New Year’s resolution: Lose those extra pounds (in your subscriber acquisition budget)

By Jim Fleigner

As we approach the end of another year, we reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and create resolutions for the upcoming year.

For some of us, our personal resolution might be to drop those extra 10 pounds, which were gained very slowly and subtly over a long period of time.

A professional resolution might be to do something about subscriber acquisition because “the current approaches no longer work,” as one prospective client recently told us.

The biggest reason for this is because many subscriber acquisition budgets are simply overweight; that is, too much money is being spent for not enough payback. And just as was the case for those extra 10 pounds, the extra “weight” in the subscriber acquisition budget was gained very slowly and subtly over years.

So why not adopt a similar New Year’s resolution, using a similar approach to weight loss?

Continuing with this analogy, it is instructive to consider Impact Consultancy’s contributions to this Satisfying Audiences blog in 2014, as we offered a recurring theme of “losing weight” in subscriber acquisition, which is especially timely as we look ahead toward new business resolutions in 2015.

Just like with personal weight loss, the first obstacle to overcome is acknowledging that a problem exists in the first place, rather than making excuses as to why weight loss is not possible or too hard.

Here were some of the most common refrains we heard from circulation executives in 2014 as to why they could or would not proceed with a subscriber acquisition “weight loss” programme, along with our proposed solutions:

  1. I want to lose the “weight,” but I don’t know how much I should focus on diet versus exercise in order to get there. There is more than one way to “lose the weight” in subscriber acquisition, and it is crucial to know which approach will work best for you.

    This was addressed in the February 18 post “Media companies need a roadmap,” which illustrated a quantifiable approach to calculate the exact improvement that can occur in each performance driver (e.g., cost per start, weekly net margin, lifetime retention) for optimal results, when that segment is under-performing, i.e., “over-weighted.”

  2. I want to lose the “weight,” but I don’t know what to focus on measuring – calories, carbs, proteins, fats, etc. Knowing what dimensions to focus on and which metrics to track is an essential part of the “weight loss” regimen.

    Examples of this were addressed in the 15 July post “What to sell or where to sell it?,” in which subscriber acquisition was segmented along two key dimensions (delivery frequency and geography) and challenged the conventional wisdom that there is one segmentation scheme that is best.

  3. I want to lose the “weight,” but the process sounds really complicated and time consuming. Is there a simpler, quicker “crash programme” to help me manage my weight downward?

    This was addressed in the April 2 post “How media companies can manage acquisition budgets on the fly,” in which we offered a new conceptual way to quickly and easily think about the weight loss process, especially if time is of the essence.

  4. I want to lose the “weight,” but not at the expense of destroying my overall health or quality of life in the process. This was addressed in the September 25 post “Circulation loss vs. cash flow gain: Let’s make a deal,” in which we acknowledged the importance of and measured the impact of the trade-off of how much health (i.e., total circulation) can and should be sacrificed in order to bring back the acquisition weight to optimal levels, all without destroying your overall health.

As you can see, throughout 2014 we at Impact Consultancy have offered INMA members a diversity of ideas and approaches for “weight loss” in subscriber acquisition, spanning high level methodologies and low level tactics, with multiple intermediate goals and metrics.

However, the one theme that links these various ideas is tying the goal (“I want to lose the ‘weight,’ but…”) to the concept of proactive decision-making and decisive action.

Just as is the case with personal weight loss, if you don’t have the commitment and resolve to change, the available tactics do not matter.

While this is perhaps obvious to most readers, we are constantly amazed at the degree to which newspaper circulation departments deliberately choose to ignore telltale signs of declining health in subscriber acquisition.

These signs are an effective “call to action,” much like an unexpected heart attack or having to justify to your boss your year-end numbers that fell woefully short of plan (in this example, the heart attack might be preferable).

In spite of all of these telltale signs of declining health, we are also surprised at the degree to which the same circulation executives opt to maintain the status quo, planning the pursuit of strategies and tactics in 2015 that are extremely similar to what were employed in 2014 (e.g., pizza for breakfast).

While “business as usual” can be a fine weight loss strategy if those plans generate incremental value (or you have incredible family genes), our consistent experience is that every newspaper that pursues a status quo strategy is incurring costs far greater than it realises.

Much like plaque build-up around the heart, which leads to the aforementioned heart attack, these costs can be hard to see but they are real and quantifiable and represent death to your business if left unchecked.

And, until the costs of the status quo are recognised and explicitly measured, it is unlikely that many newspapers will implement strategies in 2015 that have any realistic chance of restoring health to subscriber acquisition.

Happy holiday and best wishes for a healthy 2015 from Impact Consultancy.

Look for our companion article on the cost of the status quo on this blog in January 2015.

About Jim Fleigner

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