“Onward and upward”

A funeral. Luis Dominguez was my old boss at The Spectator (and the first person to ever employ me in a freelance capacity), a gent of the old school – debonaire, elegant and more charm than a coach-load of French aristocrats.

It was he who got the Speccie to turn its first profit since WW2. Taking over a title that was regarded as past whatever prime it might have had, a poor second to the New Statesman, he set about making it the place where luxury goods advertisers put their budgets and which could be regarded as an English New Yorker. His work on the business side (including a lot of investment in circulation building), coupled with Dominic Lawson’s editorial nous, brought in readers, subscribers and revenue. When you look at the huge structure that now exists and supports Andrew Neil’s ego, it is built on foundations laid by Luis.

As a boss he was great. He never micro-managed (a euphemism for the fact that detail bored him), but he was reliable in a crisis and stuck by his decisions. If you did something successful, he praised you to the skies to his bosses; if you screwed up, he took responsibility.

He always claimed never to drink during the day and to be a non-smoker, but we all knew his occasional afternoon walks “to clear my head” were strolls round to the nearest hotel bar for a G+T and a sly fag. So this evening I’ll have a Luis Dominguez Memorial Gin and Tonic and remember one of the truly great publishing characters.


Don’t Panic!

hhgttg-original-recordsIf you’re a Dovetail client then last week’s bombshell is likely to make your next few months a right royal pain in the backside. Moving bureaus is the opposite of fun at the best of times; to a deadline, when there are a hundred other companies looking for a new berth is not the best of times.

If you want some help – advice, scheduling, hand holding, a stiff drink – drop me a line. I’m happy to come round for a chat and see if there’s anything we can do together.

I’ve moved magazines from bureau to bureau numerous times over the years and brought titles in house (or moved them out of house), so will be able to take some of the ‘unknown’ out of the equation.

That should leave you free to concentrate on the rest of your business.



Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

And I bet the news that Dovetail is folding up its tents and melting away will have been a shock to its dozens of independent magazine clients for whom it provides subscriptions fulfilment services (to say nothing of the scores of employees – Dovetail is a considerable local employer).

The company was a joint venture of Dennis – who had previously held their subs at Customer Interface in Somerset – and Immediate, who inherited BBC Magazine’s involvement in Galleon. They merged to become Dovetail (geddit?) around ten years ago, partly to help fund the investment needed and partly to reduce the overcapacity that existed in the fulfilment market.

As well as the 1 million+ active subs records from Immediate and several hundred thousand from Dennis, Dovetail managed the files for a large number of independent (i.e. non-partner) publishers such as Private Eye, Imagine, the Tablet and Investors’ Chronicle. (more…)

Wild Apricot membership software

wild-apricotFor the past 4 or 5 months I’ve been using the Wild Apricot software to manage the membership records and events bookings for the London Society.

The Society is a small (c 1000 members) organisation that puts on debates, talks, walks and lectures about the built environment in London. It also publishes a highly-regarded journal and research papers, and runs an all-party Parliamentary group to do with development in the capital.

Until three or four years ago records were kept on hard copy – file cards, lever arch files and so on – which were then migrated to an Access database and a separate WordPress plug in for taking online payments, plus Eventbrite for event bookings, and Mailchimp for newsletters.

The problems were manifold: the online system didn’t talk to the offline database, so new members had to be cut and pasted into Access. There was no practical knowledge of database programs within the organisation so interrogating the files needed outside help (at £££ per hour), and to send out renewals and invoices was a manual process. (more…)

Financial Modelling for Subscriptions

CoverI’ve just uploaded a small job for Dovetail Services, a beginner’s guide to putting together financial models for subscriptions. So if you’re at a loss when your marketing team go on about LTV, CPA and ROI, or when your finance manager wants to know what the impact of raising the subs price by 10% might be, this will be the place to start.

You can read it online here, or download the all-singing, all-dancing PDF version by clicking here and giving your email address to the nice people at Dovetail.

And if you’re still baffled by the numbers, you can always draft me in to put a budget together for you (I’ve done quite a few of those in the past year), or to run various projections based on your current numbers. Just drop me a line here.


Some reading…

I’ve been doing some work for the subscription bureau Dovetail recently, writing and editing content on their website. It’s building into a nice little collection of guides, tips and case studies about subscriptions marketing and ecommerce and (though I say so myself) is well worth a look. Recent pieces include:

Print and digital subscription bundles. Abi from The Week shares the title’s strategy on building its digital subs.

Checkout enhancements. We all lose too many customers in the final stage of the payment funnel. Here are some things you can do to reduce that.

Getting more revenue from subscribers. Carolyn Morgan looks at ways of using the 80/20 rule to your advantage.

Using reviews to boost search performance. In a competitive search landscape reviews can help raise your site in the rankings. Here’s what you need to know.

There’s also a blog and, if you want to know what content has been posted recently, you can sign up for the Dovetail newsletter.

Sainsbury’s “Entertainment on Demand” Digital Newsstand

An interesting launch last week, with Sainsbury’s offering its customers digital subscriptions to over 1,000 magazines by partnering with Magazine Cloner to run a feed of the PocketMags site. The new site is part of their “Entertainment on Demand” offering that provides movies, music and ebooks as well as magazines. You can see the similarities and the the differences between a title page below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.49.46Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.50.00

As well as the usual payment methods, The Sainsbury’s site also allows customers to redeem Nectar points in purchasing subscriptions or single copies, and gives points for purchase. (more…)

“Onboarding” and Digital Bundles

Conversations with a couple of publishers this week about how offering print and digital bundles has fuelled revenue growth, deeper engagement and increased renewals. In both cases after and initial rapid growth, the number of ‘digital only’ subs has not increased much over the past few years, but the number of bundled subs continues to increase.

One of the important elements of the bundle is ensuring that the new subscribers activate their digital subs – they’re paying for it after all, and if they don’t engage with this aspect of their subscription then it is less likely that they will renew their bundle.

One of the publishers has quite a complex CRM process in place to make sure that subs use their new digital edition and then keep using it throughout the year. This involves emails, in app notifications, offline messaging and various other devices.

The other publisher has just done a telemarketing test to people who had subscribed offline, paid for a bundled sub, but then not activated the digital element of that subscription. Of the people they spoke to 70% (no that’s not a typo, 70%) activated their new digital subs there and then. That’s an unbelievable response.

I don’t know the reasons given for not activating the sub before, but one imagines it is a combination of forgetfulness, technical problems and ignorance of actually having a bundle.

Remember that this was to people who had subscribed offline, so the success of the campaign is almost certainly influenced by that, but it still shows that you should be looking at new ways to get your subscribers to engage with the digital product that they have paid for. If they do, then it’s likely your retention rates will go up, which will give a boost to both volumes and revenues.

TalkTalk Phone Scam – how to block calls


Last year we got a call from someone claiming to be from TalkTalk’s technical team to tell us that there was a problem with our broadband. All we had to do was download a bit of software from an address they would give us and it would all be sorted.

Yeah, right.

What was unusual for such a scam was that they knew our name and account number. This was obviously some sort of data breach, but despite a lot of noise on the internet, it took TalkTalk until February to own up to the fact that its security had been compromised.

This month the scammers have been back again, with silent calls every day from 0019896532555, or with messages left on the voicemail.

On reporting it to TalkTalk I got directed to this page. This is a classic of the ‘TLDR’ genre – you fill it full of heavy, small print text, reduce the colour and the illustrations, and put the significant information towards the foot of the page (1573 words in) because customers will have lost the will to read much beyond the first couple of paragraphs. This is shoddy behaviour and displays a poor approach to crisis management – because that’s what a data breach like this is, a crisis to your company’s reputation.

If you receive a scam call you can block it. There’s a page about it here – but even that is out of date. If you are a TalkTalk customer who wants to block calls, log into your account, hover over ‘extras + offers’ in the top menu, then click on ‘view home phone boosts’. The call barring feature is within the ‘privacy features’. Click on the check box next to it and then click ‘update’ then ‘confirm’. Once it’s been activated you’ll need to go here to find out how to use it.

The fact that TalkTalk aren’t properly publicising this feature again shows a very poor attitude to customer service, a fact emphasised by their coming second bottom in MoneySavingExpert’s survey of broadband and home phone provider rankings.

Direct mail redux?

Back in those far-off, ancient days before the internet, there used to be something called ‘direct mail’. Think of it like a physical version of email; a “letter” and a “brochure” were put into an “envelope” and sent to the customer. If your data selections were good, your copy compelling and your offer attractive, the customer would respond and you’d make a sale. You’d then tweak the variables and set up another direct mail campaign, wait for the results, and so on. You could get a reasonable degree of personalisation and, if you spent a lot more money, the personalisation could be increased through things like digital printing (think of it like dynamic content – because that’s what it was).

With the advent of the web and email and online marketing the degree of personalisation has increased and the cost of doing it has fallen. We know more about our customers and their preferences and we can tailor their experience of our site or communications to match what they’re interested in (or what we believe they are – the two aren’t always the same). And because the cost of doing this stuff is fixed rather than incremental, we can set something up and leave it to run; the variable costs come in getting people to our site in the first place, or in generating leads.

This is all background to this piece that appeared in the Guardian today: “Royal Mail’s online shopping trial sparks fears of junk mail deluge“. There are two responses to this: 1) that’s interesting (the concept) and 2) FFS (the response). (more…)