7 insights for publishers from PPA Festival 2022
The first in person PPA Festival since 2019 was held at Tobacco Dock in London on 19 May. The five hundred publishing and media execs who attended were clearly delighted to be able to meet up with peers.
New CEO Sajeeda Merali emphasised the deep engagement that trusted content can provide for specialist communities. Incoming Chair Nina Wright, CEO of Harmsworth, explored how the pandemic has reshaped the publishing sector, and how, despite rocketing print and paper costs, readers still feel trusted content is worth paying for. Plus advertisers are increasingly looking for context and engagement over reach across digital and print creating opportunities for magazine brands.
Here are my seven top insights from the day.
1. Culture is crucial to build sustainable profits
In a more competitive recruitment market, where remote workers have multiple options, a strong culture and sense of purpose will be essential to attract and retain talent. Leaders are the custodians of culture, not HR. Tom Bureau, CEO of Immediate, one of the highest rated media employers, has invested £ millions in leadership training and advocates swift action to remove people who undermine a positive culture. Staff engagement drives team performance and directly leads to building value and long-term profitability.
2. Collaboration and flexibility underpin successful product development
The New Statesman relaunched its magazine and website during the 2020 lockdown. They advise starting to plan early, with a cross-discipline team, so that editorial, commercial, developers, UX and product can collaborate, build trust, and understand the needs of all stakeholders. In case of conflict, a Business Owner will have to make the final decision on priorities. The NS team launched before all the planned features were included and continued to develop the common platform post launch. Print and web design were developed in parallel. Results were impressive: subs up 31%, newsletter recipients reached 185k and traffic grew to 2.5m users per month.
3. Editorial and data, UX and innovation drive subscription excellence
The Athletic have grown digital subscribers to over 1 million on a tiny marketing budget. They invested in sports writing talent and class-leading data and analysis to become the “source of truth” in football. Subscribers can view content tailored to their team and get to become as expert as the editorial team among their own friends. The business is as much a tech firm as a publisher, investing in the UX of their content app, and enhancing audio and video content. The entire team owns equity in the business, so are highly motivated and track engagement of all subscribers. For Euro2020s, they used data to encourage football fans to share tactical tips for their team on social media, achieving huge awareness on a tiny budget.
4. Engaged membership communities result in loyal readers
Case studies from Recruitment Leaders, Women’s Running and Craft Gin Club showed that building a membership proposition and a community of interest can supercharge a media brand. The RL100 started as an exclusive group of talent acquisition leaders and now has a long waiting list, as members value the badge and industry influence as well as peer best practice. Craft Gin Club started with a blog and added an experiential community that has driven e-commerce. Women’s Running gain insights and fierce loyalty from their online community and podcast audience. All emphasised the importance of editorial involvement and dedicated community managers. Sponsors can be allowed in subject to strict guidelines.
5. Find the perfect balance between free ad funded content and paid digital subs
Publishers today need to manage their free, registered and paid-for digital content. Leaders from Telegraph, Global Data and Campaign discussed how they decide what content is in each category, and where to set the reg wall and paywall. Contrary to many sales team’s preconceptions, smaller, subscriber audiences can drive better results for advertisers than larger, free audiences. Editors need to plan for tiers of content from each feature – to deliver a teaser for free audiences and in-depth analysis for subscribers. Even SEO can be tailored to terms that deliver prospective subscribers, alongside those that maximise the free audience. Each market will find its own perfect balance of free, registered and paid for content, through research and testing. And many publishers are developing low-cost products for light users, or premium packages for super enthusiasts.
6. How podcasts can turn editors into stars to engage a new audience
A podcast is a broadcast not a magazine. So don’t over-research, do stick to simple messages, and do keep it informal and spontaneous, with multiple diverse voices. Build your own in-house stars and trust the edit to tidy it all up to sound great. Smart advice from The Week Unwrapped podcast team, who suggested three ways to monetise: dynamic ads, sponsorship, and magazine subs promotion.
7. Understanding consumer behaviour unlocks new revenue models
Consumer behaviour guru Rory Sutherland warned against looking at averages in data and research. Remember consumers will always love treats even in hard times. Post lockdown, there is a renewed hunger for community and shared experiences. Events are a great way to monetise the convening power of media brands. The authority and trustworthiness of a brand and the editorial context add value to the advertising message: good news for publishers. As the cost of living crisis bites, monthly all-in subscriptions may not be the answer for all customers – experiment with other business models for light users.
If you were at the PPA Festival and have more insights to share, do get in touch. I run an invite-only online community, the Speciall Media Group for around 200 publishing and media leaders where we chat about trends and different publishing business models. Request to join here.
If you’d like to have a chat about how to apply some of these trends and insights to your publishing business, get in touch to arrange a chat over a real or virtual coffee.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has acquired, launched, built, and sold specialist media businesses in print, digital and events. She now advises niche consumer and B2B publishers on developing new products and digital revenue streams as a consultant and NED.