Working in harmony

Do your circulation and marketing teams work in the same room, floor, building, city, county, hemisphere? (delete where applicable) Do they talk to each other hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, annually, never? At the Independent the two teams work in the same department and, according to marketing and circulation director David Greene it’s proved rather successful.

By David Greene

At the recent Marketing Week Effectiveness Awards, the Independent was the only media organisation to be honoured, picking up four of the accolades on offer. These were the latest in a series of awards in recognition of the outstanding success of the paper over the past twelve months, not least of which were the two gold and two silver awards at the Association of Circulation Executives Awards in March.

Clearly, given the growth in sales over the last year, it’s no great surprise that the success of the Independent has been acknowledged so freely. Editorially the newspaper has been recognised as having broken the mould and having reversed a declining market. But it’s also significant that some of the greatest rewards have been for circulation and marketing, functions that have been under the same umbrella at the Independent for the past three years.

I’m sure that everyone can pinpoint examples of newspaper and magazine organisations where the marketing and circulation departments have operated in complete isolation, both in terms of physical location and ideological approach. This has always seemed anathema to the efficient and effective promotion and monitoring of copy sales within the printed media. The Independent has come to treat both functions as co-existent and a few examples should demonstrate that this is a strategy that should be pursued.

In common with all newspapers, promotional activity at the Independent is primarily a tool for driving sales. Branding and sampling opportunities are vital to the well-being of a publication but it is circulation success that is the true measure of vitality. In order to plan future strategy it’s essential to understand with a high degree of accuracy what levels of uplift a particular promotion might be expected to deliver.

Part works

To take one example; part-works have been part of our marketing strategy for a number of years and are particular important both as brand extensions and as a tool to drive continuity of sale. But they are particularly effective when the circulation and marketing teams work in tandem to establish themes, or variations on themes, that have worked particularly well historically. Using historical and geographic analysis to produce content and derive a marketing and distribution plan is the polar opposite of the traditional process in some organisations. In these instances marketing teams would present promotions to their circulation colleagues as a fait accompli, and assume that what happened subsequently was outside their remit.

CD promotions

It may seem obvious to indicate that content can be vital to the success of this type of promotional mechanism but, arguably, that’s not always the case with all types of activity. Most analysis of CD giveaways will show that sales uplifts will be fairly standard - effectively the customer is buying into the idea of a "high-value" free gift and is willing to accept that the content will vary in quality and style. Marketing strategy can run to a set template and the circulation teams can make their forecasts safe in the knowledge that they have a fair degree of accuracy. So, arguably, the need for close cooperation is less obvious with this type of promotion.

However the alarm bells are ringing for CD promotions with music retailers making threatening noises to artists and ad agencies. Using a music giveaway as a short-term circulation boost may not be an option for much longer and the marketers and the number-crunchers will be forced to be more creative and work closer together to spend their budgets more effectively.

Home news delivery

Many of the same principles of co-operative analysis can be applied to the promotion of home delivery. In particular, those newspapers with isolated circulation and marketing operations are unsure where those tasked with increasing frequency of purchase best fit. Marketing teams may work long and hard to produce inspired literature that will offer prospective readers untold riches in return for seven day a week purchase, then find that their ideas have no practical application. Alternatively they may use the most complex mapping techniques and the most professional canvassing operation available in order to identify scores of readers desperate to have their newspaper delivered to their homes, only to find that they all live within postcodes where there is a limited HND service available. An isolationist approach can lead to wasted resource and lack of understanding of the various needs of the organisation.

Book promotions

Successful promotional activity can be attained when the various parts of the chain work in harmony. Witness the recent book promotions that have been managed through independent retailers and high street chains. All have been implemented as a result of high levels of co-operation between publishers’ marketing and distribution divisions, often involving three separate organisations.

Student sales

Many national and regional newspapers recognise the importance of student sales as a circulation driver and will use newly developed marketing techniques and change distribution patterns to exploit previously untapped areas. As this market matures publishers will have to adapt accordingly and develop new methods to keep pace with change – this will naturally require a greater degree of teamwork between departments than may previously have happened.

Regional promotions

Another more recent development has been an inclination towards regional promotions. These can be used as tools to trial localised activity with a view to rolling-out nationally, dependent on success. Alternatively the circulation department may identify that certain regions are under-performing and may look to their marketing colleagues to provide support to bolster sales in those areas. In either situation the activity will only be effective when there is a consolidated approach with resources properly harnessed.

Only by breaking down the various components of a promotion can we truly recognise the importance of this co-ordinated and combined approach. From conception to execution the various elements of the activity will be far more effective when they are planned by one group operating as a team rather than through a series of meetings between disparate parts of the organisation.

As described above, the promotion should be conceived using marketing and circulation intelligence. Above the line support can be planned according to previous experience and targeted using sales data to ensure that the optimum target audience is reached. Within this the importance of advertising at point-of-purchase cannot be under-estimated. A brilliant creative for in-paper or 6-sheet advertising may not always translate to an A2 newsagent poster and it may require the practical eye of the newstrade professional to make the distinction. Practicalities covering production, distribution and possible polywrapping can also be covered at this stage.


The key to success is to ensure that everyone "buys into" the concept throughout the various stages of the life-cycle of the promotion. Traditionally the marketing teams pass ownership of the project on to those tasked with the more practical elements at the point of completion of the creative process, only re-entering the fray when results are analysed. This approach is particularly counter-productive when promotions are not one-off, short-term hits but based over a longer period of time when it may be pertinent to make changes to the marketing strategy dependent on early results.

A by-product of circulation and marketing functions working together is that members of teams develop new skills and add balance and diversity to their individual skill-sets.

In summary

The convergence of the circulation and marketing functions within the printed media may be seen as a natural progression. Areas of conflict, managers working to different personal and political agendas, polarisation of departments; all of these can be avoided through structural change and greater development of resource. Needless to say the economic benefits are self-evident and allow for resource to be diverted for the greater benefit of the business.

It is convenient to ascribe many of the problems described above to the perceived differences between the creativity and idealism of those who gravitate towards a career in marketing and the pragmatism of the circulation professionals. But this is surely a simplistic explanation and does not account for the fact that those who succeed in either profession will have a combination of all these attributes.

It is also wrong to suggest that all (or the majority) of publications where the circulation and marketing teams are not conjoined do not operate successfully. Many of the most successful newstrade promotions have been managed under this structure and will continue to do so. But for those businesses where marketing and departmental budgets are more restricted and value-for-money is of paramount importance then there is a template for success. For such an organisation to operate successfully it may be of greater benefit to have one department containing specialists from both sectors working together to ensure that the ultimate goal of cost-effective sales growth can be achieved.