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Organisational structure

Welcome to our latest subscriptions special, this time looking at all aspects of subscriber retention. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers to the publishing sector and from senior subs specialists at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Organisational structure

Our ‘subscriber retention’ special feature consists of five separate sections:

Key stages

Key performance areas

Organisational structure

In a nutshell

Suppliers spotlight

In this section:

Changes publishers need to make

Skill sets needed

Common causes of under-performance


1. Increase resourcing of retention team

“Despite us all knowing that it costs more to acquire a subscriber vs keeping one, most publishers still don’t put as much resource (people, time, and money) and focus in this area,” says Immediate Media’s Helen Ward.

“Subscription marketing teams are often weighted towards acquisition which can lead to a greater voice and influence,” agrees Future’s Doug Purdom.

CDS Global’s Mark Judd adds: “Do not overlook the importance of your retention team and ensure they have the right resource and support to be successful. You will also need buy-in from the company with the fundamental difference between acquisition and retention being the quick fix vs. the long game. It can be a challenge to manage upwards when you need results and quickly.”

2. Encourage closer collaboration

“Publishers need to consider the life-time journey of a subscription, including renewal, as part of the acquisition campaigns they carry out and overall subscriptions strategy. Some publishers have separate marketing teams for acquisition and renewal which, traditionally, works relatively well – however, these teams need to work incredibly closely together as part of one overall subscriptions strategy. The left hand must know what the right hand is doing to deliver the optimum LTV and ROI,” says Air Business Subscriptions’ John Diston.

Doug Purdom adds: “Acquisition strategy can be integral to retention success and should be guided by LTV to ensure a good return on CPAs. Teams cannot work in silos.”

It’s not just between acquisition and retention teams that better collaboration is needed. Editorial teams need to be involved too.

“Audience management and content management go hand-in-hand,” says ePublishing’s Lorna Fenimore: “The best outcomes arise from systems and technologies that are fully integrated and operating together toward a unified goal of reader acquisition, satisfaction, engagement and retention.”

Adept Data Services’ Rob Sherwood says that improving “the relationship between editorial and subs marketing will help ensure subscriptions have a strong knowledge of all the products the company offers.”

Furthermore, says HH&S’s Mike Halstead, “insight into future editorial campaigns can be used in comms to existing subscribers informing them of what is coming in a forthcoming issue as well as to both lapsed and prospective subscribers.”

3. Utilising external resource

“There is a big difference between a brand specialist and a renewals specialist,” says ESco’s Louise McHale: “Bigger publishers often have the luxury of having different teams focus on different areas. My advice to smaller publishers who don’t have specialists in-house would be to work with a consultant to help get the best renewals comms series set up. A good consultant will not only deliver a top-notch series, but they will guide marketing teams in the best way to monitor, adapt and grow over time.”

4. Adopt a company-wide subs culture

knk Software UK’s John Lawson says that it’s “important that retention is regarded as an essential part of company culture. Not only the management but everyone in the company must be perfectly clear about strategies and goals. Everyone should contribute and nobody should be afraid of failure.”

InterMedia’s Jamie Wren agrees: “all areas of the business need to be aware of the importance of the retention of customers. If this can be driven from the top of the business to the bottom, then every part of the machine will be united in their thinking.”

In part, this involves looking externally for inspiration.

“Joining the crowd can work to your advantage,” notes crmSubscribe’s Alan Leech: “There’s a lot to be learnt from your industry peers. It’s also important to remember that growing the publishing industry helps us all. Everyone is trying to find ways to keep their customers engaged, so taking advantage of your competitors’ learnings, sharing your own, and engaging in tried and tested practices will help you grow.”

5. Employ data expertise & utilise automation

“As we see this shift from third to first-party data,” says Lineup’s Michael Mendoza, “publishers absolutely need a team of dedicated data analysts tracking the behaviour of their subscribers and prospects.”

Pelcro’s Andrew Morris adds, “data should drive decisions and an OKR (Objectives and Key Results) structure introduced to align the team’s efforts and provide a quick way to evaluate key metrics and adjust strategies according to performance without getting lost in all of the data.”

“In terms of culture,” continues Andrew Morris, “companies need to build an environment that encourages testing new ideas. The team also needs to be structured in a way where the members can go from approval to execution of these new tests as fast as possible. This means providing key members with more autonomy and having the tools and skillsets in place to provide you with that level of flexibility.”

Aptitude Software’s Ana Lobb says, “there should be a shift in focus from manual, human prompted renewals, to automated processes that are more efficient and often more effective. Removing the moments when a customer can opt to cancel their subscription is important if we are to retain customers.”

6. Create a customer success team

For publishers with high value subscription products, says Publish Interactive’s Edwin Bailey, “a dedicated customer success team is definitely key. Recent studies have identified these roles as the fastest growing across the job market. There’s good reason for this but it’s not an easy change to enact. It requires foundational change rather than simply re-assigning pre-existing salespeople into CS roles. These teams help customers understand the value the publisher provides and help the publisher better understand the value they provide for customers.”



“We have been so used to reactive marketing cycles,” says Michael Mendoza: “this new way of using data and offering personalisation requires approaching marketing from a proactive stance, and deeply understanding data and engagement. Pushy sales tactics aren’t going to work the way they used to: knowing your customer base is the best way forward.”

“Data geeks are what can take your audience team to the next level,” adds Lorna Fenimore: “These individuals love data and seek relationships between your content, delivery mechanisms, marketing offers and subscribers. They then add their “secret sauce” which helps you deliver the right content to the right person via the right vehicle for the right price to make you the most profitable.”

Mark Judd says publishers “need to be able to quickly review large swathes of data and act on the results. It should not take weeks to work out an effort is not performing or a renewal series needs to be revamped. It’s one thing having an expertly written email, but another understanding the true value of its ROI.”’s Angus Chenevix Trench agrees that having “top quality data analysts supporting retention staff who understand customer behaviours and motivations” is essential.

Doug Purdom adds: “Data scientists and analysts should be given space to experiment and uncover the deeper insights that can transform strategy. Data driven decisions at a granular personalised level can drive uplift.”

Blend of creative & analytical

“As everything in some shape or form is digital, having a good understanding of technology and how it works is important,” says Motor Sport’s Zamir Walimohamed: “Also having a basic understanding of how marketing works as, again, every product needs to be marketed.”

For Helen Ward, “key skills are: analytical, commercial and data literacy.”

To that list, Rob Sherwood would add an “agile and pragmatic web team”.

“Creativity and copy-writing ability is vital across all marketing functions and that certainly applies to audience teams,” says Mark Allen Group’s Will Woodrow: “Analytical minds are also required to understand the data and where to focus attention with campaigns / strategy. One common problem is time! But deep analysis isn’t necessarily required every month. If time is an issue, schedule quarterly deep dive analysis on all your key renewal metrics and campaigns.”

Also, adds Helen Ward, “ESP skills are key as so much of the journey is done via email that ensuring the retention team can get these comms out themselves is important.”


Reactive mindset

“Changing approach takes time to bed-in and bear-fruit so a reactive mindset to performance may leave you trailing behind. A proactive approach with ongoing insights can help spot deficiencies quickly and resolve problems in their infancy rather than months later.” Doug Purdom

Poor tech

  • “Legacy technology not providing detailed subscriber usage insights for customer success teams during renewal discussions.” Edwin Bailey
  • “Subscriber experience can be hindered by legacy systems that fall short of more seamless experiences offered by contemporary subscriptions services who we are judged against.” Doug Purdom
  • “Poor, or absent, integration between CMS and audience management system.” Rob Sherwood

Product deficiencies

  • “A poor product.” Helen Ward
  • “Lockdown subscription buoyancy may have masked shortcomings in marketing effectiveness and product quality may have become stale. Feedback on product and content should be collected and shared with teams regularly. Repetitive content is often cited as a key reason for churn but a challenging one to overcome.” Doug Purdom
  • “Poor UI / UX for online subscriptions.” Rob Sherwood

Poor customer service

“Misfiring customer support can not only lose customers but attract criticism through review sites and brand social pages which deter new customers.” Doug Purdom

Poor prioritisation

“Not prioritising the tasks that are most important and then focusing on worrying about tasks that can be worked on later.” Zamir Walimohamed

Lack of personalisation

“Generic emailing (ie. non-personalised content) without tracking the habits of your customers.” Michael Mendoza

Under-resourcing retention team

  • “Focus on acquisition at the cost of resource dedicated to retention.” Angus Chenevix Trench
  • “Putting too much focus on acquisition and not enough on retention.” Mike Halstead
  • “The most common cause of underperformance is under resourcing the team who manage retention.” Jamie Wren
  • “Neglect and not putting the right people or adequate resources in place to look after such a critical part of a subscription strategy.” Mark Judd

Inconsistent messaging

“Changing offers randomly month to month, with scant regard for yield, and effect on subscribers is not good. Offers changing frequently leads subscribers to wait “for the next best offer” rather than renew. And, if they do renew, and next month’s offer is better, then they ring up, ask for refunds, change offers, and basically create a whole bunch of work for the poor subs department. Thereby negating any value obtained by the renewal in the first place through lost productivity placating the subscriber.” Alan Leech

Organisational rigidity

“The most common cause of under-performance is usually due to rigidity in the organisation. This could come in the form of using tools and software that does not allow teams to do what they want in terms of customisations and integrations, having separate departments that do not collaborate, and not continually testing and tweaking every aspect of your offering and user experience. This limits a company’s ability to find the right value proposition for the right customer segment and package it to the prospective subscribers in a world class user experience.” Andrew Morris


“Too much communication from your side can lead to subsequent consumer fatigue and then disinterest.” Michael Mendoza

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