Circulation executives and the great divide

In an article written for NAA and in presentations made around the country, we’ve stressed the need for circulation executives to ramp up their education in all things digital, including social media, mobile and audience development. There’s a valid reason for suggesting this: The job we knew for so long has changed, and there’s a divide that’s formed in the responsibilities of a circulation executive’s role in the newspaper.

In Newspaper Version 1.0, the responsibilities for print circulation sales/marketing and operations were rolled into one neat and tidy job description. It worked well for a long time, but with the present, ever-changing newspaper landscape and the importance of growing audience, the move to paid content and the launch of multiple digital platforms to carry that content, the circulation executive’s role is changing quickly and dramatically.

As newspapers accelerate the growth of consumer revenue through digital subscriptions, all-access membership concepts and consumer product development, the importance of developing sound acquisition and marketing strategies across both platforms – print and digital – becomes critical.

Digital subscription sales, either in a bundle or by platform, add a new dimension to how sales are made and the strategies behind them. Seasoned strategies that work for print will certainly play a part, but digital subscription acquisition will require a deep understanding of the platforms themselves. That’s a new area for many circulation executives, but one where growth is needed.

Understanding how the platforms are being used, the challenges facing each, the impact they have on audience growth objectives, how your newspaper is using them and the revenue possibilities for all are important to developing sales initiatives.

Because digital sales and marketing now play such an important role, circulation executives have a decision to make. They can become the champion of understanding these new digital audiences, growing digital subscriptions, developing sales strategies across both platforms and accelerating consumer-based revenue growth, or they can watch someone else champion this exciting and new dynamic.

This movement has created a divide in how newspapers see circulation executives. Some newspapers will rely on their circulation directors to embrace this new era, reinvent themselves and become experts in digital sales/marketing/audience. Others won’t.

I think the determining factor in how many newspapers will decide the champion of digital subscription sales will depend on you.

Talks with many circulation/audience managers in the last year have made it clear that there are some very savvy print and digital marketers already in place and taking their newspapers to the next level. They stood up, accepted the challenge and dove into digital headfirst. They accepted the fact that they needed to increase their digital IQ and pursued that knowledge with a vengeance. They see that understanding how social media, mobile, tablets, audience growth, engagement and new product development all work isn’t an option – it’s critical to becoming the next generation of circulation executive. On top of that, it increases your personal value and your value to your newspaper and to this industry. Regardless of the size or the mission of your newspaper in terms of digital strategy, you need to know this.

So I ask you, what’s your digital IQ? Does your newspaper see you as the expert in digital subscription sales and consumer-revenue development? If not, what are you doing to change that?

Here are some suggestions on how you can get started:

  1. Get to know the digital experts at the newspaper. I’ve mentioned this before – they are very good teachers.
  2. Get involved in every discussion related to new products. Network with others and discover what they are doing. Bring back an idea to your newspaper.
  3. Become a key player in promoting the digital portfolio. You need to be a part of this strategy.
  4. Develop a rapport with the developers. Understanding the basics of why developers do things the way they do is very important.
  5. Read as much as you can. Start with publications produced by NAA. Have you read all of the information NAA has put together related to digital, such as Audience Growth Strategies That WorkPackaging and Marketing Subscriptions Across PlatformsExamining Newspaper iPad Apps, the Newspaper Multiplatform Usage Study? Not only do you increase your knowledge and value, but you can get inside the minds of the people who are blazing the trail in audience development, mobile innovation, digital subscription/marketing strategy and much more.
  6. Check out my blog at It was created for the purpose of helping newspaper leaders increase their digital IQ. Including me.

Start with these, and you’ll be well on your way. I would love to hear from you three to six months from now after you’ve had a chance to apply these suggestions. Your comments are welcome.

Jeffrey L. Hartley

About Jeff Hartley

Career Newspaper Executive specializing in Consumer Revenue Growth-both print and digital. Social Media and Mobile Enthusiast. Frequent speaker on consumer revenue and print/digital audience growth.
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2 Responses to Circulation executives and the great divide

  1. Kleinschmidt, Vitto says:

    Jeff, Thanks for the information. The links you suggested are a great place to start not only to understand where we are headed but also the best ways to get there. I appreciate it. Vitto Vitto Kleinschmidt Circulation Director Juneau Empire 907-523-2222


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