mediaXchange 2017: Retaining Readers through Cost Effective Service Improvements

By Cam Ellis, Special to the Alliance

While some of today’s publishers continue to drift towards an exclusively-digital distribution plan, there are many that still rely on couriers to deliver the newspapers in the morning. It’s a strategy that continues to improve subscription size, both from an editorial and advertising perspective.

It’s this strategy that Michael Otero, Director of National Home Delivery for the New York Times, aimed to discuss – along with Bill Reynolds, Senior Vice President of Operations at the Denver Post and Bill Nagel, Senior Vice President of Cox Media Group – in a panel titled “Audience Development: Retaining Readers through Cost Effective Service Improvements” at mediaXchange 2017 in New Orleans.  

“We talk with colleagues that are [working on] home delivery service,” Otero said. “This is linked back to keynote: print distribution is the same. In terms of metrics and analytics, we need to do more. We realize there was a critical need to go beyond CPM [complaints per thousand ] measure.”

“CPM is a vital metric, something that we can’t lose sight of. But even beyond that, [we need a metric that] drives home the point. We’re really trying to peel back the onion and go deeper.”

One of the biggest issues facing many home delivery services is the artform of dealing with complaints.

“CPM measurements treat complaints equal,” Otero added. “Some are more painful than other. Your existing subscribers are going to stick with you and remain engaged. The new ones though? Not so much. If you don’t start them on time, if you don’t follow up, those complaints tend to hurt more and have a bigger negative impact on retention.”

Service improvements remained an integral point of concern throughout the panel.
“What we’re talking about here is more ‘blocking and tackling,’” Reynolds said. “We want to service and retain through service improvements. Last summer, we negotiated to outsource home delivery. We looked at a bunch of models and we went to an agent/distribution model.

“All have risk of loss,” he warned. “Any major conversion has to be thoughtful about where you want to be at the end, and negotiable along the way, because there’s changes.”

Nagel also added that attention to detail and service are the cornerstones of developing a savvy home-distribution plan in the digital age.

“On service, where our distribution is expected to close the loop on any issue,” he said. “With rate negotiation [centering around people being] unhappy about price increases, we’ve improved that process and are beginning to see some good result from that. Customer service is a big issue and area for potential improvement.”

“It’s not sexy, but it’s necessary,” Otero said. “We depend on our great partnerships to tell us what you’re doing. Hopefully it serves as a springboard to an ongoing conversation.”


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