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“You must change your organizational mindset”: FT Strategies on how publishers can achieve their North Star goals

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Latest FT Strategies report guides publishers on the key areas they need to focus on to build a solid governance structure that helps them achieve their North Star goals.

“Wherever on the subscriptions journey a publisher is, achieving growth requires an efficient operating model to overcome a number of roadblocks,” states a new report by FT Strategies. The report, Organizing For Subscriptions Growth, is a followup to FT Strategies’ earlier reports, Towards your North Star and The Art and Science of Experimentation

The first one details the North Star methodology for growing subscriptions – it was used by the Financial Times to reach 1M subscribers in 2019, a year ahead of schedule, and has helped it grow to over 1.2M subscribers since then. The second outlines the publisher’s approach to testing hypotheses. 

The latest report focuses on building a solid governance structure to support the North Star framework. Publishers relying primarily on subscriptions for growth face several common roadblocks to success. These include:

  • Building alignment and breaking down historical silos
  • Becoming reader-centric 
  • Developing an experimental culture 
  • Overcoming deficiencies in tools and capabilities.

“A profitable subscriptions model is a demanding goal”

“The roadblocks to building a North Star or other strategic implementation framework have a common feature: they all involve changing the internal mindset of the organization,” the authors note. “A profitable subscriptions model is a demanding goal that requires focus and resources from the entire organization.” This requires building alignment between all departments and breaking down historical silos.

Next, publishers need to become read-centric. “Many news organizations think they are reader-centric,” the authors write. “In fact, many remain product-centric: dealing in audience averages and not using the right metrics.” 

The challenge is measuring and driving reader engagement and taking a properly segmented view of audiences. 

Organizing For Subscriptions Growth

An experimental mindset is critical for success. “Publishers often test a lot of their activity, but a high volume of testing does not necessarily mean that a culture of experimentation is present,” the authors suggest. “Defining the problem correctly in the first place is just as important as designing a robust and rigorous experimental set-up. An experiment should also systematically result in shared learnings across the entire organization.”

Publishers also need to have the required data systems and capabilities to analyze performance and optimize metrics across the customer lifecycle. 

Four key principles

The report recommends publishers focus on the following four key areas to organize effectively around a North Star goal and achieve growth in subscriptions.

Source: Organizing For Subscriptions Growth

Empowerment can be achieved by the following measures:

  • Recruiting a network of North Star champions to socialize the methodology: The group will serve to explain the new methodology and provide a feedback mechanism for adaption that best suits the organization.
  • Creating a dedicated resource to implement the North Star framework: This will focus on the mechanics of delivering the framework and to provide accountability for measurable success. 
  • Ensure that leadership plays an active and visible role in embedding the North Star: They will be responsible for creating a culture that encourages and inspires employees to engage with the new strategy. 

Publishers can facilitate collaboration by:

  • Ensuring that all departments are able and willing to ideate and launch initiatives: All departments should be represented in working groups. Additionally, appoint a head of each group and rotate the chairmanship around each department in turn.
  • Centralizing the roadmap planning processes to ensure consistency of delivery: Implementation of new strategies and experiments often fails due to misalignment. This can be addressed by using a single centralized roadmap of key activity using the risk/impact prioritization methodology.
  • Create ways for all colleagues to contribute the best ideas for growth: “Colleagues working on experiment projects on a daily basis are likely to be the best source of innovative ideas thanks to their close engagement at a practical level,” the authors suggest. They recommend promoting collaboration through the active sharing of ideas at an operational level, for example using problem-solving working forums and hackathons.

Transparency can be established via constant and open communication. The management is advised to openly talk about progress towards the North Star goal and their commitment to the process. Staff should realize that they can fully embrace the new way of working.

They must also be kept updated about the progress as well as have easy access to the required data and insights. “Share and explain results, including both successes and opportunities to learn,” the authors suggest. The FT sends a weekly email to all its staff with the subject line ‘What did well and was interesting this week,’ sharing key KPIs and data stories.

Try to make the data as accessible as possible, but always put the numbers in context.

Hannah Sarney, Head of Audience Engagement, Financial Times

Moving to the next principle i.e., being evidence-based – it’s facilitated by tieing day-to-day business activities to desired outcomes. The authors recommend publishers “consider using an objectives and key results (OKR) framework to tie team and individual activities to the delivery of key North Star outcomes.”

Demonstrating real progress to all colleagues is a vital part of ensuring wide adoption of a North Star methodology.

Organizing For Subscriptions Growth

“Vital that all departments are represented”

Finally, the focus on the aforementioned four principles driven by practical initiatives needs to be supported by appropriate structures. The publishers participating in the Subscriptions Academy Europe 2022 developed their own structures to embed North Star frameworks. 

“These were created according to their own unique and specific challenges and needs,” according to the report, “but generally drew inspiration from the governance structure that the Financial Times uses to deliver its own ambitious North Star goal.”

The FT model has three complementary layers, each playing an important role in achieving good governance.

Source: Organizing For Subscriptions Growth

“At all levels, it is vital that all departments are represented,” the authors suggest. “This enables roadmaps to be planned in tandem and a diverse range of opinions taken into account.”

It takes time to find a format that works so don’t be afraid to communicate to the wider business that this is a constant work in progress.

Ross Wilmot, Head of Consumer Marketing, Independent Digital News and Media Limited

The full report can be downloaded from FT Strategies:
Organizing For Subscriptions Growth