Subscriptions expert makes the case for a chief subscriptions officer

By Josefin Olevik

Stockholm, Sweden


Robert Skrob, author of Retention Point: The single biggest secret to membership and subscription growth, knows the drill, even though he’s mostly working for companies outside the media world.

During last week’s INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm, Skrob discussed the role of a chief subscriptions officer. The key to a functioning role is to be able to answer to the needs the subscribers are showing. Skrob said he has seen many examples of chief subscriptions officers not having that influence.

“Who is responsible for subscriptions at your company?” he asked attendees. “What authority does that person have? My experience is that many times the role is not clear, and the person does not have the right conditions to do his job.

“I come from the outside, and I want the news media to be a part of the subscription-led industry. I’m now going to give you an employment ad to do this new movement.”

The machine of digital subscriptions is vast within a media company, which is why someone needs to lead it.
The machine of digital subscriptions is vast within a media company, which is why someone needs to lead it.

The first step would be to analyse who is responsible for subscription retention and growth. There is probably somebody, and the title is not vital. The person could go under the name of chief growth officer, head of subscriptions, chief revenue officer, or something else.

More important is how they work and how they can fuel the growth of the company.

An important starting point is to acknowledge the difference between advertising and subscription, where advertising is looking for the broad audience and the fast revenue, Skrob said, somewhat harshly: “Advertising is old. It’s yesterday. It’s a dinosaur, going away. I’m being provocative now, but I honestly think subscriptions are taking over it all.”

Subscription is seeking something else, oriented against specialised and niched groups with the focus to attract and retain readers, which requires a different focus: What do our subscribers want from us? What exclusive perks can we offer to create a unique member experience?

“Who in this room woke up this morning hoping they had a new e-mail? Who in this world is thinking “another newsletter is what my life needs to be complete?”

Skrob made the audience laugh with that one. Getting through the immense noice of information is what everybody dreams about.

“Owning the journey of the subscribtions is to understand why the readers are here,” he said. “And to give them what they need to walk through the day.

At the same time, subscriptions sometimes need a lot of shout outs. Scrob described a campaign he recently completed, where he was supposed to catch as many subscribers as possible in 90 days. During that time he used 180 calls to action.

The field for a chief subscriptions officer and his department should go in between those from the production team and from the branding team. The chief subscriptions officer should have their own spot with a lot of freedom with the aim of converting the audience to lifelong premium subscribers. 

This is only possible by increasing the value of the product. Here we get to the subjective emotions, which “may be the core of it all,” Skrob said. 

“What is the difference between a Honda and a Harley-Davidson?” Skrob asked, mentioning he’s been working for Harley for many years. “Something is making you feel different on a Harley-Davidson. That is why they sell more than 50% of all motorcycles in their category. They are also about 30% more expensive, which is another explanation of the success. They normally don’t talk about their product or the price but about the feeling a Harley-Davidson gives.”

Scrobs shared a story about his wife feels like an “awesome badass” with her Louis Vuitton handbag. Even though it’s a leather bag like all the others, it has a special air around it. 

How do you create that?

Spotify is one example. Subscribers are rewarded for finding a new artist first. If you start to listen to somebody who is later getting big, you are noticed for that  making you feel smart and like an early adapter.

“I think you have to look at your newspapers as a luxury product,” he said. “Nobody would buy it if they didn’t have food for the kids. Your subscribers want to feel awesome in some way. And the chief subscribers officer has to find out how to make them feel that way.”

About Josefin Olevik

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