PPA Blog

Thriving in a Climate of Disruption

By Tom Hawkins, Content Consultant, PPA

5 May 2021

The FT has long been a poster brand for digital publishing success. At this session at the PPA Leadership Summit, Tara Lajumoke, Managing Director of FT Strategies, spoke with John Barnes, Chief Digital Officer at WRBM, about the strategies that continue to drive reader and revenue growth.

Alongside its in-house services, FT Strategies has worked with more than 100 brands in the 18 months since it was established, helping build profitable digital relationships with customers and future-proof their businesses.

Work at the FT has focused on the brand’s overarching journey from being advertiser-first to reader-first – a strategy that saw it reach 1.09 million paid subscribers in 2019 and register a 16% rise in digital subscriber revenue between 2019 and 2020

Lajumoke summarises the approach: “It’s about taking advantage of, on the one hand, the increasing recognition of trusted brand and content – and the value that brings – with, on the other hand, a higher willingness to pay for subscriptions, for content.”

The result is that digital revenues now account for around 70% of all income at the FT, which is more than all other revenue streams combined. The single most important drive behind that, said Lajumoke, is engagement, and this is the filter for the relationship between the brand and its readers at every stage of their journey.

Engagement is maximised at acquisition stage through the use of targeted personas, it is a factor in onboarding journeys to maximise conversion, and personalised engagement at the point of renewal is designed to reduce churn.

The theory is backed up by the science of RFV, which integrates metrics around recency of visit, frequency of visit and volume of content consumed. “It’s a very complex equation with a very simple and important number,” explained Lajumoke. “A user with an engagement score above 18.2 is considered to be engaged and we know this has a phenomenal impact on cancellation rates, on lifetime value and other things.”

While this defines activity at an operational level, it all starts, said Lajumoke, with a bold vision or objective. At the FT, this is known as a ‘North Star’, which is broken down first into a set of desired, tangible outcomes and then into a series of hypotheses on which the outcomes are based. At the next level down are a series of experiments designed to test these hypotheses.

The task of realising all the elements of this plan rests with cross-functional teams of people from across the business who are aligned to the North Star goal and focused on achieving the defined outcomes. “What is often a multi-faceted challenge is solved by a multi-disciplinary group of people with lots of interesting perspectives,” said Lajumoke.

Tara Lajumoke on…

Leadership and Ownership

“It requires strong, bold leadership to create that vision from the top but at the same time you want to create ownership and excitement, so soliciting ideas and input from people across different levels is equally important.”

The value of varied perspectives

“At the FT, people saw the main customer as the advertising partner as opposed to the end user – the reader. It’s about shifting that mindset, when you’re thinking about content or pricing or the UX of the website, so you’re not thinking about the advertising partners first.”

Editorial empowerment through quality metrics

“When you start to use measures which show how well people are engaging and consuming content, that really drove buy-in from the newsroom. It excited them and empowered them – offering them insights on how articles are doing – and they then use that insight to inform decisions, although never leading them: I hear a lot about data-driven decisions, but data is just one part of a more nuanced decision process.”

Using data to dynamically target subscribers

For someone that fits a particular profile, we will look at the data – the RFV score, what product do they have, what was the acquisition method, how many days left until renewal, the price they are on – and we then use that to think about how we can personalise the paywall. What is the right offer and the right messaging to present them with?

Technology as equal partner rather than enabler

“We invested heavily in technology platforms, tools etc, to empower our workforce, but equally important is the culture shift around how we work with technology. We have a CTO, but it’s also front and centre – having technology at the table. They are across every mission group, they are embedded in key strategic discussions and processes - that’s so important to solving problems in a customer-centred way and transforming fully as an organisation”

Maintaining collective focus on strategic goals

“It’s being very clear on a bold, ambitious vision but it’s also having that governance framework in place to ensure that once you leave the exciting, sexy workshops, you – in your day-to-day – carry on thinking how you get the FT to 1m?, and that means working with advertising, working with tech. It means collaborating and constantly experimenting.”

The happy co-existence of subscriptions and advertising

“We’re able, as a result of being reader first, to understand our audience better, which then fed our ability to build propositions for advertisers that said ‘If you want to reach X number of people, it’s probably not us, but if you want to reach the right people, thanks to our subscription process we have even more rich data. So, we’re able to price for value and offset the loss in volume.”

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