Independent Viewpoint: Renee Doegar, London Review of Books
Winning a PPA Independent Publisher Award was the culmination of a lot of hard work for the marketing team at the London Review of Books, which has been instrumental in a decade of subscriptions growth. Head of Marketing Renee Doegar explains the secret to their success and how the LRB is planning for future growth.
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What does winning Team of the Year at the PPA Independent Publisher Awards mean to LRB and to you?
We feel so honoured to have won the PPA award for Team of the Year! As longstanding PPA members, we truly recognise what a great achievement the award is. The London Review of Books has had consistent subscription growth for over a decade, which is no small feat bearing in mind the recent instabilities in our industry.
What's the secret of your success?
We feel that this award really serves to highlight the success of our operation as a whole. A passionate editorial team create a magazine of unmatched content every two weeks, this is then successfully disseminated across multiple channels by our production team, with strong ROI measurement by the finance team. The Marketing Team capitalises on the great work done by our colleagues, taking advantage of these opportunities and audiences. The award may say ‘Marketing Team,’ but we feel it’s a reflection on the whole organisation.
What specific achievements have you been particularly proud of over the past 12-18 months?
As a department, we have really focused our efforts on the channels that have the best return, and we are finding this increasingly in digital. We run all of our digital marketing campaigns (social media, emails, adwords etc.) in-house as a small team. This demands huge dedication and passion, but we believe that no one cares about the fine detail and success of our campaign more than we do!
What are the main areas of focus for the LRB?
The LRB has always been proud of the print magazine we produce, and the incredibly high standard of our paper published every two weeks. But 2017 is also bringing some exciting digital developments. In an effort to maximise our content’s reach, worldwide customer engagement with our content, and, of course, the revenue through digital, we have hired a new in-house digital team to completely revamp the LRB’s digital presence. It’s certainly a main focus and an incredibly exciting time for us, as we welcome a Product Manager, Digital Editor, Creative Director, Front and Back End Developers, and User Researcher to the LRB.
How will that change the LRB over the next few years?
We do not foresee a time when we will stop publishing our print magazine, but we want our readers to be able to access our content as easily as possible across all devices. This digital, agile approach to our product will not only allow us to target new audiences and offer new types of content but also significantly improve our offer to current subscribers.
How do you judge the mood among independent publishers? What are you optimistic about?
I think it’s much better than it was a few years ago. Formerly, there was so much trepidation in the industry (about metered access, free/paid content, mobile, cost of print, etc). The LRB was lucky to weather that storm with increasing subscription growth, but it’s nice to see other publishers entering a smoother period too. The hunger for great writing and quality printed material hasn’t died, and I think that’s a wonderful thing to see. I hate to imagine a world without books and magazines.
The hunger for great writing and quality printed material hasn’t died. I hate to imagine a world without books and magazines
What does the publisher of the future look like and which channels present the biggest opportunities?
Obviously any publisher now or in the future will have to consider digital channels as an essential part of their business. But I don’t believe there’s a universal answer to this question for publishers: it has to come from the readership, from the customers. We need to respond to their wants and needs. So while there are great benefits to marketing through digital (it is a great testing arena, offers excellent real-time reporting, customer engagement metrics, etc.), you have to understand your audience in order to best meet their needs. As long as the channels – even the traditional ones – are demonstrably valuable, we will be where the potential readers are looking for us.
Is there anything in particular that keeps you awake at night?
I try not to let things get to me too much – I like my sleep! Marketing is such a multi-faceted, interesting, ever-changing, and exciting industry though - I suppose I worry the most about keeping pace.
What gives you a kick about working in this industry?
I absolutely love marketing in independent publishing. It’s a joy to be able to say that about your job. I particularly love the thrill of a good test: the (sometimes crazy) results and the story the data tells. But I love doing it for a magazine product that I really believe enhances people’s lives. I think that’s where the magic is for me: in the satisfaction that comes with the crossover between results-driven marketing and a great product.
What piece of advice has stuck with you throughout your career?
This sounds so incredibly trivial, but I would say, ‘be happy'. It’s not always easy and doesn’t always work, but I think of it as a kind of guiding principle in my life. Life is short, and work is long; we should make it as good as we can, be as pleasant with one another as we can, and just generally make it as fulfilling as we can.
What are your top tips for other independent publishers?
I would first suggest that all independent publishers use LifeTimeValue (LTV) and Publishing models. It is integral to our business and really helps us not only measure what we have done, but get an accurate picture on ROI and the relative circulation and financial results we expect over the next 5 years from where we are now. We use Alan Weaver’s model and it’s been proven time and time again to be remarkably accurate. I would also encourage small publishers to give Google Adwords a try. It’s easy, you have control over your budget, and it’s a really great tool for testing copy, imagery, price, etc. without having to make a big, untested change on your website.
What’s your favourite magazine?
The London Review of Books, of course! I also love the New Yorker.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
I am lucky enough to live in London, so I try to take advantage of it. I promised myself to try to go to at least one play, film, performance or gallery every two weeks (even if it’s just something small), so there is now always something for me to look forward to in my diary.
Tell us something about yourself that we might find surprising?
I have heterochromia, which means my eyes are two different colours. It’s a genetic condition (my great Aunt had it too). The best comment I got about it was from a little girl, about three years old, who was looking at my face with real concentration before asking in her innocence: "who’s got the other two?"
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