Conference notes: Building an Audience & Storytelling Across Platforms

A presentation given at the 43rd CRMA Annual Conference by:
Alison Kaplan, Editor in Chief, Twin Cities Business
Stephanie March, Senior Editor, Food & Dining, Mpls. St. Paul Magazine

Kaplan and March began this talk explaining that they take an entrepreneurial approach to content. Their approach is to “represent the city and give it back to the reader”.

March has a restaurant background and brought this expertise to the media industry. Her goal was to make the restaurant directory more than just listings. The result was The Feed, news hits for each week.

Kaplan took a more traditional path in journalism, but brings her expertise in shopping and style to the industry. She created Ali Shops, a guide-to-shopping blog.

Social Media: Personal vs the Brand

Kaplan and March say people/readers want to engage with the personal. So they promote on their own social media platforms as well as the magazines platform. They say they sometimes ‘spin’ things a wee bit differently on each channel. What they are looking to do is to make the personal voice a little more human.


They were invited to create content for radio in a talk radio segment for women. They now have back-to-back Saturday morning radio shows where they talk about food and shopping. Although they are still principally print pros they acknowledge that radio has become a good partner to print. The time on air allows them to talk more about what they write about in print. They can freely expand on what they have limited space to cover in print. What they have found is that you have to find a way to tell the story from other angles. Print – digital – radio – they all require you to tell the story a little differently so you are not just repeating yourself.


This annual fashion show is an event that has garnered enormous amount of reader engagement. Held in the fall, this full runway show celebrates local retailers and has been sold out for the past six years with more than 600 in the audience. It also provides good content for their print publication. Their 12 sponsors have helped them exceed revenue goals.

Super Bowl 52

Several hundred thousand people descended on Minneapolis, St. Paul for this Super Bowl. To capitalize on the event they covered the 52 weeks leading up to the actual Super Bowl. They offered 52 stories on Minnesota with practical information – they say they “were actually selling Minnesota”.

They answered questions like: where to eat, best parts of Minnesota to visit, and local spas. They reworked the contents of the guides they had on hand.

The entire February issue was dedicated to the Super Bowl but also about Minneapolis, St. Paul. They wanted to create an issue that locals would read and that visitors would also want to pick up. They created a digital page SB Headquarters and did a daily journal of their Super Bowl experience. They “lived it and gave it back to the readers in a first person format”. They were real. They unabashedly participated in celebrity stalking and enjoyed it so much so that it engaged the reader who lived vicariously through them. The concept was to make the readers feel like an insider. Readers were happy to watch the spectacle through them rather than do it themselves. It worked. Daily users went up +215%, and page views went up +164% during the 10-day Super Bowl period.

They also sent longer daily newsletters during this time on what-to-do during Super Bowl. They got 19,309 new users from this effort. And they found out that readers do read all the way to the bottom. People were clicking 10 to 12 items, even the last two stories in the newsletter got big clicks. They implemented an Instagram campaign too! Pop ups on their website helps capture new audience members for their other newsletters. They utilized hashtags to help engage the reader like: #howtodressminnesotan and #superbowlcelebs 

The Minnesota State Fair

This yearly 12-day event gives them a big spike in readership. For this event they create a dedicated State Fair Headquarters page. The landing page enhances the readers’ experience and helps to keep the content front and center so it doesn’t get lost on the website. They cover where to shop, where to eat, the fair schedule etc. Their Guide to Fair Food covered some 40 new foods. They categorized the offerings into: Get It, Skip It and Your Call. They also had another piece on the Top 5 New Fair Foods.

Two million people attend the State Fair. To capitalize on the event and garner an audience Kaplan and March staked their claim on their expertise. They became to go-to people so much so that national television reached out to them. They became personalities and all-in people.

They also created a podcast and had daily sponsors for all 12 days of the fair.

By All Means

This is a new podcast for Twin Cities Business, which covers entrepreneurs who built brands in Minnesota. It’s been successful as entrepreneurs are seen as the new rock stars. Kaplan and March say podcasts are a great place for print people to be.

50 Best Restaurants

The March issue is dedicated to the 50 Best Restaurants but they are now creating an event to go long with the print copy. They are looking to hand deliver awards to the 50 and create an experience for readers.

In the end all of these are massive team efforts. They ask themselves the question at the beginning: how can we create a reader experience and run it across all platforms – and then they build it. So far the approach has been very successful for the team.