In what INMA Smart Data Initiative Lead Greg Piechota called “the shortest ever course in strategy,” a panel of experts from four news media companies shared with INMA members on Tuesday how they went from choosing a North Star goal and metric to executing their plan.
Although each company had its own strategy, they shared certain commonalities — such as the goals of getting to know readers better and making sure they stay, and making newsrooms part of the digital subscription success strategy. They shared their stories during the INMA Media Subscriptions Town Hall, the culminarion of the GNA Subscriptions Lab Europe 2021.
Irish Independent, Ireland
Ronan Doyle, retention manager for Irish Independent, said the company’s North Star was to “secure the future of independent Irish journalism” by reaching a certain (but not revealed) number of digital subscriptions by 2025 and generating a certain amount of revenue (also not revealed). And the company is off to a good start. Although it was late to the digital subscriptions game, its launch in February 2020 proved to be fortuitous.
“We’ve seen really extraordinary growth compared to what we might have expected initially going into our digital subscriptions journey,” Doyle said.
Creating the North Star as a unifying goal for the entire company was critical, he noted: “We were keen to … bring our editorial colleagues along and really invest in the product of all revenues coming in. It’s really important for us that we maintain the strong legacy of a print business. This is not a goal just for marketing but for every department.”
To reach its North Star goal, teams created metrics and then broke those down into smaller, achievable tasks. There was also a big emphasis on changing the mindset within every department: “I think persuading everyone and getting everyone to work towards this goal of the customer being our central focus consistently throughout this project is gonna be one of our foundations.”
Within the wall of the Czechia company Denik, creating the goal was the easy part, said Lenka Gallo, manager of subscription marketing. But there was one catch: “We had no clear vision how to reach it.”
The goal — to triple revenue in three years to 30m CZK (USD$1.3 million) — became more attainable when they identified outcomes in three ways:
- Having a better understand of their readers. “This means to better understand their needs to increase known users. It means to collect the data about them [using] … a simple registration wall, which we launched a couple of months ago.” From there, they created segments and personas to further understand users.
- Increase conversions and subscriptions. To do this, they had to establish an engagement metric as one of their tools. “This is the most important metric, honestly, which we have been starting to work with,” Gallo said. She added they are still in the testing stage with this metric.
- Increase monthly retention. Currently, Denik is only selling 20% of its content, but the company is implementing a paywall system it hopes to have live within the next month. “We feel it'll be very important to develop a value proposition to our subscribers and explain to them the value of a paying subscriber.”
Getting the newsroom involved was key, Gallo said: “The paywall team had no connections to journalism, so we invited the editor in chief to be part of team and implemented dashboard for each journalist.” This allows the newsroom to understand how stories are performing and, importantly, it changed their mindset “to get them on board for digital,” she said.
Guida Marques Pinto, digital innovation director, said the North Star for Publico was very clear: to have a set number of subscribers and a certain amount in subscriber revenues by 2023. To do that, it established three crucial actions:
- Acquire new subscribers.
- Drive subscriber lifetime value.
- Become a customer-centric organisation.
“The reader has been the most important person in our organisation … since the beginning 31 years ago,” Pinto said, adding that they even have a reader’s advocate within their newsroom. But they realised they had become “data-informed instead of data-driven.”
“We were assuming some truths we were based on common sense, and sometimes common sense just doesn’t work because we launch projects or services and then realise that, actually, our readers would prefer otherwise.”
This realisation caused Publico to take what Pinto called a bottom-up way of thinking, in which the company began talking less and listening more. This means more testing and more tweaking to reach the many submetrics created under the umbrella of the North Star goal. And that extra effort is what will lead to reaching the goal.
“If it doesn’t work, we understand that we have to tweak something. We have to try something else, and that’s fine,” she said. “Because we are going to test, we’re going to fail. We are going to test again and fail better.”
Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Austria
By the end of 2025, Oberösterreichische Nachrichten has set its goal to have 150,000 subscriptions by growing digital subscriptions to 50,000 and holding print subscriptions stable at 100,000, said Martin Prinz, head of reader and head of subscriptions.
The metric, he said, is the volume of subscriptions. The company intentionally chose to target both print and digital as part of its plan.
“We are not as far as others on our digital transformation road, and I think we still have to convince everyone in the company that digital is is a very important part of our business in the future,” he explained. However, the company has made huge progress with digital in the past two years, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.
To show the value of digital, they’re measuring engagement on their Web site, although they currently track “just the normal and basic metrics.” In the future, they’ll introduce a RFV (recency, frequency, volume) type of metric and increase engagement on the site to help lift subscriptions and retentions.
One of the key parts of the strategy has been creating a cross-functional team that brings the newsroom into the process, Prinz said: “We have to empower the newsroom and get everyone on the bus on the project and behind that goal. Now we see that colleagues from other departments also work on it and that’s a very good thing.”
The multi-functional team includes players from the subscription, marketing, editorial, product, and technology departments. With the creation of this team, Prinz said they are rapidly making progress: “We see that the newsroom is crucial to reach your goals with digital subscriptions on the Web site. If the content is not relevant or exclusive enough for our customers and for our readers, people don’t convert.”