The Telegraph Media Group’s transition from a focus on print subscriptions to its current focus on online registrations was not necessarily a slam-dunk for Peter Hickman. 

After all, his job title is managing director for subscriptions at the London publisher. And until September 2017, he’d been quite happy with his success at using the promise of access to premium, quality journalism behind the Telegraph’s Web site paywall as a stepping stone to eventually getting registered digital users to become subscribers.

Then the CEO unveiled a major strategic shift with a new vision.

Peter Hickman, managing director for subscriptions at Telegraph Media Group, explains how the news media company switched to a registrations-first business model without gutting its paid subscriptions model.
Peter Hickman, managing director for subscriptions at Telegraph Media Group, explains how the news media company switched to a registrations-first business model without gutting its paid subscriptions model.

“The vision is this: Through quality journalism, we aim to serve at least 10 million registered customers,” Hickman said. “And ‘registered’ is the key word there. This is a registrations-first strategy, focused on creating real engagement and relationships with our customers, as opposed to trying to create anonymous, low-value scale.”

“Quality journalism is at the center of our strategy,” he explained. “Quality journalism is what will create the deep level of engagement with our customers that will encourage them to register with us. And through those registered customers and the data that we have on those customers, we believe we can scale our diversified businesses.”

 All fine and good, but “while I liked a lot of this registrations strategy ... there was quite a lot of it that made me nervous, as well,” Hickman confided. “In short, all the things I wanted to be doing for subscribers, suddenly we were doing for registered customers. And that honestly made me nervous…. Fundamentally, I worried that that we were making registrations so attractive that it would dive our subscriptions business.”

But it didn’t.

“With the introduction of this new registration strategy, we’d also changed the targets, and editorial's were now done on registrations as opposed to page views,” he said. “They were goaled on generating engagement and relationships, as opposed to generating scale.

“And smart cookies that they all are, they zeroed in very quickly on the fact that, actually, premium content was the single biggest source of registration for us. Quality journalism was the driver of registration. Quality journalism was the thing that really kept those registered users coming back time after time. They loved that, and so they doubled down. We very quickly started to see growth in both the volume and the share of premium content on our site.”

It was a markedly different outcome from earlier efforts to increase the amount of premium content at Telegraph. And it gave the sales side new opportunities as well.

“The results were quite dramatic,” Hickman said. “I’ve talked about the fact that we were publishing 75% more premium. But the sale-per-article had gone up by more than 40%. And our run-rate of new subscriptions sales has been up 150% year-on-year. Now that’s remarkable. Not only that, it’s working for registrations, too. We are well on track to hit our registrations target for 2018, which is 3 million registered users by the end of this year and a milestone to get to 10 million.”

So his bottom line message to others hoping to duplicate Telegraph’s approach? 

“If you’re looking to deliver real change and transformation in your business, it’s not just about setting that big, hairy, ambitious, clear goal,” Hickman answered. “It’s really important to focus on making sure that you’ve got the incentives and motivations aligned behind that goal across the entire business. Because that’s what creates the environment to allow our transformation to happen and that’s what will deliver real change in your businesses."