A Q&A with Reach’s Terry Hornsby on how the U.K. publisher plans to reach 10 million registered users

Reach PLC — which owns over 200 U.K. publications and websites like Daily Mirror and OK! magazine — had a goal to get 7 million people to register with an email address by 2022. It’s surpassed that goal, and now has 8 million registered users, which is up from 6.7 million at the end of July, according to its latest earnings report published on Nov. 23.

Digiday spoke to Terry Hornsby, Reach’s group digital director, to find out how Reach was able to get to this point and how it plans to hit its next target: 10 million registered users.

Two years ago, Reach launched its brand safety tool Mantis, which scans and collects data to ensure content is appropriate for advertising. During the pandemic, the tool was used by advertisers to align with positive COVID-related stories, instead of blocking that content.

This led the company to develop Mantis Contextual to collect data on the interests of people coming to Reach’s websites, as well as the launch of Reach Plus, which builds audience segments for advertisers. If someone is reading content about moving, for example, they can be placed in a “Furniture Plus” segment and are likely to be in the market to buy a new sofa, Hornsby said. Mantis collects 125,000 data points a day. Hornsby said the tools will also help lead the company into a cookie-less future. “That sets us up for 2022 and 2023,” he said.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

What did Reach do to hit its user registration target ahead of schedule?

We never really changed our strategy. We just needed to understand our users more and give them a reason to sign up with us, and trade in their registration. People who are looking at royal [family] content, can now sign up for the royal newsletter. That’s been our aim, and that’s what we’ve continued to do. Commenting and newsletters have been big drivers. We are providing local news to people, with [local news aggregator platform] In Your Area and people are also subscribing because of that. In the pandemic, people were really trusting of the local news, and our regional and local business is very strong because people turned to local and trusted brands, looking for things like, is the local restaurant open?

We are getting people to engage with us, and ultimately that means more page views, more opportunities for advertising and performance, and then advertising grows, so it’s a circle. It starts with the data, and that data feeds into the loop.

How are you working to close that 2 million gap?

We can tweak and change and deepen the tools we’ve already got. We have really good data around behavioral advertising but we can apply that to editorial, to look at trends last month versus this month, for example. To see what type of content people were spending more time on than with others. For the royal family, we can see with each member of the royal family how many page views they get. We write a lot about [Prince] Harry, but Kate [Middleton] was generating more page views, so we are doing more of that. We can’t find that element all the time, but it’s about identifying those trending things. 

As a business, our success is driving for that one goal to understand the user better, to make every area of the business perform better. There [are] lots we can do. There are other tools editorial and we could use. Next year, we are going to personalize experiences, with things like content recommendations, content samples and how people looking at certain sections [on the website] are more likely to like something else.

Is there a date by which Reach wants to hit 10 million registered users?

No, I wouldn’t be able to put a date on it. Our point of view is, we will get there as soon as we can and build on that. We want to just keep going, understand our users more and make sure our users are there engaged with us and signing up for more products. The more digital products people can sign up to, the better. This leads us to personalization next year, so we can start to personalize people’s experiences.

You’ve mentioned personalization as something Reach will implement more in 2022. Are those some of the new tools that will help drive more registrations as well?

Our endgame would be to kind of keep evolving the personalization so that people see the content that they have come for, or that they would like. We want to get to a point with a page where this is “home” — this is where all my content is, I’ve told you I like American football, NBA and [TV show] “Made in Chelsea” — and then we go: here’s all that. That’s where we want to get to.

For us, we are in a unique stance where we do have Mantis and understand not just the category [but also the context]. A lot of publishers say: that person likes sports because they visited the sports [section] in the last 30 days. But that’s not it, because you could fall on the sports section but it’s not really what you wanted or came there for.

What’s getting in the way of getting to that point?

It’s about mapping and understanding the data. That’s the big thing that takes time. Next year, for publishers it’s going to be about data and the storytelling and understanding people’s life points for consumption. If you’re in the market to move house, you might read very heavily house content — where to live, schools, crime rate — but actually, it’s not a long-term personalization for you. There’s a difference between short-term and long-term personalization. You want to go to a restaurant in NYC, so you’re consuming top 10 restaurants in New York, but two weeks later you might want to go to Chicago and have a meal there. For us, it’s about understanding that data, which is why we’re not there yet.

That makes sense to me — I got married in July and am still getting served wedding content and ads!

That’s what we want to avoid. There’s always going to be short-term data points. This really hit home for me during the pandemic. A person might be interested in buying a BMW, but in a short time is going from that to being jobless. They might be reading BMW content one week, and the next week is reading “how do I have the best interview.”

The job for us as publishers is: here’s the stuff you want to read when you need it, and here’s all this other evergreen stuff. We have mind-mapping sessions every week, to look at what different patterns tell us. The next evolution of storytelling is looking at that data and seeing what stage of life [the person] is in and what they’re consuming. The exciting stage of next year is personalizing the content and advertising journey, to make you want to engage with us, and say, “Wow they really understand me. I want to register for that.”

We’ve gone so far from the old retargeting. Contextually — without cookies, without retargeting — you can tell a lot about where somebody is in their life and what they want there and then, and our agility to provide that will be key. And with a platform like ours that does such a breadth of content — we can do fishing content if someone is interested in fishing.

Reach’s latest earnings report also attributes Google’s single sign-on feature to growing registered users. When was that added, and how big of an impact did it have?

That was added a few months back. There are many different touchpoints for sign-ups. We call them “skinny” and “full.” “Skinny” are the one-click sign-ups people are used to doing, such as newsletter sign-up boxes that can provide an email straight away. And then there are longer-form ones, like competitions or that tell us more about their profiles. But the main driver [of sign-ups] for us was newsletters and In Your Area. Anything that was a value exchange for our products. We also have the OK! Beauty Box [monthly subscription] that people sign up with their emails, so there are many products we have to help drive that registration number.

Are you doing anything to convert those Google-based registered users into direct registered users?

No, whenever someone’s on our platforms they have the opportunity to sign up to all of our products. Registered users are more likely to come back and register to our other products. In other words, if they register in one place, they’re likely to register for something else. It doesn’t matter to us. It’s more them declaring what they want to register for, and showing us an interest in that product and we can start to personalize their journey.


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