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Key stages

Welcome to our latest subscriptions special, this time looking at all aspects of subscriber retention. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers to the publishing sector and from senior subs specialists at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Key stages

Our ‘subscriber retention’ special feature consists of five separate sections:

Key stages

Key performance areas

Organisational structure

In a nutshell

Suppliers spotlight

In this section:

Subscriber onboarding

Subscriber relationship

Closing the deal

Contributors to this special feature

“2020-21 provided acquisition marketers with opportunities to drive volume, however the market has taken an expected downward turn. Retention should be front and centre of any subscription strategy for the foreseeable future,” says Doug Purdom, head of retention, Future.

According to Mike Halstead, managing director, HH&S: “Healthy customer retention makes every aspect of your subscription business more cost-effective and efficient – it’s a game-changer for any publication!”

But, adds Mark Judd, managing director, CDS Global, you’ve got to play the long game: “Investing in retention is worth the wait, so do not be tempted to ignore it for a quick result.”



“You’ve done the expensive bit, congratulations, you have a paying customer,” says Will Woodrow, head of marketing, Mark Allen Group: “Now that you can communicate with them directly and for free, do not miss the opportunity to engage and delight them. User experience, a clear welcome and introduction to the product and wider brand are all key.”

“Onboarding campaigns enable publishers to engage directly with the customer and get the long-term relationship off on the best footing,” adds John Diston, head of B2C client services, Air Business Subscriptions: “the ultimate objective is to gain the newly acquired / renewed subscriber’s trust and become a part of their active interests from minute one rather simply being a name on their bank statement.”

Growing awareness of its significance

“Increasingly,” says CDS Global’s Mark Judd, “publishers now understand that onboarding is a critical part of the welcoming process to a subscription and the impact it can have further down the line when it comes to renewal.”

Onboarding is probably, adds Mark Allen Group’s Will Woodrow, “the most important touch point you have with your new customers.”

“The way a publisher is perceived is hugely influenced by the way they communicate with them and this starts from the first touch point a customer has with the publisher,” says Louise McHale, deputy managing director, ESco. After all, she adds, “first impressions count!”

Helen Ward, subscriptions director, Immediate Media

Onboarding has, says Helen Ward, subscriptions director, Immediate Media, “been a hot topic for the past couple of years and it continues to be, especially as publishers get past the fear of communicating more to their subscribers and start seeing the benefits of an onboarding series through improved first time retention rates, engagement rates via email CTR or even cost savings from their customer service.”

Future’s Doug Purdom adds: “Conveying value is increasingly important with the ever-present threat of subscription fatigue compounded by the cost-of-living crisis. Year 1 retention and trial take-through rates might be returning to pre-pandemic levels and subsequently delivering a larger percentage of overall churn. To protect retention rates and CPAs, an engaging onboarding is now a greater priority to enhance year 1 retention.”

Increased speed of response

“At the point of the ‘buy now’ button being pressed and the details completed, you have entered a relationship with the customer that now requires immediate focus,” says Jamie Wren, commercial & marketing director, InterMedia.

“Don’t leave a subscriber hanging,” warns ESco’s Louise McHale: “those first two weeks are critical; people need to see immediate value for the money they have just handed over.”

According to Andrew Morris, director of client relations, Pelcro, “in order to achieve that seamless process, the entire team should be focused on answering one question: how do we get our subscribers to derive value from their new purchase in the fastest way possible?”

Alan Leech, founder & chief architect, crmSubscribe, adds: “Accessing content needs to be fast and reliable. People expect access to digital content immediately when a payment has been made, or a new issue has been released, so how you provide your content to subscribers is crucial.”

A process, not a one-off

HH&S’s Mike Halstead says: “When received, expansive on-boarding to a new subscriber is confirmation of their purchase decision but should not be followed by a steely silence only punctuated by comms of price increases.

“The on-boarding process is an obvious way of showing “love” to a new subscriber to get the relationship off to a good start but like the proverbial puppy, a subscription is not just for Christmas. Subscriber engagement needs to be planned over 12 months, 24 months and should not appear to be ad hoc.”

Louise McHale advises publishers to “set up a multi-stage onboarding series with bite size, easy to consume information.”

“Creating an onboarding email sequence that continues to share some of the benefits that this new subscription or membership can offer them will go a long way in keeping them engaged,” adds Pelcro’s Andrew Morris.

Managing expectations

“Fragile supply chains reeling from ever-growing macro factors mean a balance needs to be struck and expectations need to be managed; don’t over-promise on delivery,” says Doug Purdom.

Edwin Bailey, chief operating officer, Publish Interactive, adds: “This is a crucial stage that will set the tone for the rest of the relationship – publishers must take the time to understand their subscribers’ content preferences, the regularity they want to meet with account managers, and their expectations for the year ahead.”

Explain & engage

According to Zamir Walimohamed, head of digital, marketing & subscriptions, Motor Sport, the emphasis should be on “making customers aware of the multiple benefits that they are entitled to when subscribing.”

“With publishers increasingly bundling subs packages with free access to print and offering other peripheral benefits, this all needs explaining,” adds Mike Halstead.

Doug Purdom says that publishers should “introduce and reinforce any brand extensions in your brand’s repertoire such as newsletters and podcasts. Extensions can serve as a reminder of your publication in-between editions arriving and engagement with these are likely to enhance your retention rates.”

Relationship building

“Onboarding is long-term marketing,” says Rob Sherwood, managing director, Adept Data Services; “It’s all about lifetime value and continuous development.”

“Throughout this process,” advises Louise McHale, “engage your new subscriber, build a relationship with them and encourage them to interact with your brand.”

Creating trust is an important factor. For instance, says Air Business Subscriptions’ John Diston, “sending out gifts at the beginning of a subscription rather than waiting until the payment clears, builds trust between the publisher and subscriber and shows that the subscriber will get what they expect from a brand in a trustworthy and expedient fashion.”

Doug Purdom cautions, “onboarding won’t always go smoothly. A welcome gift may go awry, or a first issue may go missing in-transit. Customers may not report a problem so proactively surveying in the onboarding phase serves as an opportunity to right a wrong and protect a long-term relationship.”

A frictionless process

Andrew Morris says: “The best onboarding strategy for digital subscriptions to content comes as a result of having a fast and frictionless subscription process. If users are paying to access content behind a paywall, they should not be taken off of the article that encouraged them to subscribe in the first place and should be able to go back to consuming that content as soon as possible.”

The tech dimension

Delivering a seamless onboarding experience requires a high level of technical proficiency, and that is why Motor Sport’s Zamir Walimohamed says they are “focusing on improving the digital journey and working more closely with third party partners.”

John Lawson, managing director, knk Software UK, adds: “Making available the proliferation of consumer offerings that are expected today and the day-to-day management of them is often not practical and not technically possible with multiple systems and potentially multiple providers for the separate digital and print components. Those publishers who are not positioned to engage subscribers, especially digital subscribers, will struggle.”

How publishers can improve performance

1. Allocate sufficient resource

It’s all about “data, technology, and resource,” says Zamir Walimohamed, so, “have tools in place that will allow you to be clever with the way you execute ideas and allow you to collect and analyse data. Resource is also fundamental; technology and data need to be monitored and managed. Expecting existing team members to take on additional work will naturally have a knock on effect on performance.”

Therefore, says Adept Data Services’ Rob Sherwood, it’s important to “use the best software and technical processes available to create a cohesive onboarding process, so you can deliver, for instance, an automated email cycle for onboarding, tightly integrated with your circulation and audience management solution.”

Edwin Bailey, chief operating officer, Publish Interactive

Publish Interactive’s Edwin Bailey says that “technology can massively improve the onboarding experience – for example, the creation and delivery of highly personalised content packages will highlight that you, as the publisher, have understood your new subscribers’ needs and can deliver a bespoke, concierge experience. Legacy systems often cannot license to a specific enough extent, so modern subscription or publishing technology is a must to ‘wow’ your new customer at the first hurdle.”

Automation and integration are integral to successful onboarding, says crmSubscribe’s Alan Leech: “If you’re locked into manually updating your database by using forms with no automation, then you’re placing an undue burden on your back office team.”

Seasonality is also a factor and it’s necessary to constantly review the staffing levels of your fulfilment operation, says InterMedia’s Jamie Wren.

2. Create an onboarding programme

“A clearly defined plan is integral,” says Will Woodrow.

This is vital, adds Rob Sherwood, because “readers whose engagement is low in the first few weeks are more likely to cancel.”

According to Mark Judd, “this should form part of a complete customer journey mapping exercise where the subscriber is put at the forefront of every step of the journey. A successful onboarding programme should be set-up and then continually optimised from the feedback obtained and as customer behaviours change.”

A key part of the programme will obviously focus on the first communications and should focus, says Louise McHale, on providing “immediate confirmation, reminding of all the benefits (affirmation they’ve made the right choice) and ensure value is being delivered immediately.”

For magazine publishers, says Angus Chenevix Trench, managing director,, providing “immediate access to a digital edition / content is an obvious first step – particularly for overseas subs. Innovations for easy access to a first print copy in the UK are now becoming available.”

3. Put the customer in control

“It’s important,” says Andrew Morris, “that users have access to a dashboard or profile with all of their information so they can make updates easily and even fill in additional information about themselves that may be useful to the business through progressive profiling.”

knk Software UK’s John Lawson agrees: “subscriptions must be easy to manage for customers. The customer must be able to decide what they need, both in terms of content and subscription and pricing models.”

This means providing, says Louise McHale, “immediate access to a user-friendly ‘my account area’ providing all the information that might be needed in an easy to consume format.”

Also, she adds, publishers should not be “fearful of offering a start / stop model.”

4. Deliver additional benefits

“Over deliver on the promise – perhaps send them something they were not expecting – and tell them why (because we want to thank you!),” suggests Jamie Wren.

Louise McHale adds: “Publishers need to recognise that we’ve moved on from a simple magazine subscription; additional value can be easily provided (with little expenditure to the publisher) in the forms of, for instance, partner brand discounts, additional digital content, a membership community, discounts to industry events, VIP passes, associated relevant insurance, training or knowledge sharing.”

“Consumer brands,” she continues, “can include things like recipes, planners and print outs. The options are endless for value adds on a sub / membership at little to no additional cost to the publisher.”

6. Constantly review

“Publishers can improve their performance by never thinking that they’ve found the perfect formula,” says Ana Lobb, VP, new business development, publishing, Europe, Aptitude Software (formerly MPP Global): “Customer behaviours are constantly changing, the world around us is constantly changing, and publishers should be reacting to, and ideally pre-empting, these changes continuously. It’s also important to learn from other industries that run subscriptions to see if there are new innovations that could be used within their businesses.”

John Lawson adds: “Publishers need to develop a deeper connection with their audiences and to do this they need to be creative with the onboarding initiatives, being prepared to try out new models quickly through trial-and-error and adapt or discard them as necessary.”

Andrew Morris advises publishers to do two things to improve their performance. “Firstly, they need to make sure that they are constantly going through the subscription and onboarding process themselves so they can experience it first-hand and catch any shortcomings or areas of potential improvement. Secondly, they need to create opportunities for customers to give them feedback that they can use to consistently test out new ideas.”

Will Woodrow agrees: “Subscribe to your own product the way a customer would. Plug any gaps and identify any missed opportunities to engage and delight.”

One of the key areas to keep under constant review is communications.

Jamie Wren says publishers should continually ask themselves, are they tailored? Do they give enough information? Is the customer getting regular details?



“Once subscribed doesn’t mean the job is done: publishers need to be innovative in communicating and offering more and more to maintain a relationship,” says Michael Mendoza, founder & chief innovation officer, Lineup.

“A positive customer relationship increases the chance of a renewal,” adds Will Woodrow, so, “stay in touch, survey for feedback, understand expectations and deliver what was promised. Measure engagement at every possible opportunity.”

Importance of regular communication

“Like onboarding, this is a critical part of the journey a publisher embarks on with a subscriber,” says Mark Judd: “Long gone are the days when the only communication to a subscriber was the delivery of a magazine (or a direct debit price increase!). Communication is key here, not too much that the subscriber is bombarded with things that do not matter to them and not too little that the subscriber feels unloved – the right messages, at the right times, delivered in the right way.”

John Diston says that “weekly emails / letters reminding subscribers to make full use of their subscription and the benefits that come with it, are useful tools.”

And, adds Louise McHale, publishers should be continually “reinforcing the benefits throughout the subs life cycle. Publishers need to be asking themselves, ‘why would someone want to be part of our subscriber community?’ Make sure this is clearly communicated to your subscriber time and time again.”

More communication is good, but warns Immediate Media’s Helen Ward, “there needs to be a valid reason and it should be about maximising the value and benefit of their current subscription, not just trying to cross and upsell to them.”

Encouraging usage

Just because someone has subscribed, publishers can’t assume they will go on to engage with their content.

Doug Purdom says, “Not having time to read an edition is often cited as a key reason for churn, indirectly suggesting that the reader isn’t making the time to read the edition. Previewing a key edition across all channels is a way to build anticipation and re-engage a dormant subscriber at a suitable time before it’s too late. Do not assume that a subscriber will unwrap / open each issue and make time to read it.

“A monthly publication must work harder than a weekly to maintain the attention of its subscribers. As well as previewing current editions, utilise time within issues to share bitesize content that might be evergreen, retrospective, or exclusive to current subscribers only. Content marketing can come in many forms, such as a curated list (eg. a playlist from an editor of a music magazine).

“Promote social channels as a further way to engulf your customers with engaging daily content and gain more brand evangelists along the way.

“Use push messages to announce when new editions are available to read, sent at a personalised time where individuals are known to be on their device and follow up with reminders to maximise unique issues read. Make sure your customers are reading your publication and have a defined strategy for dormant users.”

“In a world where one doesn’t watch a film without reading the synopsis or watching the trailer,” adds Louise McHale, “people want to be kept in the loop. For example, by sending an email confirmation when ‘Your issue is on the way’ with an estimated arrival date.”

Dan Heffernan, vice president & chief product manager, AdvantageCS

Dan Heffernan, vice president & chief product manager, AdvantageCS, advocates sending “emails or text messages highlighting new content based on their interests. Look at The Athletic. The headlines of the newsletters always draw me in because they are based on my teams or leagues.”’s Angus Chenevix Trench adds: “All publishers love the idea of improving relationships with subscribers because they hope it will improve retention. “Memberships” are a familiar route, but unless there’s relevant value-add executed seamlessly and closely monitored, it won’t work.”

Importance of customer service

“Customer care is key,” says Mike Halstead: “You put a lot of money and effort into acquiring subscribers and will only fall at the first hurdle if an equal amount of effort is not put into customer care.”

“Customer surveys allows publishers and service providers to nip any service issues in the bud,” says John Diston: “If a subscriber feels satisfied with the subscriptions proposition and that their opinion is sought out and valued throughout the onboarding process, the likelihood of a successful ongoing relationship is exponentially higher.”

According to Louise McHale, “subscribers need to have an easy customer journey – not just at the point of collecting payment. Make it easy to self-serve amendments to their subscription; for example: invoice contact, address, pause sub, invoice / receipt requests – all without having to reach out to a customer service team. Saving time for your valuable customer service team is imperative!”

Aptitude Software’s Ana Lobb adds that “customers want to be treated as “responsible individuals”. They want to manage their own account, they want to be able to change their price or billing schedule, they want to feel they can freely move between packages, and most importantly – they want control. Most customers are acquired online and want to remain there – forcing people to speak on the phone not only hampers the user experience, it can lead to churn and is an increasingly expensive process to run.”

Focus on tech

As John Lawson says, “all publishers and media companies know who their subscribers are but only those with a good customer relationship management (CRM) system can take full advantage of that knowledge.

“A good CRM system contains profiles, segments and interaction logs, and these support the creation of promotional campaigns and initiatives which are used to target subscribers, communicate news and sales messages, and ultimately secure renewals.”

Understanding individual subscriber usage data is vital. “If, for example,” says Edwin Bailey, “certain subscribers aren’t using your service much, this might raise alarms with your customer success teams. Similarly, if you can see granular data on the content and topics certain users or accounts are interested in, you can use this information to commission similar content in the future. If you don’t understand how your subscribers are using your service, how can you expect to manage the relationship successfully?”

How publishers can improve performance

1. Don’t take customers for granted

“If they have been with you for ten years or ten minutes, they will be thinking about why they should continue to buy your products and services. The subscription market continues to be hugely competitive – across all sectors - and there will always be an alternative waiting for an unhappy customer to switch sides and choose another brand,” says Jamie Wren.

2. Review how you currently do things

“The digital space is constantly evolving,” says Zamir Walimohamed, “so having the right resource in place to make sure you are adapting and changing with the times is important. Don’t be afraid to question legacy processes and keep looking to improve workflows for both customers and the business.”

“Before publishers start to consider new initiatives to improve the subscriber relationship,” advises Angus Chenevix Trench, “they need to forensically review all their existing customer touchpoints – online and offline – and optimise them with nuggets of surprise and delight.”

Ana Lobb, VP, new business development, publishing, Europe, Aptitude Software

In doing this, says Ana Lobb, “publishers should consider your personal subscription services and recurring payments. Which providers do you like interacting with? Which ones are terrible? Do your colleagues agree? We are all subscribers, and we all need to be managed. We should use our first-hand experiences from our personal lives to drive improvements to the subscription services we are running in our professional lives.”

“Above all,” adds John Lawson, “in order to manage the customer relationship, it is vital for all of the information to be in one central system.”

3. Collect feedback & act on it

Put simply, “listen to your subscribers and fix any problems,” advises Rob Sherwood; “Get the whole publishing organisation on board, editorial and circulation, to work closer together and gather reader insights.”

“Publishers need to proactively survey customers to understand their experience better and then plug any gaps and ensure expectations are being met,” adds Will Woodrow.

It’s important, says Mark Judd, “to focus on the stuff that really matters to subscribers to ensure the relationship is one that thrives for many years. Listen to your subscriber and act quickly. Ensure there is a feedback mechanism that goes to the right team that is empowered to make relevant changes where necessary.”

Louise McHale encourages publishers to “make the most of human interaction! Collect data on why somebody might be cancelling or pausing or if there was anything you could have done to improve the service they receive. Quick, concise, high quality customer service is hugely important.”

Of course, usage data is an indirect form of customer feedback. Edwin Bailey advises: “Give someone responsibility to track and analyse subscriber usage data. Any concerning or positive trends should then be communicated to the customer success team, which should then be relayed to the relevant accounts. You can have all the analytics you want, but if it is only being used for internal content commissioning plans and not to aid the renewal process, you are missing out on a great deal of its potential value.”

Mark Judd adds, “you should also ensure that the metrics being using to track the relationship are clear and reportable. These data points should be agreed on up front and should be integral to improving performance.”

Of course, getting feedback and measuring engagement with print subscribers is more challenging. Will Woodrow advises exploring “ways to engage digitally. Consider bundling digital with print and the ways you can steer customers online where you can more easily measure engagement. E-newsletters can be particularly valuable here. Use print to signpost to more value or a different experience online.”

4. Improve your communications

“The way a publisher is perceived is hugely influenced by the way you communicate with them – whether that be automated marketing / engagement campaigns or via frontline customer service (email / live chat / phone / WhatsApp etc),” says Louise McHale.

“Could you be using a combination of printed letters and email to stay in touch and remind customers of the value of your products?,” asks Will Woodrow: “You don’t want their renewal letter to be the first they hear from you!”

Mike Halstead says publishers should “think about ways to engage with the subscribers throughout the life of their subscription using mechanics such as rewards, additional free content, subscriber exclusives etc.”

AdvantageCS’s Dan Heffernan suggests you “remind subscribers to re-engage with teasing emails or texts which mention their passions.”

Helen Ward agrees that “editorialised personalisation is important” even if the bulk of email comms is automated.

Timing and frequency also need to be considered.

Lineup’s Michael Mendoza recommends “regular but not intrusive engagement. Too much can be as damaging as too little…”

5. Facilitate self-service

“Give users a way to manage their own accounts,” advises Andrew Morris.

“The priority,” says Louise McHale, “should be that subscribers have all the information at their fingertips without having to get in touch. This starts with ensuring everyone knows how to access their ‘My Account’ area. If a customer does need (or want) to get in touch – make it easy, quick and a pleasant experience. This means speedy customer response times via digital platforms, but also the option to chat to a real person without having to wait on hold.”

“Creating a unique account for each subscriber gives them the power to personalise their subscription experience,” adds Alan Leech: “A good account should allow subscribers to update their details, easily see their remaining issues or renew their subscription in just a few clicks. It’s also important to have those added features that make everyday account management easy, such as autofill options and the ability to reset a password quickly.”



“We feel that a key focus should be auto-renew! There should be no need to “get customers to renew”; it should be automatic and not even a consideration,” says Ana Lobb: “There are no manual renewals for streaming services, insurance schedules or utilities providers, so why does publishing need to be different?”

Therefore, says Louise McHale, for those not on auto-renew contracts, publishers should try to “ensure that if you do get them to continue their journey with you, it’s via continuous payment method.”

For publishers with subscribers not on auto-renew, these are the trends…

Emphasis on simplicity

“Making the renewal journey as concise as possible will assist with conversion,” advises John Diston: “Keep renewal processes simple and display clear step by step sign-up instructions. No one wants to endure a complicated multi step process – especially when the intention is to complete a basic action like an annual renewal.”

“Make the renewal process easy,” agrees Lorna Fenimore, senior VP, audience, ePublishing: “Include a link to a URL that is pre-populated with everything needed for the renewal.”

Because, adds Alan Leech, “the easier you make it, the more likely they’ll renew.”

Mark Judd notes that the “best performing renewals are the ones that are analysed and then optimised through testing over time.”

Publishers honing cancellation strategies

“As publishers have largely moved to direct debit and continuous credit card payments,” says Angus Chenevix Trench, “the pressure on retention has largely moved to trials and other cancel save programs. Publishers should embrace the new world of subscription management. People these days demand flexibility and control. If a subscriber doesn’t feel the product is right for them at any point, burying your head in the sand and making it difficult to cancel is not going to help you. Like it or not, they will cancel and you’ll be none the wiser. Turn the experience around, open the door, understand where they’re coming from, ask them why, learn from it and then make them an offer.”

Louise McHale agrees: “Make it really easy to renew – and really easy to cancel! Gone are the days of small print and opt out clauses – we simply don’t have the time or inclination… the easier it is to cancel, the more inclined subscribers will be to renew onto a continuous method because they won’t feel trapped.”

John Lawson adds, “subscribing, changing or cancelling a subscription must be uncomplicated. Long, inflexible cancellation periods are no longer really accepted today.”

Doug Purdom advises publishers to “make the most of every direct cancellation contact. Many won’t contact you and will simply cancel directly with their bank. By the time you are aware of their cancellation, it may have become more difficult to win them back. So, be armed with your best offers whether in your call centre, live chat or online cancellation journey. Customers are mentally prepared for a save offer so surprise them with an offer they can’t refuse and bring their yields up over time.”

Utilising digital solutions / self-serve

Zamir Walimohamed sees a trend towards “getting more customers to utilise the online functionality to renew and not relying on old processes like letters and phone calls.”

“Given that the clear majority of renewals are online,” adds John Diston, “a simple and effective web solution with the full range of payment options and a streamlined order process funnel should be at the heart of a successful onboarding journey.”

Louise McHale advises publishers to “use personalised URLs to take a customer directly to their ‘My Account’ area, pre-populate all the information you already have (with easily amendable options) and just collect the money.”

Emphasis on the proposition

Doug Purdom points out that, “a subscription is a luxury purchase for many and a dispensable cost. So, it’s important to persuade why it shouldn’t be deemed dispensable. Marketing efforts at the critical point of expiry need to concisely carry a sense of urgency but they also need clarity in value proposition.”

Louise McHale advises: “Remind the subscriber of the benefits they’ve been receiving and everything they gain on a regular basis. Remind your subscriber that they’re part of a community.”

Personalising the offer

Jamie Wren, commercial & marketing director, InterMedia

Jamie Wren says, “the renewal offer needs to feel tailored, personal and in keeping with their current subscription deal. It is no use offering a customer in Spain a great deal on a direct debit rate if they are not able to use that method of payment. Equally, it is no good offering a 3 for £1 triallist a two year deal at £90 for the period – the step up in price will simply not wash with the majority so why put it in front of them.”

Mark Judd notes that “publishers have become a lot savvier in their approach over recent years. The successful renewal selections are now much more targeted based on the type of subscriber they are trying to renew.”

Dan Heffernan adds: “There is a sweet spot for a renewal price which will cause most people to renew. That sweet spot is not the same for everyone. Working with an analytics company can really help in that process, and you won’t be leaving money on the table nor seeing churn as a result of too high a renewal price.”

It’s all about “personalised targeting,” says Michael Mendoza: “publishers should know what a subscriber consumes and should shape their renewal offer against that personalisation.”

How you communicate the renewal notice to your subscribers should also be tailored, says ePublishing’s Lorna Fenimore: “understand how the customer likes to purchase and then send the renewal using the same method. ie. call-in customers may respond to telemarketing, mail-in customers may respond to direct mail, and online customers may respond best to mobile and email.”

B2B – The personal touch

In the world of high value subscriptions, particularly in the B2B space, a more personal approach is needed.

Andrew Morris says: “For larger deals and corporate subscriptions, it’s even better to have an account executive call or visit the corporate admin to understand how they have been using it and see if any adjustments need to be made to the contract (eg. adding more users, providing a discounted cost per user, adding an additional feature / benefit to their subscription, etc).”

For high value subscription renewals, says Edwin Bailey, “usage data is key. We have known publishers who were able to demonstrate that the value of an account’s content consumption was over 10x the cost of their subscription. Showing this data during a renewal conversation makes the renewal easy and provides leverage when increasing fees for the year ahead.”

How publishers can improve performance

1. Improve their understanding of churn

“It is integral to have an exit survey in place to understand the reasons for churn by magazine and cohort,” says Doug Purdom: “This may unearth vital insight around your product, pricing strategy and customer experience that can be adjusted to lower future churn.”

Will Woodrow, head of marketing, Mark Allen Group

Will Woodrow agrees: “Always seek feedback to understand lack of conversion but,” he adds, “prepare to take answers with a pinch of salt! Too expensive coming up a lot doesn’t mean you lower your price. As the adage goes, if customers aren’t moaning about price, you are too cheap! Pricing strategies differ widely across publishing, if you’re going to change something, consider testing smaller cohorts before taking the dive.”

2. Improve testing

All the key variables should be constantly tested. Take price for instance. Dan Heffernan advises: “Don’t put everyone on the same renewal price. Make it individual, but that doesn’t just mean “low”. Don’t leave money on the table when a subscriber is willing to pay more. Test, test, test!”

“Different communications and price points should all be tested,” says Mike Halstead: “It is not enough these days to decide a renewal strategy and keep running it. You need to continually test different price points and creatives.”

Rob Sherwood emphasises: “Continually monitor, A/B test and improve.”

3. Increase number of auto-renews

Ana Lobb advises, “moving all customers to subscription packages that automatically renew should be a priority for all publishers. If publishers are worried about triggering churn, automated “save promotions” and loyalty benefits can be added to the cancellation flow to minimise this impact.”

4. Improve reporting & analysis

“Understanding how their performance rates against their own historical metrics, industry averages or even other brands in the portfolio is key to building out an improvement. Knowing what a good performance looks like is a starting point that whilst difficult from a standing start is pivotal in shaping the next steps,” says Jamie Wren.

Mark Judd encourages publishers to, “embark on an effort sent analysis. Do not be afraid to purge efforts that are simply not effective and / or delivering an ROI. Conversely, if the last effort is doing well, then test a follow-up a few weeks later.”

Will Woodrow says: “Consider quarterly large scale renewal analysis to understand how your series is performing. Where are the conversions coming from? Is there a message that particularly resonates?”

5. Better preparation

With corporate subscriptions, where the renewal is handled by an account management team, Edwin Bailey advises: “Don’t leave your renewal prep to the week before your meeting. Track metrics and content consumption throughout the year. Traditionally, renewal discussions are seen as a one-off sales conversation, but this is wrong. It is a continual process that should be worked on throughout the relationship.”

6. Get the basics right

These include:

  • Benefits: “Making customers aware of the benefits of being part of the brand and the many benefits that they will get.” Zamir Walimohamed
  • Create a habit: “Engage with readers from day one. Understand what piques their interest and deliver that up. Monitor activity and communicate. If you can become part of your subscribers’ routines, they will habitually consume your content. If you can become a habit for your subscribers, they will continue their journey with you.” Louise McHale
  • Keeping it fresh: “Keep the renewals fresh and current; update images for example and do not leave a cover from three years ago!” Mark Judd
  • Data: “At the centre of any improvement in retention is a full and complete understanding of the customer. What publishers do with data and insight is the most fundamental part of the process. Use the information to tailor the communications, outline the benefits of a subscription and hammer home the many reasons to continue to subscribe.” Jamie Wren
  • Continually review user journey: “Look at ways to improve the renewal journey for your subscribers. Does your GA data show obvious pinch points in the journey that you can improve on?” Helen Ward
  • Personalisation: “Consider the possibility for personalisation based on demographic information or, even better, behavioural online data to segment and provide relevant communication to cohorts of subscribers.” Will Woodrow
  • Reward loyalty: “Rewarding loyalty for those that have been with the brand a long time and not only offering new subscribers the best deals.” Zamir Walimohamed
  • Resourcing: “Do not cut costs in this area. It is easy to focus on acquisition as the results are so much quicker to realise, but ignoring your renewals and reducing investment will simply undo all the hard work you’ve put in to acquire them in the first place!” Mark Judd


This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.