Gannett’s evolution to a subscription platform required a mindset shift

By Chandler Weiberg

Austin, Texas, United States


When an entire brand shifts focus, getting the fundamentals set up and changing an entire mindset of the staff must happen to be successful.

Gannett has evolved into a subscription platform with the idea that audience needs must be known to drive the subscription growth, according to Mayur Gupta, chief operating and strategy officer at Gannett. To understand the audience needs, it must gather data about the users’ habits on the platform to find out what the user cares about, he said.

“It no longer matters how many hundreds of millions of people came, but what matters is what the particular individual cares about. What does he or she love? What did they do yesterday on the platform so we can create an experience that is of incremental value when they come back today?” 

To grow into a subscription-based platform, Gannett has had to change its way of thinking, Gupta said. 

“Subscription is a mindset,” he said. “It is way beyond a shift in the business model, beyond a shift in strategy and tactics or data. It fundamentally shifts your culture and what you care about as a business.” 

Making the shift 

Shifting to a subscription mindset meant elevating the online user experience for the 200 million people who visit the Gannett site each month. 

The original goal for Gannett was to reach 10 million subscribers out of those 200 million visitors. “The theory is to convert them, have them pay by giving them more value, and, importantly, giving them what they may be looking for,” Gupta explained. “First and foremost, we had to change how we organised ourselves, and the way we operated,” he said.

This meant changing the mindset of everyone at Gannett. The team then created three cross-functional pods, each with a specific purpose: 

  •  Grow the brand.
  • Grow the user base.
  • Grow the user value.

Cross-functional pods are integral to boosting growth.
Cross-functional pods are integral to boosting growth.

“You have a small unit of people who are coming from product engineering, data science, growth, marketing, creative — working together with a common outcome, handling different objectives, handling different missions and KPIs,” said Gupta. 

This concept of cross-functional pods created what is called The Gannett Rhythm. Gupta explained this rhythm within the company starts with the core of the brand, its purpose and vision, followed by the company goals, functioning objectives and key results, and then down to the cross functional pods.  

“We had to shift the way we operated, break down the vertical values of those traditional functions, and create these small units, and change the culture and the mindset to give the units the autonomy to do what they felt they had to do to hit those OKRs (objectives and key results),” Gupta said. 

The three pods are intertwined, with content, product, performance, brand, creative, engineering, and data, being factors to grow the brand, value, and users.  

“Everyone collectively aligned and shared those objectives and KPIs,” Gupta said. 

Getting outside help

Top talent names were brought in to help with the internal shift. These included heads at Spotify, Paypal, Instagram, Disney, and more. Gupta explained it was important to bring people from a diverse range of experience and expertise. 

Hiring top talent from other brands was key to the growth strategy.
Hiring top talent from other brands was key to the growth strategy.

“There was a very conscious effort put into place to bring people who came from different categories because they had disrupted those categories already, and we wanted to learn from them on how to disrupt our goals,” Gupta said. 

There were some roadblocks along the way for the team at Gannett, Gupta said: “One of the challenges we face was the velocity of decision making, because we tend to protect what you’ve built over the last century. We had to build the velocity of decision making, we had to build the appetite to take risks, even if you only knew 60% of what was going to happen.”

This included experimenting almost daily, Gupta said, and learning how to pivot quickly when something wasn’t working. 

Some of the experiments Gannett used to test and learn were pricing tests, conversion funnel optimisation, optimising landing pages, and efforts across product marketing — like premium content and bundles for subscribers. 

Investing in data was extremely important for Gannett, which included hiring team data officers and data scientists: “We believe in being inspired and informed by data,” Gupta said. “We have transformed into a global data station.”

By having a large data team, Gannett can look into user trends and habits, which helps its core value of attending to the audience needs. 

More in store for the future

Gannett has a new brand strategy rolling out later this year, and aims to unify its portfolio and elevate the brand to a digitally-enabled content company. Gupta emphasised that data is not the only core of how Gannett runs its brands. With its new brand strategy, a creative director was hired to create a distinct visual identity for its new premium subscription products.

Gannett is launching new products to help grow its new brand image.
Gannett is launching new products to help grow its new brand image.

Gannett has been launching new products and optimising its core products to aid in the growth of the new brand image. Social media influencers are also being used to reach the younger audience and gain new subscribers. 

“This shows how we are evolving from an advertising media business, to a product mindset organisation that is obsessed with user value and how do we add more value every single day,” Gupta said.

About Chandler Weiberg

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