How The Washington Post is reorienting for digital subscriptions

The hunt for consumer revenue has led the Washington Post to expand its top ranks.

On Nov. 27, the Post named Miki King its first-ever chief marketing officer. King, who had previously served as the news publisher’s vp of marketing, will be responsible for subscriber acquisition and retention efforts, as well as enterprise sales and a new national marketing effort, which will focus mostly on performance, rather than brand marketing. She will report to Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher and CEO, who made the announcement to staffers late Tuesday.

King’s promotion adds the Post to a growing list of news publishers who have added a new kind of chief marketing role, one focused on driving consumer revenue rather than elevating the publisher brand in the eyes of advertisers and readers.

“Prior to my assuming leadership, we were just segmented,” King said. “We had a digital and print marketing team that were not functioning cohesively.”

King has spent most of 2018 reorganizing the Post’s different marketing operations, which had been spread across multiple budgets in multiple departments, even on different floors of the Post’s building. For example, its print marketing team had been part of the print product’s profit and loss budget, while the digital operation, which reported to King, had been on a separate budget; the Post declined to share specifics about how many people were in each group.

The Post has also been pouring resources into consumer marketing during that time. King said that the total number of people spread across those groups has grown 30 percent over the past year; she declined to provide a specific headcount.

King said she’s also focused on retraining a lot of existing staffers. People that worked on local marketing efforts, for example, are now focused on customer experience across both print and digital products. The reorganization, in part, was meant to make it easier for the different groups to share information and insights with one another. But it was also, King said, designed to help the Post send a unified message to its consumers. Print and digital customers now see the same promotional offers, for example. “The goal was to have one voice to the consumer market,” King said.

A new area of responsibility for King will include advertising. Though the Post currently advertises on its owned and operated platforms, as well as social channels and through search marketing, it will begin to invest more in out-of-home campaigns in select markets, though King declined to be specific about which ones.

While some news publishers, such as The New York Times, have splurged on brand campaigns, such as a pricey ad that ran during the Oscars last year, the Post’s efforts will be more focused on bottom-funnel, performance-type campaigns, King said.

Historically, the CMO position at a publisher has been focused on a mixture of communications as well as a kind of B2B marketing, ensuring that the publisher was standing out among advertisers and agencies.

Yet as news publishers have gotten more serious about pursuing consumer revenue, the role has changed. In some cases, many news publishers are adding them for the first time. Hearst Newspapers named Mark Medici its first-ever CMO in June, coming over from Cox Media Group. The New York Times named David Rubin CMO last month.

In others, new people have taken on different responsibilities as publisher priorities have changed. For example, before it spun off its TV business, Gannett’s CMO, Maryam Banikarim, had come from the world of integrated marketing and had touched marketing and sales. Her successor, and Gannett’s current CMO, Andy Yost, brought a customer relationship management background with him from Viacom.

“For publishers with ad-centered models, it’s more about branding and relationship with the business community at some level,” said Pete Doucette, a managing director at FTI Consulting’s media practice. “Publishers focused on building a subscriber base need someone who can connect marketing, technology and audience together.”
That shift has been pronounced at the Post, where everything, including its advertising innovations, must be weighed against the publisher’s pursuit of subscriber growth. Even its branch into new mediums, such as its continued push into podcasts, is in some ways meant to improve subscriber retention. Its subscriber base has more than tripled in size over the past two years, a spokesperson said, though it declined to share hard numbers; in Oct. 2017, the Post disclosed that it had amassed 1 million subscribers.

“I think you see this as a good example as a market response to that need,” Doucette said. “In some ways, I’m surprised it’s taken publishers this long to do this.”

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