

The newsletter’s clever idea, which perfectly fulfils the brand’s promise, has met with great interest. Within two days, 13,500 people had subscribed, as deputy editor-in-chief Oliver Fuchs told the communications portal “Persönlich”. About half of them were not existing Republic subscribers. And after two weeks the newsletter already had more than 35,000 readers. The editors commented: “Explosive growth often doesn’t mean anything good these days. But in this case we are particularly pleased”.

But how did the Republic fare economically in the crisis month of March? To save the Republic, 19,000 subscriptions had to be secured by the end of March. By the end of March, 22,778 subscriptions had been collected – today, 9 April, there are already 23,158. And what about the fundraising target? So far, 2.8 million Swiss francs have been raised instead of the 2.2 million targeted.

On 31 March, the Republic announced that it had learnt from the past and had introduced better and more long-term financial planning. The company would now be optimised and nurtured – but not bloated. The online medium promised: “We want to concentrate fully on good and useful journalism again. To become better. For you. And for many more people.”

One of the few good March stories in our country: Republic not only delivers on its ambitious brand promise in these difficult times, but exceeds all expectations. Clear and bold. Central to the future of the young media brand; the days of “no risk, no fun” seem to be over. The goal is to focus on the core benefits that so many subscribers and investors were willing to pay for in March. The medium seems to have grown up. Very good!

— Ralph Hermann / 9.4.2020