Gannett has an ambitious plan to reach 10 million subscribers in five years in the US and UK, CEO Mike Reed said last week. Publisher USA Today reached 1 million digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2020.
At the end of 2019, Gannett moved from an advertising-based model to a subscription model, following a merger with GateHouse Media. Gannett’s shift to subscriptions is part of a increasing movement in which publishers seek for-profit memberships amid uncertain ad revenue, in part due to trends such as keyword blocking and the decline of print advertising.
Mayur Gupta, director of marketing and strategy at Gannett, said the publisher is experiencing a “fundamental shift in our approach to long-term sustainable growth for a subscription-based business.” He detailed the stages of this evolution for Adweek.
Driven by data and technology
As any publisher who sets out on their journey to generate subscriptions knows, data and technology govern the operation.
The publisher uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine the most relevant content to show to subscribers. Gannett is also experimenting with augmented reality to share content with subscribers. Following the storming of the Capitol earlier this month, Gannett’s emerging tech team produced an interactive, virtual look at events using augmented reality.
Gupta said that the 150 million monthly users of Gannett’s sites and apps provide a lot of first-party data to the publisher, including, “What are our customers doing, when are they doing it, in what channel, in what market? . ” This data is used to generate subscriptions and b-to-bs, which involves the sale of marketing solutions that include branded content, search, display and social media, Gupta said.
Personalization of experiences
Like many other publishers, Gannett tailors content and products to meet audience needs. This allows publishers to deliver more refined content and collect data for develop paid products, achieve higher click-through rates on email campaigns, and sell ads at higher CPMs.
Gannett continues to tailor content for users, with the ultimate goal of strengthening subscriptions and retention, Gupta said. He cited two current examples: “My Topics” and “News Near You”. The former allows subscribers to choose to select specific news topics, like sports or politics, and hosts a news feed on Gannett’s mobile app based on their preferences. “News Near You” uses location services to deliver local content that matches a user’s interests.
Aggressive recruitment between teams
“We are aggressively recruiting for products, content, growth, data science, strategy and operations,” said Gupta. This month, Gannett hired Spencer Mandell to lead creative and Olga Eskina to lead user acquisition. The new hires “have very different experiences than what this industry is used to,” Gupta said, both having previously worked for technology companies.
According to Gupta, “This diversity of our workforce and leadership combines our local content and journalism base with the rigor and mindset of rapid growth and data-driven growth.”
The focus of the subscription is spread across multiple teams, he added, from mainstream marketing to b-to-b marketing. He did not say how many different teams or employees worked on managing subscriptions. Yet Gupta said the approach to staffing these teams is multifaceted, and even the digital subscription retention team includes “data, product and engineering scientists, content writers and those responsible for managing the customer-growth relationship ”.
Looking forward to
Gupta said any change to Gannett’s properties will be incremental, although “users may see small changes here and there.”
In the 12 months leading up to September 30, 2020, print and digital subscription and broadcast represented 40% of Gannett’s revenue. Print advertising was 27%, while digital ads and direct marketing solutions were 23%. Over the next five years, Gupta said he expects printing to decline to less than 15% as direct marketing solutions and subscriptions grow.