INMA CEO roundtable offers several product takeaways

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there.

Last month I took part in our inaugural CEO roundtable in Vail. The discussions were held under Chatham House Rules, so while I can’t talk specifics, there are a couple of things very relevant to this group that have stayed with me and I wanted to share. 

As always, I’d love to hear your vieww, opinions, or examples of work relating to these topics, so please don’t hesitate to drop me a line at

It’s all about the customer

One of the biggest takeaways of the inaugural INMA Roundtable at Vail event was that companies need to shift the viewpoint from the company value chain to the customer value chain. 

Yes we have been talking about customer centricity for a while, but honestly I have never seen it hit home as I did during one of the talks in Vail. 

What publishers used to do has shrunk enormously. We used to be the main channel for the majority of news and information. It’s where we would find jobs. And buy and sell through the classifieds. It’s the OG of dating (something I ran at the Mirror Group in the UK 20 odd years ago).

But that value chain has eroded. We are no longer the top of funnel. 

We talked a lot about customer value chains (CVC), which map out the steps customers go through to become aware of, acquire, use, and dispose of products. Innovation involves creating more value, reducing costs, or eliminating eroding activities in the chain.

For this, we need to identify and fix customer pain points and find opportunities to eliminate frustrations. A practical idea that really stood out to me is using NPS scores in a more productive way (an HBR article with more on this here).

Right now, we get a sense of how much our customers like us, but we often don’t know much more. However if we use NPS scores at different points in the customer journey, we can see where we are strong and where we are weak. For example, is it when they are browsing, buying, using, or leaving your product?

Thalys Teixeira suggests using NPS across the customer value chain — not just as an overall score but to truly understand where your product is strong and weak.
Thalys Teixeira suggests using NPS across the customer value chain — not just as an overall score but to truly understand where your product is strong and weak.

At a past INMA event, Riske Betten, head of B2C at Mediahuis Netherlands, pointed out that one of the best places a product person can start looking for areas to improve is customer service. By being on the front lines, they know our weak points better than anyone else. That is where we get bang for buck. This is where we will see the most opportunity for growth. 

Possibly controversially, I also think we as an industry are not the best at offboarding people. Many make it hard for people to leave. Which I understand, but don’t agree with. 

At a previous INMA Product Initiative event, we had the former vice president of product at Netflix, Gibson Biddle, run a workshop during which he asked if Netflix was crazy to tell people they hadn’t used the service in a certain time frame so their subscription would be canceled. My answer was no, because it keeps the relationship and leaves the door open for when they want to come back. 

The more I think about this the more I agree with it. And this will be controversial no more as regulation around dark patterns will obligate many companies to make it as easy to leave as it is to subscribe. As a side note, this already exists in India; more on that in a future newsletter.  

Ultimately we need to go back to something simple: Are we making content and products worth paying for? From a CEO point of view, they need to create a company-wide obsession around this. There need to be internal structures to intensify a core focus on innovation, change, and growth — where the company is going, not where it’s been.

One way of doing this is through squads focused on specific goals. The New York Times is an excellent example of this. Hannah Yang, chief growth and customer officer, gave credit to this structure more than anything else for their impressive growth in a fireside chat with Greg Piechota at the INMA World Congress in May. 

Side note: If you are interested in more on this, I highly recommend the book Unlocking The Customer Value Chain by Thales Teizeira and our very own Greg Piechota.

If it’s all about the customer, which customer? 

No two customers are the same. The slides below were presented by Karl Oskar Teien, director of product and UX at Schibsted Subscription News, at a previous INMA event. It’s an excellent representation of the fact that we absolutely need to differentiate our offering if we want to target different cohorts.

Karl Oskar Teien, director of product and UX at Schibsted Subscription News, explained how personalisation matters at Aftenposten.
Karl Oskar Teien, director of product and UX at Schibsted Subscription News, explained how personalisation matters at Aftenposten.

AI-enabled personalisation redefines business models and allows us to serve ever-narrower niches and one-on-one personalisation of content at scale.

While we have spent time looking at personalisation of content in the Product Initiative — something I fundamentally believe in as a necessity for mainstream media companies — I have yet to find concrete examples of personalising formats (if I am wrong, please send me examples). 

I asked the CEOs in Vail if format personalisation was on anyones radar, and they all said no. Perhaps it’s too expensive and/or labour intensive for the payback. But I think that will change as AI tools develop and we understand our customer preferences at different points in their lives and in their day to day activities. Maybe serve up summaries in the morning as briefings (much as e-mail newsletters often do now), videos with captions or audio during commutes, and longer reads in the evening. 

Maybe full scale, one-to-one personalisation doesn’t make sense as a blanket approach: We are unlikely to be all things to all people. Therefore we need to focus on the most important audiences. How do we define that?  

We’re seeing that engaging and monetising loyal users is becoming more important. This is represented by the replacing of metrics such as reach and scale with customer lifetime value. You may be familiar with the RFV North Star metric championed by the FT. They have since layered this with an LTV metric (see below presented by Lucy Butler, formerly head of data at the FT). 

Lucy Butler, formerly head of data at the Financial Times, explained the company's LTV metric.
Lucy Butler, formerly head of data at the Financial Times, explained the company's LTV metric.

It’s important to identify audiences that will give you the most potential for lifetime value. That starts with engaged subscribers and likely then unengaged subscribers and those with the most propensity to subscribe, etc. In other words, this likely starts with behaviours rather than ages. 

During one of the Vail sessions, a couple of numbers came up that threw me. Greg Piechota, INMA’s our researcher-in-residence and lead of the Readers First Initiative, pointed out the average ages of print subscribers and digital subscribers are higher than many think. The latest 2023 survey by Oxford’s Reuters Institute, whose study is across 45 markets, found that among those who paid for a subscription or membership to a digital news service, 60% were men and 53% were 45 years old or older (37% were 55 or older, and 19% were 65 or older).

So should we really be focusing on Gen Z when Gen X and Millennials are likely to give more short-term growth? And we are likely to learn from this focus, too.

My biggest concern for our industry is not AI; it’s that we are making an assumption that as people age up and become civically engaged (buying houses, having children, etc.) they will have more demand for our services, and frankly that is not proving true.

If we can’t engage Gen X and Millennials, then we will have to have a much more dramatic refocusing of our strategies.

Date for the diary: October 4: How to Choose a CMS

I’ve been working on a project with Google around CMS selection. It can be a daunting task as it’s one of the most important technology decisions a company is likely to make from a cost, time, and product point of view. 

After interviewing numerous publishers and grilling vendors, we have built a vendor selection tool to help you make your decision. To accompany this, we have a thorough report being released in early October on the steps you should take to choose a system. 

In addition, we have a free 90-minute town hall to take you through the project and how it can be used. Sign up here and be sure to tell your friends and colleagues that may be interested, too.  

New INMA report on audio

ICYMI, my report Why some  media companies are betting big on audio was released last week. It delves into all things audio including:

  • Six reasons this is audio’s moment.

  • The power of podcasts.

  • Smart speakers.

  • The opportunity of audio articles.

  • The economics of audio.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. 

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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