Marketing

How Gannett plans to succeed in 10 million subscribers in 5 years

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Gannett has an ambitious plan to reach 10 million subscribers in the US and UK in five years, CEO Mike Reed said last week. USA Today publisher reached 1 million digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2020.

In late 2019, after a merger with GateHouse Media, Gannett shifted its focus from an advertising-based model to a subscription model. Gannett's turn to subscriptions is part of a growing movement in which publishers are looking for profit memberships when ad revenue is uncertain, in part due to trends like keyword blocking and the decline in print advertising.

Mayur Gupta, Gannett's chief marketing and strategy officer, said the publisher is experiencing "a fundamental shift in our approach to long-term sustainable growth for a subscription-led company." He described the steps in this development for Adweek.

Driven by data and technology

As any publisher venturing into subscriptions knows, data and technology drive operations.

The publisher uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify the most relevant content for subscribers. Gannett is also experimenting with augmented reality to share content with subscribers. After storming the Capitol earlier this month, Gannett's emerging technology team created an interactive, virtual look at what was happening using augmented reality.

According to Gupta, the 150 million monthly users of Gannett's websites and apps provide the publisher with extensive first-party data, including: "What do our customers do, when do they do it, on which channel, in which market?" Such data is used to drive subscriptions and B-to-B transactions that sell marketing solutions like branded content, search, ad and social networks, Gupta said.

Tailoring experience

Like many other publishers, Gannett tailors content and products to meet the needs of the audience. This allows publishers to serve refined content and gather data to develop paid products, get higher click-through rates on email campaigns, and sell ads with higher CPMs.

Gannett continues to trim content for users with the aim of improving subscriptions and customer loyalty, Gupta said. He mentioned two recent examples: "My Topics" and "News Near You". The former allows subscribers to choose specific news topics like sports or politics, and curates a news feed on Gannett's mobile app based on their preferences. Nearby News uses location services to deliver local content that is relevant to a user's interests.

Aggressive attitude across teams

"We are aggressively hiring in product, content, growth, data science, strategy and operations," said Gupta. This month Gannett hired Spencer Mandell as Head of Creative and Olga Eskina to lead user acquisition. The new hires "have had very different experiences from this industry," said Gupta, both of whom had previously worked for technology companies.

According to Gupta, "this diversity in our workforce and leadership combines our foundation in content and local journalism with the rigor and mindset of rapid, data-driven growth."

The subscription goal is spread across several teams, from consumers to B-to-B marketing. He did not specify how many different teams or employees were working on managing subscriptions. Still, Gupta said the approach to staffing these teams is diverse, and even the digital subscription retention team has "data scientists, product and engineering professionals, content writers, and customer relationship management managers."

I'm looking forward to

Gupta said that any changes to the Gannett properties will be incremental, although "users can see small changes here and there".

In the twelve months leading up to September 30, 2020, print and digital subscriptions and runs accounted for 40% of Gannett's revenue. Print advertising was 27%, while digital ads and direct marketing solutions were 23%. Gupta believes pressure will shrink to less than 15% over the next five years as direct marketing solutions and subscriptions grow.

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Jeffrey Rabinowitz