Everything but nothing

Digitisation and the connected world mean that fast paced and relentless change is a permanent state of affairs for publishers. So much has changed, yet, oddly, so much has stayed the same.

By James Evelegh

Everything but nothing
Photograph: Melanie Deziel on Unsplash.

Have you noticed how, whenever you ask anyone who’s worked in publishing for more than twenty years, what has changed in the industry since they first started, that the answer is invariably a variation of “everything but nothing”?

It doesn’t matter what area of the business they work in, the answer is always the same.

Core principles have remained constant whilst virtually everything else has changed out of all recognition: publishing channels, consumer behaviour, the competitive environment and the technology we use.

Having interviewed Georgina Rushworth, who has worked in senior subscriptions marketing roles since the mid-90s, I can confirm that in the world of subs marketing, everything but nothing has changed too.

Georgina Rushworth.

What Georgina sees as the core tenets of her role are as applicable today as they were in 1995: 1. Understand the challenges your audience faces and how your products help them; 2. Never stop looking for better ways of doing things; 3. Never rest on your laurels; 4. Keep asking questions and listening to the answers; 5. Make sure you are in touch with your organisation’s goals; 6. Avoid silos: get to know everybody, understand their roles and try to dovetail your efforts; 7. When things go wrong, use the learnings and adjust.

The mindset of the subs marketer might have remained largely unchanged, but the world in which they now operate is very different to that of 30 years ago. Take customer behaviour, says Georgina: they now have shorter attention spans, are more demanding and expect instant gratification.

Within the subs marketing department, “marketing technology now underpins everything we do, and we need people who can harness that tech”.

The sheer volume of data now at subs marketers’ disposal, the growth in computing power and the evolution of machine learning technology that enables real time serving of personalised marketing messages means that having people on your team who are comfortable with technology is essential.

Subs marketing roles have always required a balance between numeracy and creativity, but never more so than now.

Marketing technology now underpins everything we do, and we need people who can harness that tech.

New role

Having spent most of her career to date at Reed Business Information working on titles like New Scientist, Flight Global and Optician, in 2019, Georgina took up the new role of head of marketing at Pharmaceutical Press, the publishing division of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, publishers of Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference, Stockley’s Drug Interactions, The Pharmaceutical Journal and MedicinesComplete, their online resource which was recently named PPA Business Intelligence Product of the Year.

Having spent the bulk of her career in mainstream B2B publishing, what differences did she see in marketing a B2B title and an academic one?

“With mainstream B2B, you could get away with more”, by which she meant that you could be more conceptual, could paint a picture, could be humorous.

“In academic publishing, there’s no place for ambiguity,” she said. Marketing communications had to be factual and to reflect the value of the content.

The Pharmaceutical Press’s marketing team is primarily focused on lead generation – producing high quality sales leads for the sales team to convert and thereby hit their revenue targets.

They will be helped by a new piece of marketing automation technology that is due to go live over the summer, which will enable them to send out emails at scale. The tech will allow them to better monitor user behaviour and usage, how users interact with certain touchpoints, to grade them and to allocate them to appropriate marketing programmes.

Being a new team, there was no forerunner, no precedent, no settled way of doing things. They were starting afresh. As such, part of Georgina’s job was to create and articulate a vision, devise a marketing strategy that felt compelling, establish procedures and ways of doing things and raise the profile of the new team within the organisation.

She felt that it was important for her not to tell her team how to dot the i's and cross the t's but to empower them to do the job. Nurturing her new team and bringing the best out of them is clearly important to Georgina, and a hint to her likely approach can be found in an excellent article she wrote for InPublishing twelve years ago, entitled ‘Circ / Subs: Our Changing Role’. In the article, she wrote: “It’s up to us to support the business, push our personal boundaries, be experimental, be flexible, have a sense of adventure, focus on results and have a desire to be successful. We should not be afraid of making mistakes, as long as the same ones are not repeatedly made and we should lean on each other, share our experiences and create standards for best practice. All of this will ensure our efforts and careers are moving in the same direction as the business in which we work.”

That is a timeless description of what working in subs marketing should be all about.

You can hear Georgina Rushworth being interviewed by James Evelegh on a recent episode of The InPublishing Podcast, which was sponsored by AdvantageCS, a leading global provider of subscription and membership management software.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.