Norfolk Direct

Huge amounts are spent by the regionals on circulation marketing, yet the suspicion persists that it is not money well spent. Too much wastage and too little retention. Philip Preston of Archant Norfolk is one of a select band trying something different.

By James Evelegh

The words "direct marketing" and "newspaper circulation marketing" are not often uttered in the same breath – till now. Philip Preston, marketing director of Archant Norfolk, has increasingly been relying on direct marketing to not only boost circulation on the Eastern Daily Press and Evening News but also to cross sell a whole host of other products and services to his readership. The tool Preston has been using is CanvassPlus from Coad, Cole & Burey (CCB).

Both Preston and Tony Coad have strong views on the traditional methods of newspaper canvassing. According to Coad it is often a "primitive" and wasteful process. Recent research on newspaper promotions conducted by CCB found that each additional one copy sale was costing publishers an amazing £13. He puts this down to a reluctance to apply an analytical approach and strategic thinking to the circulation marketing process. "Real men don’t measure" just about sums up the attitude of many in the industry. Another of Coad’s criticisms is that too much of the marketing is "broad brush" with everyone being made the same offer, irrespective of the particular purchasing behaviour of that individual. Preston agrees that "traditional canvassing is a very blunt instrument" and he suspects that a "large percentage of orders convert regular purchasers to home delivery on the back of an incentive and they then drop off".

Database and phone

The basic premise of the new approach being adopted by Archant Norfolk is that intelligent analysis of an individual’s purchasing behaviour can result in significantly increased revenue for the publisher through increased circulation sales and cross selling of other products and services. The tools are a database and a telephone. Put crudely – you load names and addresses into a database (in this case CanvassPlus), phone them up and ask them about their purchasing patterns of your newspaper. Depending on the response you then proceed to promote increased purchasing of your newspaper. Once you have exhausted the newspaper conversation then you proceed to promote other services to them – typically free car guides, will writing services, magazines, holidays etc.

CanvassPlus is described by CCB as an online customer management package. The database is held on a central server at CCB’s site and access to it is via the internet. The telesales operator simply goes online, logs in and is away. In terms of functionality what makes CanvassPlus so useful for Archant Norfolk is its "realtime predictive analysis". Err …. what? In English, during the telephone call, when the person responds to a question (for instance "how many times a week do you buy the Eastern Daily Press?") and that response is keyed into the computer, then the system will automatically provide the telesales operator with the optimum follow up question. This means that the telesales process can be carefully scripted and the up-selling, cross-selling opportunities identified and catered for. This is not rocket science – it is simply making the most intelligent use of the information to hand.

No more hard sell

Philip Preston’s experiences have led him to the conclusion that the "hard sell" just doesn’t work. Sure it will result in short term gains but the retention rate is lousy. He is now convinced that a data-driven soft sell approach is the way ahead and he has started to put this into practice. Using carefully scripted routines based around the individual’s purchasing behaviour his telesales teams are no longer trying to sell – instead they are trying to arouse interest. In practice this means finding out what they do now and getting them interested in changing – either to buying more editions of the paper, opting for home delivery, getting a will drawn up etc.

Everything is recorded on the database and depending on a person’s frequency of purchase they will be sent one of four mailing packs. For example, people who do not currently buy the paper will receive a pack containing a week’s worth of money off vouchers, plus details of both a subscription and home delivery offer. The vouchers are dated and carry the person’s name and unique reference number so that they can be tracked as they are redeemed. After the trial period the person is recontacted by phone – this time the call is designed to convert the prospect to either a subscription or home delivery.

The centrepiece of the activity is the scripted telephone call. In Archant Norfolk’s case the call divides into two parts. The first part focuses on the newspaper.

Once the introductions are out the way, the first question will be: how often do you buy the Eastern Daily Press? There are seven possible responses: never, once a week, twice a week …. through to six times a week. Already plumbed into the system is the exact sequence of follow up screens and scripts that will appear as a result of entry of any of the seven possible responses. The broad principle is easy to take on board. Preston wants to sell more copies of the paper, so depending on the response each of the scripts points to increased consumption with the ultimate goal being 6 days home delivered.

The 'data-driven' soft-sell approach'
Remember this is no hard sell. Its carefully scripted approach makes the call seem more like a survey than a sell. A typical sequence would be as follows:
Current purchasingOffer – send details on:Aim
6 days, home deliveredn/a: script moves straight onto other products & servicesSell other things.
6 daysHome deliverySecure the sale
1-4SubscriptionsSell at least two more copies per week.
0Money off vouchersEncourage trial

Cross selling

The second part of the call focuses on promoting other products and services. Although there is a case for saying that this represents good customer service the primary aim is very clear: to make more money! Yippee! For Archant Norfolk these extras are: car guides, sister magazines within the Archant Norfolk group, will drafting services and reader holidays.

Glossy A5 car guides are produced by Archant Norfolk. These carry advertising and are promoted both off-the-page in the auto pages of the newspapers and also during the scripted calls. The telesales operator will ask them what car they drive, when they plan to replace it, when that time comes will they want a test drive. If they plan to replace it within six months then the data is captured, a car guide is despatched and, no doubt, a test drive will be organised by a sponsoring local car dealer nearer the time. A response of "very" or "quite" to the question "how likely are you to write or change your will over the next six months" will result in a wills guide (co produced and funded by a Norwich based legal firm) being despatched with a covering letter promoting the sponsor. Depending on their magazine reading habits a sample copy and money off voucher to one of Archant Norfolk’s portfolio of three consumer magazines (EDP Norfolk, Let’s Talk, Norfolk Afloat) will be despatched. I think you get the idea. A simple concept, but one requiring an analytical approach. Work out what they purchase now and then promote to them things they are not currently purchasing – all dressed up as a non-sales call.

Preston puts heavy emphasis on the "qualification" process. An offer will only be made to a reader on the basis of knowledge. The model he uses is: identify, qualify, attract, convert, retain. A common failing of too much newspaper canvassing is that the process starts at the "attract" phase – ie an offer is made to someone without taking into account their particular circumstances.

This is all very well, but does it work? In Preston’s experience traditional canvassing produces the following results: 10% conversion, uplift of 3 extra copies each and a retention of 40%. So if 100 people are canvassed, 10 will sign up representing an additional 30 copies. Of these 4 are retained representing a retained uplift of 12 copies. It is early days and Preston’s new soft sell approach has not yet completed a full cycle but the signs are good. Of 93 people who indicated that they never bought the newspaper, 18 of those have now signed up for 6 day home delivery as a result of a follow up sales call; so far that represents a 19% conversion and an uplift of 108 copies. It will be very interesting to see what the retention figure ends up at.

What of the future? Philip Preston is the first to concede that there is still much to learn. "CanvassPlus is a clever strategic approach, although we might not have hit the right formula just yet." He wants to "work the database, make it sweat a bit and cross sell other services". If all goes to plan he intends to largely phase out traditional canvassing methods towards the end of 2004 although he anticipates that there will always be an occasional need for the old methods in terms of quick fix solutions. Data driven solutions are the future and it all boils down to "waiting for the right moment to make the sale" – as such it is not a game for the "faint hearted".