FEATURE 

Registered users drive commercial strategy

A customer-first strategy, a commitment to innovation and a desire to collaborate are powering growth at the UK’s biggest news publisher, writes Meg Carter.

By Meg Carter

Registered users drive commercial strategy
Photograph: Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash.

Declining print circulation, falling ad spend and pressure on digital revenues from the likes of Google and Facebook suggest a bleak future for UK news publishers. Yet at Reach Solutions – the commercial division of the country’s biggest – sights are firmly fixed not on managing decline, but growth.

An important mid-term goal, for example, is to double digital revenue, according to Emma Callaghan, Sales & Invention Director, who is responsible for all agency revenue across Reach’s commercial division’s display and creative solutions.

And a critical strategy for achieving this is its customer-first plan, which involves building registered users – by the end of 2020, it had secured five million, well ahead of its target of two million. It is now working to hit ten million by the end of next year.

Emma Callaghan.

“Customer-first is all about gathering all the data we have and building a deeper layer of understanding of our audience that gives us a more attractive sales story and compelling offering,” says Callaghan.

“We need to know our customers better to be able to create better, more sophisticated products,” she adds. “A single customer view across all of our products gives us more sophisticated targeting opportunities and better advertising products to take to market.”

Customer-first is one of a number of pillars put in place over the past few years to grow the business, which was formed following Trinity Mirror’s acquisition of Northern & Shell and the combined entity’s subsequent rebranding as Reach in 2018.

Today, Reach spans nine national, 110+ regional and 70+ online news brands and claims to reach 47.9m people each month.

Back in 2018, the immediate priority was to make the newly expanded portfolio easier to buy, says Callaghan who, having begun her career at media agency PHD, joined Trinity Mirror Solutions in 2015 as a group account director and then sales director and took up her current role last year.

“We created packages that put together our nationals and regionals allowing brands to buy numerous titles to achieve scale through one buy, one contact, one piece of copy if they wanted,” she says. “And that’s the way most advertisers like to deal with us now.”

As well as simplifying things for advertisers, bundling national with regional brought more money to regional and local brands.

In 2019, the two million registered users by the end of 2020 goal was set.

Customer-first is all about gathering all the data we have and building a deeper layer of understanding of our audience.

Mantis

A collaboration with IBM’s machine learning platform Watson, meanwhile, led to Reach launching Mantis – which offers a more nuanced approach to brand safety by using AI to run semantic checks on content, designed to address the problem of over-zealous keyword blocklists – that same year.

At the same time, emphasis on product development and innovation was stepped up.

For example, Mantis is now also being used across Reach Solutions’ activities – including Invention, its brand content creation team which Callaghan also heads up – to better understand what content will perform best with which audiences, and the emotions different pieces of content will drive.

“Invention allows advertising and brands to come closer to our editorial teams than ever before, and we work closely with them to find the right solutions,” Callaghan explains.

“Recently, we have been working on a new planning process we will take out to clients, which utilises our data better to inform our creative strategy and pitching approach when responding to briefs.”

Today, Invention is growing fast and now accounts for 15% of Reach Solution’ total revenues. And it is a powerful demonstration of another engine driving growth for the business: collaboration.

The editorial teams’ knowledge and intuition about what brand content will work best for which audience is key, for example – as is their appreciation of the role ad revenue plays in supporting a viable new business.

But collaboration extends beyond Reach’s own business.

Take Reach’s participation in The Ozone Project, which allows advertisers to buy brand safe combined publisher inventory.

Then there is Team Nation – a first-ever alliance between rival news industry publishers and OmniGov, media agency Manning Gottlieb OMD’s specialist media unit for the UK government, created in response to Covid-19.

“Just seven days after Team Nation was formed last year, the biggest news brand campaign in the UK ever seen was launched – covering over 600 national and local newspapers, which all wrapped their papers and took over every website home page with the same message: Stay at home,” she says.

“That was just the start. We’ve now surpassed 80 briefs. And not just on covid communications.”

Team Nation is, Callaghan believes, “a real opportunity” for news brands to talk about effectiveness to other brands and advertisers as these campaigns have been highly successful.

“It’s a new way of working, but it has been very positive,” she notes. “For the first time, genuinely, we’ve had rival publishers working together really seriously. It’s a positive step,”

Optimising what Reach, as a news publisher, is already good at is, perhaps, the greatest priority moving forward.

“We need to work with Google and Facebook – they are important partners,” she says.

“They are incredible businesses, but don’t have our huge network of journalists and editorial talent. It’s about working with them while, at the same time, focusing on what we’re good at as a content creating business.

“At the same time, the more we can understand and grow our regular users, the better we can work with brands.”

You can hear Emma Callaghan 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.