Gannett has an ambitious plan to reach 10 million subscribers in five years across the U.S. and the U.K., CEO Mike Reed said last week. The USA Today publisher hit 1 million digital subscribers in Q4 of 2020.
In late 2019, Gannett shifted its focus from an advertising-based model to a subscription one, following a merger with GateHouse Media. Gannett’s turn toward subscriptions is part of a growing movement in which publishers are looking to memberships for profit amid uncertain ad revenue, in part due to trends such as keyword blocking and the decline of print advertising.
Gannett chief marketing and strategy officer Mayur Gupta said the publisher is experiencing a “fundamental evolution in our approach to long-term sustainable growth for a subscription-led business.” He detailed the steps in that evolution for Adweek.
As any publisher embarking on its journey to drive subscriptions will know, data and technology rule the operation.
The publisher is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine the most relevant content to show subscribers. Gannett is also experimenting with augmented reality to share content with subscribers. After the Capitol storming earlier this month, Gannett’s emerging technology team produced an interactive, virtual look at the events using augmented reality.
Gupta said the 150 million monthly users of Gannett’s sites and apps provide ample first-party data for the publisher to understand, including, “what are our customers doing, when do they do it, on what channel, in what market.” Such data is used to drive subscriptions and b-to-b, which involves selling marketing solutions including branded content, search, display and social, Gupta said.
Like many other publishers, Gannett is tailoring content and products to audience needs. This lets publishers deliver more refined content and also gather data to develop paid products, reach higher click-thru rates on email campaigns and sell ads at higher CPMs.
Gannett is continuing to tailor content for users, with the ultimate aim of bolstering subscriptions and retention, Gupta said. He mentioned two current examples: “My Topics” and “News Near You.” The former allows subscribers to opt in to select specific news topics, like sports or politics, and curates a news feed on Gannett’s mobile app based on their preferences. “News Near You” uses location services to offer local content that matches a user’s interests.
“We are hiring aggressively across product, content, growth, data science, strategy and operations,” Gupta said. This month, Gannett hired Spencer Mandell as head of creative and Olga Eskina to lead user acquisition. The new hires “have very different experiences than what this industry is used to,” Gupta said, with both having worked for technology firms previously.
According to Gupta, “that diversity in our workforce and leadership blends our foundation in content and local journalism with the rigor and mindset of fast-paced, data-driven growth.”
The subscription goal is spread out over multiple teams, he added, from consumer 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 multifaceted, and even the digital subscriptions retention team has “data scientists, product and engineering, content writers and growth-customer relationship management managers.”
Gupta said any modifications to Gannett properties will be incremental, although “users may see small changes here and there.”
In the 12 months leading up to Sept. 30, 2020, print and digital subscription and circulation accounted for 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 print to shrink to less than 15% while direct marketing solutions and subscriptions grow.