#252: The Irish Times, an Iconic Irish Brand, Wins Customer Loyalty through Innovation

Few industries have been as dramatically affected by the internet as the publishing industry, when free news and the instant availability of global information online became a threat to the entire business model for newspapers. And yet, despite the disruption, trusted brands like the Irish Times have managed to re-invent themselves and survive, and it was also an industry that benefitted from the impact of the Covid pandemic, as readers increasingly sought information they could trust.

Quality news, exclusive content, and insights from diverse contributors are just some of the important ideas shared by today’s guest. Cliona Mooney who is the Director of Subscriptions and Reader Insights for The Irish Times.

Cliona shared with us their current approach, and some of the initiatives that are proving popular and powerful with readers as The Irish Times continues to focus on growing and retaining its base of subscribers.

Show Notes:

1) Cliona Mooney Subscriptions and Reader Insights Director

2) The Irish Times

Audio Transcript

Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas. And if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.


This show is sponsored by Comarch, a global provider of innovative software products and business services. Comarch’s platform is used by leading brands across all industries to drive their customer loyalty. Powered by AI and machine learning, Comarch technologies allow you to build, run and manage personalized loyalty programs and product offers with ease. For more information, please visit comarch.com.


Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty featuring one of Ireland’s most iconic brands. The Irish Times. I had seen some of the fantastic innovations launched by the Irish Times in recent weeks. So I wanted to learn more about how they think about their drive loyalty and reduce churn in such a competitive industry. I had worked with Cliona Mooney, The Irish Times Director of Subscriptions and Reader Insights many years ago. So I was delighted when she agreed to come and share some of the challenges they face as a business and some of the ideas that are proving popular with their subscribers as they continually focus on increasing loyalty with their readers.


I really hope you learn as much about loyalty from this conversation with the Irish Times as I did.


So Cliona, Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 


Hi Paula. Thanks for having me. 


It’s great to have you on the show Cliona. I was looking back to our, um, original, uh, workplace actually together. We worked together 17 years ago. Can you believe it? 


I don’t like us being aged that much Paula, yeah, it’s incredible, Incredible. If you told me it was. Four or five years ago. I would’ve believed it though. 


Yeah, totally let’s pretend, let’s pretend great stuff. Well, listen, you’ve gone on to do some fascinating work Cliona, which we’re here to talk about today with one of the best, uh, brands in the Irish market. Very close to my heart and clearly very close to yours. So we’ll be talking all about, you know, retaining, I guess, subscribers for the Irish Times. So before we get into exactly what you do is the day job. Let’s just talk about, you know, your favorite loyalty program Cliona, given that you’re so focused on what’s happening there in Ireland. 


Yeah. So, um, Paula for me, and I was, I was picking two really. So one, um, that I’d say is the Supervalu Real Rewards Program. Um, and for me, it’s really the simplicity of it. It is basically money back based on what you spend. Yeah. Um, and it’s something where. My mom shops, my sister’s shop. We all, uh, we all shop in and I do, as I said, like the, the simplicity of it, where you just scan, um, scan your barcode and you get the, uh, the money off features. But the other one, if I can be cheeky setting at a second one in there, and it’s probably to do with the pandemic as well around ordering takeaways. Um, but some of my favorites, so one being base pizza and one being a Kerala Kitchen, a lovely Indian in your restaurant. Um, and they’re both powered by Flipdish, um, which is again, a very good app where it, um, it does that, the thing of remembering what I ordered. Um, but it also, yeah, exactly. It also, uh, you know, text with the, the delivery time and when a text with the delivery time, it says, you know, you’ve ordered four times. If you order four more times, you’ll get a free meal. Um, if my usage has dropped, which, you know, it should given a takeaways, um, I’ll get a message to say, we haven’t seen you in a while. Um, here’s a discount code to get 20% off. Yeah. Um, so I just think really clever. Um, and, um, and also I think for the likes of businesses and small premises as well. Um, I think it’s a really good it it’s, it’s definitely obviously a reward for, for loyalty and usage and I think it’s just cleverly cleverly done. So it, it, it wins me over every time. 


Wonderful, wonderful. Well, you know, it doesn’t take much, certainly to convince me to order my favorite takeaway. So yeah, a little nudge from a clever and well-executed technology platform like that is always welcome. So, um, next time I’m home. I will be checking that one without Cliona, so absolutely. Yes, you’re, you’re leading me astray. So listen, um, the Irish Times, as we’ve said already, it’s an extraordinary brand. I was looking actually on Wikipedia and it tells me that the Irish Times were, was launched in 1859. So for people listening around the world, I guess the industry is a, is an old industry, but with that comes incredible knowledge, um, wonderful trust. I would say, particularly in a brand like the Irish Times, I would say it very much for me is the newspaper of records. So when it comes to loyalty, I know you don’t have a structured loyalty program with points and tiers. Like we would often talk about on this show, but of, of course, you do have, you know, very clear commercial objectives around, you know, bringing people in to, to read all of the wonderful content and then obviously there’s an entire life cycle. So maybe just to kick us off Cliona, um, will you just tell us, I suppose your role within the Irish Times, because I know it’s very much on the analytics side, which is always the part that freaks me out. Cause I just don’t. Don’t get it, but just tell us what exactly you do in the Irish Times. Just to give us a bit of context.


I will, and, and I might even go back further. Uh, Paula, just as you mentioned, the 1859 and the, the 106-year-old organization that is the Irish Times is one that I’m very, very proud to work in and a pride brand to work for. And it is something where the core of our principles haven’t changed in that time. It is about quality journalism for our readers. And what’s evolved is basically the format at which that is delivered to them. So, um, in. In 2015, we launched a subscription model, um, a digital subscription model. Yeah. Um, and, and really that’s a, again, the, the evolution in, in terms of paying for content, we were the, uh, one of the first, um, daily news titles in Ireland to, to make that move. And it was, it was a bit of a leap to do that when you’re competitors in the market are not and are off. Spring free content. It is, uh, it is somewhat of a leap to do, So my role is subscriptions and reader insights director, and that’s managing both the analytics team and the digital subscriptions team. Um, so it’s, it’s a, it’s a fascinating place to be. And our, our stakeholders within those teams, our, our editorial colleagues, our marketing colleagues, finance advertising, and the developers and designers, project managers within the organization. And, um, it’s. It’s a, it is a lovely organization to work for. And I think, um, there can be a perception of, um, of journalism in a hundred, six year old organization. But’s actually, it’s, it’s a very vibrant, uh, vibrant place with, with different skill sets in it. It is very different to a product on a shelf, for example. So what we are selling is the content is the content of our journalist, Um, and that editorial integrity is absolutely key. So where we are working in the analytics space, again, it’s a really fascinating space to be in because the communication of those analytics is absolutely crucial. And again, going back to the editorial integrity, being key, we aim to be data-informed and not data led. So if we were data led, you would be talking about you. Just the most read content. And that would be, you know, what’s positioned on your homepage and that’s not our ethos and we’re, we’re governed by a trust. And we have responsibility to the island of Ireland in terms of what we report on. Um, so it’s not always about popular, you know, content and, and, and we’re very, you know, we’re, we’re proud of that in, in terms of what we cover. Yeah. Um, so, and, and we have more foreign correspondence around, around the world than, uh, than other publishers in our market. So it’s a really interesting space to be from, as I said, both analytics and subscriptions perspective where they’re the, the conversations in that balance is absolutely crucial around the coverage and, and, um, what we report on and, and getting that mix of people being informed by the data. But it is not led by that in terms of the, the judgements that are made. 


Wow. And that’s actually very surprising. I have to say Cliona, having never worked in a media organization like the Irish Times, my understanding was, you know, and, and dare I say it, other papers have probably given me this perception where, you know, the most popular content should be fed and obviously will be more appealing and making assumptions around that. But are you saying then that what you’re trying to do is almost bring an opposing view. So people get both sides of a story. Is that the idea? 


It is absolutely. And we have all have heard the term of like filter bubbles around the time of maybe the US election, for example. And it’s something, and it’s also interesting in the context of personalization being a a topic that comes up quite a lot. Um, and, and for us, it is, it is an interesting one because it is a case that if we take a war, for example. Um, it is crucially important that we cover wars. They may not be the most read content or the most popular content, but that will never make us not cover that very important topic. So in terms of the homepage and the homepage being, you know, the content that’s there selected by editors it’s it’s it’s purposely not generated in a personalized way, in that sense, because it is about, uh, and so the point you made Paula about opposing views. Absolutely. Okay. In our opinion pages that it is about. And, and again, it’s actually part of the articles of the trust that we’re governed by. Um, it is about diverse views. Um, and so. It and informing people in a way that they can then make their own decisions. and it’s, it, it’s something that has become more, um, pertinent in, in, in recent years, um, that area, and, and particularly, maybe on Twitter in terms of debate, um, that can happen there. Um, but it is something that, and, and again, we’re not. Um, unique is a media organization in that sense where you have the likes of the New York times, the, um, the Washington Post and others, um, and that distinction between news and opinion and, um, opinion having opposing views. So, yeah, as I said, it’s, it’s, it is an interesting, um, space to be in when, in, in the area we’re in so. 


Yes, absolutely. And as you know, you’re talking to an audience of, you know, loyalty professionals, Cliona for whom personalization is, is quite sacred. Dare I say it for, for lots of us. Um, so really interesting to hear that you have those articles particularly, um, at a trust level where you have that responsibility. So I do love it. Um, I, I don’t know if it’s unique to the media business, perhaps it is. Maybe I just haven’t come across it before, but what I love, what you mentioned there, uh, Cliona along the way is the diversity piece. And we talked about this off air and I think this is something that loyalty professionals, you know, certainly in my experience, I haven’t really thought through in terms of how do I create a feeling of loyalty with the people that I seek to serve, because what you said to me, and I thought this was absolutely brilliant insight. And I think coming from your analytics is. There’s definitely, um, an appetite let’s say for reading content. For example, if I’m a female reader that I probably will gravitate towards content from a female author, and that you’ve seen that there’s a need to make sure that there’s a very diverse set of creators, I guess, contributing.


Absolutely. And I mean, it’s, it’s twofold in, in a sense that it’s something that we should all be, you know, working on and improving on in terms of representation. Yeah. Um, and representation of our audience. Um, and it’s just, it’s interesting that we have also seen that when we analyze say, um, our subscribers, if we look at by gender and we see that, uh, female subscribers have a higher propensity to read more female authors. And again, that doesn’t mean that that’s, that they only read female authors or that male authors don’t, but it’s interesting to see. And, and what it comes down to, to me is that people need to see themselves reflected in the pages or in the online content that we have. It has to reflect. It don’t, it has to, but I, in that sense of that, they, they need to see, um, to see themselves represented. And so it’s also really important for our future growth, um, in terms of future audiences that we need to attract, um, that we do that they, uh, they do need to see themselves represented on the pages.

So it’s, it’s, it’s been interesting for us, interesting for us in terms of age as well, and, you know, different things like that. So it’s just an area that I think is very important from a, from a loyalty perspective and, and going back to the, the conversation around different content that we have for us. It’s about usage of the site. So a subscriber is more likely to stay with us if they use the site. And so. You Paula could be reading completely different content to me. And it’s actually less about in that instance, you are not necessarily more loyal than me if we’ve the same usage patterns. Sure. Um, and we’d often say if, you know, somebody came onto the site, you know, one day and read 10 articles and then didn’t come back to us as opposed to somebody else coming in. Every day for five days and reading two articles, they are more likely to build up a habit and to be reading a breadth of our content. Okay. And so that sense of reading, you know, reading more people definitely have their favorite authors. And we, we see that coming up in terms of our opinion writers and others. Yeah. But the model that we have is actually, it’s a hybrid model where we have a meter where people can read a certain number of articles for free and after that they need to subscribe. And that really goes back to different people, have different content preferences. So it’s not about the, the content it’s about the, the usage and the volume. Yeah. So for us, from a loyalty perspective, and we, um, we, uh, look closely to our, our current parts in the, in the financial times who came up with her use, um, a scoring model is based on recent frequency and volume. So how recently somebody has been on the site, the, the volume of content, uh, that they read and the, the frequency at which they visit. Um, and they’re the best indicators for us of loyalty of somebody staying with us. Um, and if those levels dip, then they’re more likely to churn. So it’s, uh, for us, it’s it, it’s that sense of, um, all of these points help our awareness of, you know, how we can retain our subscribers and how we can grow our audiences into the future.


Yeah, you you’re absolutely right Cliona because yeah. You know, somebody reading 10 articles in a month, doesn’t tell you enough to know whether they’re truly engaged or just happen to, you know, be at home. You know,  more than, you know, in, in a certain context, so yes or particularly or a particular topic that they’re coming into you.


Exactly. Exactly. So, um, so I love that. Yeah. And, uh, Fairplay to the, the FT. What you did share with me is, well, Cliona that I really love actually is it seems that the whole industry that you’re in is very collaborative, very generous. And you guys do share a lot of insights in terms of what’s working.


It is, it’s a fascinating industry in that respect where they’re, we’re just not really competing with each other in that way. So they’re great networks. So two in particular, um, INMA, which is International News and Media Association and, uh, and one EFRA, uh, based in Europe and there’s great, you know, subcommittees off them, I’m on a steering committee and on data analytics within one EFRA. Um, and it’s very easy to drop somebody, a LinkedIn request or pick up the phone to somebody. Yeah. In, in New York Times, the FT, Washington Post or others, or The Guardian, um, and, and talk, uh, talk about these things. So it’s really interesting that we’re actually currently in a program at the moment, um, with FT strategies that is, um, in association with, um, with Google and INMA. Which is ourselves and seven other publishers, um, which is really interesting in terms of, uh, working with us on driving subscriptions growth. And again, it’s really fascinating to be able to benchmark against other publishers yeah. At different stages. Um, so it’s, you know, different things can work for, for different people depending on the market. Uh, even the language comes down to it for us in terms of the English-speaking market, um, and what opportunities we can have internationally. So it’s a great industry in that respect that people are very. Very willing. Uh, and there’ll always be a contact somewhere, uh, be it on the editorial side, subscriptions analytics. So, uh, yeah, I think we’re an industry that like to talk as well. We like to, uh, share, uh, share stories. So yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting one. 


Totally, totally. And I really admire that because, you know, I’ve seen it in, in only one other industry that, uh, was this collaborative as that, and again, they didn’t see themselves as competing and that was convenience retail, where again, it’s very local, but everybody wants to know what are the ideas that can work. So, you know, particularly, you know, I really want to understand the, the journey in 2015 in terms of launching subscriptions for the first. Time and that’s seven years so far. So you’ve obviously been there. I think it’s a total of 12 years if I’m right. So you were there for that decision-making. Yes. I’m sure your analytic brain was in top demand, uh, for such a crucial decision. So I’d love to hear about, I suppose, just that big decision to move to, uh, to requiring payment or offering a subscription option way back, you know, I guess 10, almost 10 years ago now. 


Yeah. It was really interesting time in that regard. And, and so my background would’ve been on the, marketing and email marketing side of side of things. And then analytics was probably a little bit of a late bloomer in the media industry whereas in banking and insurance, it would’ve been more, um, uh, crucial to, to what was being done. So it was becoming, uh, a bigger piece in the, in the media industry. So we actually created an analytics function a year before we launched a subscription model and it was basically with a view to say, what data do we have? What data can we use? What can we tell? And for us, it was that our customers, at that point, their relationship was with the retailer. So they walked into a shop and bought the newspaper. Yeah. Which we still very much appreciate. We didn’t know about our subscribers. We didn’t have a direct relationship, uh, with our readers as subscribers. So it was really about setting out in that way because the future needed to have a paid content model. Yeah. So we needed to set ourselves up in a way that, what do we know and what can we, uh, what can we lean from this? So we spent that year learning a lot about the behavior that the, the content preferences and really honing and, and, and, and ramping up where we could. It was very interesting journey because, um, Coming from 106 year old organization where you’re coming in and saying, and, and saying, this article had this money paid views and, you know, yeah. Just, you know, things can be, um, taken in, taken in different way. So it was very much a communications, um, journey on that as well, which is really interesting, but, but what we, um, came down to on it was about having the subscription model and where we would set the meter at. To how many articles you could read for free and otherwise. And the considerations of that are obviously around our audience, around our traffic, around our advertisers. Um, and, uh, on the content side of it. So it was, it was informed by data in that sense of it, but it was also then about us getting set up to be, to use the data after that as well, because it was, um, continuous decisions that we were, we were making on it. So it wasn’t our nerve-wracking leap to make, to go with the subscription model. But again, the Irish Times in the nineties was one of the first media website, In, um, UK and Ireland to set up a website. So we were innovators, uh, innovators in our day back then, and, and we needed to continue that really in terms of being, um, that first mover on it. Um, so it’s so yeah, it was, uh, interesting. And as I said, we did a lot of work in the, in the preparation for it. Since then we have evolved to having, um, App subscriptions as well. So iTunes and Google Play subscriptions. Uh, we also have subscriber-only content, which is content that’s locked down, uh, premium. Okay. Only available to subscribers. So we have evolved the model, um, as we’ve gone. And we have, um, just in the last four weeks launched a new website and app, um, a huge, huge amount of work, um, and, and resource that, that went into that. But some of the new product developments that we’ve incorporated into that, um, Listen functionality. So, which is an audio version of every article, almost every article on the site. Wow. And that is the feature that is for subscribers only. Wow. So it’s a really nice, um, addition, um, for subscribers. And again, the key insight behind that was when we talk to readers and subscribers, one of the challenges that comes out is not having time, not having enough time to read. Yeah. And so our response to that has been. Let’s put it in people’s ears. So if they’re on their commute or on their walk, like this podcast, Paula, totally, they can, they can listen to the content. So really, again, trying to keep evolving. Um, if we, if we stand still we’re, you know, we’re not, we’re not winning. So it’s, uh, important to us that we keep, keep the process going. 


Yeah. Yeah. And I, I definitely applaud that Cliona, not just because I’m in the, the world of audio now and have completely, you know, impressed myself, I guess, with the, the reaction of people or not, that might even be the way, best way of describing it, but I’ve just been amazed by how people feel more connected as I do. If I meet somebody whose voice I’m familiar with. Absolutely. When I think about building loyalty, I often think that the audio channel is still something that our industry hasn’t thought about enough for their own members in the same way that clearly the Irish Times is doing to say, yes, let’s address that particular pain point with a totally radical solution. Um, and give people something that is super interesting that they want to consume, um, in a way that they can. And back to diversity, you know, it’s not just the product that has to be diverse, it’s the distribution. So I think that’s an amazing insight. 


Absolutely. And, and even on the diversity of voices, Paula, like when we have podcasts as well, and our, and some of our articles are written, are read by the journalists as well. Yeah. That diversity of voices is very important. Cuz people can have a perception of what an Irish Times journalist. So actually we have an, um, relatively new podcast called In The News. Um, that’s hosted by, uh, Sorcha Pollak and, and Conor Pope. And again, it’s just important for, I think, people to hear voices it’s exactly that you feel, you get to know a person better, um, from hearing their voice. Um, and, and I think what I do from knowing some of the journalists now, when I read their content, yes, I’m hearing their voice in my head. Cause I tell what their voice sounds like. And it, it, it does make it a bit more personable I think. 


It does. Absolutely. Yeah, no, the connection definitely builds and, uh, yeah, I can see it only going in one direction. So I think I said to you, I’ll be dying to, you know, keep an eye on this with you over the coming years to kind of see, well, what proportion of content ends up being consumed, um, in different formats. Because clearly, it’s a massive investment for the Irish Times to say, we’re going to have either authors or even automated audio content. So there’s lots of different ways to do it, but, um, it takes a lot of focus to get that, uh, sheer volume actually created for your subscribers. So. So tell us a bit about your subscribers, Cliona, just, uh, numbers and, and kind of the journey that, you know, how you focus on taking care of them, I guess, from throughout the whole journey.


Yeah. So we have, um, about 130,000, uh, subscribers and we’re each one is hard-fought, you know, and, uh, hard one, and we really, really value, um, value our subscribers. And, and for us, it is that journey where. Because of the product we have, where you can read a number of articles in IrishTimes.com without subscribing, we have a very high volume of readers who are not subscribers. So for us, it’s about that reach and how we can get people in liking our content, consuming our content visiting frequently and we use things like push notifications and uh, email digest and things like that to try to encourage, um, repeat visits and, and building that habit. So then it’s for us to convert, um, our convert, our readers to being subscribers. Um, and we, you know, we do that in a number of ways and run, run various offers and that as well. And for us, the retention journey starts there as soon as we have them as subscribers, the retention, uh, parts are there. So the onboarding journey is hugely important and that’s around. Obviously the welcoming our subscriber, but helping them along the way of the different features that they have. Because for us as a subscriber, you have access unlimited access to our website. You have our app, you have our ePaper for premium subscriber. And now with the addition of things like listen. So it’s really helping people to make the most of their subscription. We do also know. Our subscribers use the wealth of the service. They are more likely to stay with us. Yeah. So if we can encourage our subscribers to use the app, to use the website, use the different channels, um, they are more likely then it becomes part of their day-to-day. Um, and it’s, you know, it improves their retention rate. So it is important. Uh, important for us in that sense of it. And again, we do look at those, um, scores around recency frequency, volume, looking at people who may be at risk of churn. And we’re really in that area. We’re seven years into our subscription model now, and really trying to hone our efforts on churn and how we can, uh, retain our subscribers. Um, we obviously have voluntary churn where people no longer want to be with us. And we’ve involuntary churn to do with payment methods, um, or payment failure, so different strategies and tactics, um, that are needed for, um, for both of those. And then for us as well. Um, Win Mac is very important in terms of subscribers coming back to us, we’re the type of industry where we can have ebbs and flows and we can see sometimes our people are worn out after say. The pandemic and have some news fatigue and want to take a break. And, but our subscribers are likely to come back to us at a point in the future. So it’s very important to us that they have a good experience as well. Yeah. And that is something that we’re, we’re working on and, and trying to continuously improve and sense of the, the exit process for them. And then the journey to come back to us. Um, because it’s it’s, as I said, it’s, it’s a different type of service.

I would say the likes of a utility where if you’re leaving one utility brand, you. Utility. So you’re moving to somewhere else. Yeah. Whereas sometimes, um, for us, it’s, um, it’s a little bit, it’s a little bit different. So they’re the, kind of the, the focus areas for us. One of the other new product developments we’ve brought in with the new site is a new digital crossword, a new crossword, um, that works very well on, on mobile as well as, um, as well as desktop. Um, and that also includes the OK as well. But the Irish Times, crossword is one of those that is unique and, you know, people get a kick, get a kick out of doing, and for us, it’s about. The, when the news agenda is quieter, you do need something like crossword again, it’s another thing that forms a habit to come into the site every day and do it with the new feature that we have. You can play with your friends. So Paula, I could send you an invite code and the two of us could do the crossword together and you can start it on one device in the morning commute going in and finish it at lunchtime. Wow. So again, it’s around that sense of how we can. You know, entertain to a little bit, you know, to, to a certain extent as well. And something we’re very conscious of is the, the content of the Irish Times is absolutely what people are subscribing for. You know, that is the core product. Yeah. But, and we’re constantly trying to improve on the content, but very conscious of features and benefits as well. So, like we say about the listen offering or crossword, like functionality, um, we for subscribers on the new a, we have the ability to save articles to read later. So functionality as another benefit totally for subscribers. And again, I think if you are. If you are using all of these different features and services, it is with that aim of, um, of increasing the, the retention rate of our, of our subscribers. It’s interesting around the pandemic period of the last few years. And again, one of the benefits of the industry that we’re in, where we all share, a lot of publishers had the same journey, where there was an increase in traffic and subscriptions during the pandemic. And now it’s that sense of trying to retain the, the subscribers that came to us during that time? Yeah. And it is a, you know, can be seen as a quieter news period. Um, and how can we continue to, um, to serve the needs of our subscribers? So it’s an, it’s an interesting period to be in. 


Totally totally. I mean that, there’s absolutely no doubt Cliona that lots of industries do in fact thrive when there is a crisis and the loyalty industry is exactly one of those. And, you know, certainly I think e-commerce businesses and particularly that’s exactly, I suppose, what, you know, your digital subscription is an e-commerce business. So, um, so I guess it, it, it is difficult then as you said, then to, uh, to adjust with the fact that it’s not growing at the same pace, uh, now that people have some level of normality. Although, I don’t think we can. Totally, totally.  relax too much. I think we’ve another, another few months ahead of us. 


And it’s it’s. Yeah. And again, it’s interesting. I mean, even if we see the likes of Netflix and, you know, their reports on the, the, the huge search that they had, um, and, um, and, and where they allowing it, and I think for us the real insight, and it’s probably the case for Netflix as well, is that people had more time during the lockdowns and so it’s really interesting that, uh, people will consume a newspaper or online media products or Netflix or whatever it is that when they have time and time can be the blocker. So we, we did see it even in terms of increases in our Saturday newspaper sales, um, during the, during the lockdown, cuz people didn’t have the, the whether it was kids activities to go to football, watches, different things like that. So it was just very insightful that it’s not necessarily that people have turned away from, from news. It is. It’s about actually busyness. Yeah. Um, and so it’s just a really interesting insight for us in terms of how do we, you know, Um, continue to be part of people’s lives in that way and, and, and functional and will be interested in, um, in Ireland yet. I don’t think people are really back to the offices on the mainstream and, and that’s still happening, but getting commuters back, um, and you know, the, the idea again, of the listen product, the crossword offers being things that you do while you’re commuting. Yeah. Um, and, um, and what that will, um, how, how that will change people’s behaviors. Yeah. Um, so it’s just, it’s, it’s something where we’re, um, We’re very mindful of and, and we would do a lot of, uh, research with our readers and our subscribers as well to, to listen and to, to, to hear from them as to what, what they want from us. 


Yeah, I love the gamification piece Cliona. Um, love to know, even anecdotally, you know, how well has that been adopted because my guess is it’s something that might not immediately, you know, strike people in terms of an awareness piece. You know, when they do subscribe, as you said, it’s all about the content, maybe doing the crossword, but I think I would really enjoy doing a crossword with somebody. And even as you were saying it, I was thinking it’s one thing to do it with family and friends. But then I was thinking about the dynamic of, you know, maybe the more competitive people as well, who might actually want to do it, you know, as a competing type game, perhaps against other people, because. It’s an iconic product Cliona. You’re absolutely right. The Irish Times crossword is what there’s there’s um, great satisfaction. My father would do it from time to time. Um, you know, so people do talk about managing to complete it. So, so is it just within friends and family at the moment, or do you have a. You know, a competition-type format, or is that something you’ve ever thought about? 


It’s probably something that we, we look to do in the future and the, with, at the moment with the play together, it is among, uh, subscribers. So it could be anyone, uh, in that sense, but, but it’s, we’re really interested in, um, the rollout of it. Um, we’re heavily promoting it at the moment. Who’s a campaign that just went live at the start of this week on train stations. We do protocol. On Monday at Conley Station. And, uh, so yeah, so we’ve, uh, we’ve a great campaign, um, aimed at aimed at commuters at the moment. And it is, and, and sending product emails out then every week with those different features, because it is not too dissimilar to our ePaper, which is a printed replica of the newspaper. There types of products where you need to get in at it. Yeah to then, to then feel it so you can, we can promote it and talk about it, but it’s getting in and trying it. So, um, in terms of those different features, it’s kinda like get in and, and, and have a go, play. And then, and then it’s to invite friends or, you know, like play with somebody else, say for later, play it on a different device. So, um, in, in terms of that sense of, of, of people getting used to the feature and then expanding on it further. Yeah. So we are very excited about the, the, um, the future benefits of it and, and where we can go with it. It’s interesting as you say, the, the competition aspect I’ve seen, I mean, and again, we watch closely the New York Times really promote their, uh, crossword as well. They’ve done some great videos on Twitter with the crossword setter um, and people can join it and see how they create a crossword or come online and complete the crossword with this person. And I think that’s wonderful, you know, like to, to see it so how we can bring things to life, uh, like that. So I think there is endless possibilities in that way, and I think, think. It’s even that sense of the event space it’s is something that we did during the lockdowns as well, where we had, um, a series of events, uh, called summer nights and winter nights and it was, it was four nights. Um, it was open to everyone, we discounted tickets for subscribers. And, um, it was basically say, for example, Fint not too well interviewing Donnie O’Sullivan on it, uh, at one point. And I think it was really interesting to. Again, let’s go back to the representation hearing and seeing yeah. The voices of our journalists. Yeah. But also it was a little bit of seeing inside their houses and seeing their bookcase behind them and, you know, so a little bit of everyone, everyone was at home, so it was, uh, it was really interesting that sense of, um, trying to open the doors and, and, and let people in, in that sense, like, see, see behind the curtain. Yeah. To a certain extent. So I think that sense of, um, demystifying a little bit, and I think. The industry has moved from one that was very one way. Yeah. Um, to one that, that, that two-way communication is, is very important. Our subscribers do like to get in touch with us, which are our customer care team or, or others. Um, and they do like to, you know, discuss their, their thoughts on, um, on particular content. So I think that sense of, um, being part of a community of subscribers is something that’s. Yeah. We’re, you know, trying to figure out as was how we develop further, um, so that people can, can, can feel that sense of, um, belonging is part of it. 


Yeah, no, and it’s a good insight Cliona because, you know, we’ve all talked about moving from being a business that, you know, was literally broadcast in any sense. Um, over the years, to then the, you know, arrival of social media, where we got to build our two-way conversations with all of the, you know, apprehension, I suppose, that came with that and the risk and the perception of, you know, uh, not necessarily being in control of the conversation, but certainly for me talking to people on this show, there really is, tt feels like a, maybe it’s not a missed opportunity maybe it’s just, we haven’t yet. Like you guys figured out exactly how people might want to connect to each other. So the peer-to-peer piece and the community piece is immensely valuable because people who read the Irish Times probably have a similar level of education. Um, plenty again, of if they read the same authors by definition, then they’re going to have the same topic. So. So I love that insight around demystifying. The whole piece around meeting a crossword creator, I think is absolutely genius because again, when I went through a phase many years ago of doing crosswords myself, I always felt very proud when I, I realized that I understood how their brain, how their brain worked. Like there is a piece about knowing, oh, this is his style of words or her style of words. So that whole piece of, of bringing the creators into the subscribers lives, I think is absolutely genius. 


Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And as I said, something that we’re. And, and it’s interesting around events, post-pandemic, where, you know, did people, you know, sometimes people can get sick of the, the zoom calls, the zoom meetings. Totally. Yeah. And they want real life, or they want a hybrid. So it’s, you know, that, that really interesting what worked well for us with the, um, the online events was our subscribers from all over the world could join. And so that, that sense of in a physical event, you’re in, you’re in one location. Yeah. Um, so I think that accessibility was, was a lovely factor to it as well and we people from, from all over the world joining, because we do have an, a strong international, uh, reader base and subscriber base in the Irish Times, and which is, which is great as well, like, so that, that, um, yeah, that people are coming to us. Um, so it’s, you know, that, that we can give them our, uh, international subscribers, those benefits as well as something that’s important to us.


Yes. And actually, you’re absolutely right. There was a point about being an expat that also triggered for me when you talked about the crossword collaboration. So, you know, when I think about my, you know, father at home, you know, if we could do a crossword together, you know, 4,000 miles apart, what a lovely way for the Irish Times to facilitate, you know, something between families as well, when we’re not physically able to be together, even regardless, pandemics or whatever. Yeah, very far away. I just love this idea. 


That that’s a lovely idea, actually, Paula, and for, uh, for my parents, I organized home delivery of the Irish Times during the lockdown, because we, we partnered with on post the postal service in Ireland, um, yeah. To, to do, uh, home delivery. We have our own home delivery network in Dublin and Cork and, and, um, major cities. But we partner with on post to do it in more rural areas, um, where my parents live, but I get texts from my dad. About articles that he’s read. And it’s a lovely way to, you know, people do want to discuss those articles and you know, what you thought of that article. So it is a really good connector I think.


It is absolutely Cliona. Um, the other piece I wanted to ask you about was, um, one of your retention ideas, which I loved. Which was all built around Surprise and Delight. Um, I know it’s still, I think, fairly early in you, I guess, testing, uh, some pilot versions of this, but I thought the audience would be super interested to hear, you know, what does Surprise and Delight look like for an Irish Times subscriber?


Yeah. So, um, so it is a, a pilot, as you say, and it’s something that again has come out of the, the insight around, how can we help combat churn and looking at people’s, uh, usage behavior. So it’s based on looking at the behavior patterns of our subscribers. And we identify cohorts. Um, and what we’ve done is actually it’s, it’s giving them a gift to thank, uh, for being a subscriber. Um, and we have kept back a control group, um, who fit the same criteria and who don’t get the same. Okay. Um, email incentive in incentive invitation so that we can compare, um, the activity and, and we have it’s early days now, but we have seen a positive result in the sense of a reduced churn rate among a cohort who we have, um, engaged with in this way. So we’re trying it out. We’re expanding the groups that it goes to, and also trying it out with different, different cohorts. Um, I think that idea of rewarding loyalty is something that’s important. Yeah. Um, when we, um, We run particular offers for new subscribers. Yeah. But I think it’s also important to reward our subscribers who are with us for totally, for a number of years. Um, and I think as a digital product, there can be that sense of not having something tangible. Yeah. Um, that can, uh, impact on a connection. Um, so I think so that’s where we’ve been sending out a, a branded gift, um, Yeah, a pen or a pen or notebook in this instance and, uh, something that actually goes well in a crossword context as well. Perfect. But in, if we say years ago where people used to walk around with the Irish Times under their arm. Yeah. You know, it’s a physical product and we still have our, uh, print purchasers and print, uh, subscribers who are very important to us. Yeah, in the digital subscriber context, as I said, without having that physical, uh, tangible, um, product, as I said, it, it can, um, it can impact that relationship, so it’s, it’s just something that we’re trying out to, um, to give something physical, uh, physical and tangible to mark that, uh, that subscription. So I think it’s, um, I think it’s something that’s. Interesting in the context of digital subscriptions in general and how that works. 


Yeah. Yeah. What I also really liked Cliona is the fact that you are not, um, connecting the dots in a way that feels, you know, uh, you know, too invasive, I guess, for a subscriber, because it is being triggered by you knowing their behavior but there’s no need to say that and I do think that, you know, one of the things that bothers me about the internet is, you know, things follow me around and there’s things that I see popping up that I’m not expecting. Um, but I think the fact that you’re literally kind of going, oh, there’s a potential risk here because this person maybe hasn’t logged in, or hasn’t really engaged with our content in a few weeks. Um, and using that then to, to, to thank them and to be overtly loyal to them, actually, dare I say it because, that is something we’ve talked about in, in some of the biggest research in the loyalty industry is that we’ve all been waiting as brands, perhaps, you know, we’ve been building our programs and expecting customers to be loyal to us, but actually more and more, what people are saying is, well, no, you are the brand, you know, you need to show up and step forward and be loyal to me first. And that’s what I think is coming through in your Surprise and Delight campaign.


I, and I will say that area of, of data privacy is hugely important to us and as you say, it’s that fine line, Paula, between the big brother approach and otherwise. So it’s something that we’re very conscious of. Yeah. Um, and, and again, that’s where I say that you’re, I always say every day is a school day, like, as in, we’re always learning on this and, um, totally. hearing from others and, and, and trying things. I think the key thing for us is that there is no silver bullet in terms of, um, growing our digital subscriptions and improving our attention. And it’s all about experimentation. Yeah. And so for us, it’s all about having the, uh, the ability. Um, the infrastructure in place and otherwise to, to test things, to try them out. And the data is hugely important at every stage in that. So knowing, knowing what the starting point is, knowing what the hypothesis is, and it’s something that we, um, we need to work on, and it is something that we are actively working on because we do see that as being crucial to our future growth. Um, to, to, to be able to. To try and test things out and, and see the results and, and make quick decisions and stop doing things as well. You know, I think that sense of, yeah, stopping something, if it’s not working and, and, and trying something different is, is important. So. 


Yeah, and I love that actually. I’m laughing away here to myself Cliona because you know, the, the idea of newspapers to me always feels like something that’s been the same for the whole 160 years that it’s been around, you know, when I think about it in simple terms, but the more I talk to you, the more I go, oh my God, there’s so much going on. But, but what I’m loving is that you’ve got permission to play. You know, you’ve got, again, a trusted brand, clearly a trusted team. I know you’ve been there, I think, 12 years. So, you know, these, um, ideas of finding what it is that’s gonna work for your reader to really delight them so that they stay with you long term and ultimately behave in a loyal way. I think it’s, it’s just an extraordinary, uh, way to be working. 


And I think as well, I mean, we talked about the industry and the openness of the industry, but we do look to others in the loyalty space as well. So I know I mentioned Netflix earlier, but it is that sense of learning from the Netflix and Spotify and others, and we’d say that to our teams as well, like as in what have you seen and, and what’s, uh, what’s working, um, in that sense or, you know, what, what could we adopt and, and bring in? So it’s, um, it’s a, it’s a unique industry, but at the same time, it’s, you know, we can bring other, other learnings into it, which is very important.


For sure. Yeah. And definitely from my perspective, subscriptions is a hot topic. Um, but I guess it’s, it’s a hot topic because it’s new for physical products. So, you know, we’re seeing it, for example, actually not even physical, but also for, for airlines, for example, are, are offering like paid, you know, loyalty programs for example but the, um, the physical ones I was thinking of there is the likes of Preta Manger, certainly in the UK where you subscribe to unlimited coffee, for example, for a month. So. I do think it’s one of the reasons I wanted to hear your kind of, you know, insights because you’ve been doing subscription as an industry for a lot longer than most of us. And we all talk about Amazon Prime and you know, it, it always seems super easy that Amazon charges money and we all just give our money to them every month. And there’s no question asked, so I don’t think they have the same churn issue that anybody else in the world actually has because of the breadth of their proposition, but, um, yeah, no, there is a lot to learn, I think, from the media industry. And again, the fact that you’re learning from each other is super inspiring. Um, so the only other question I had then for you from my side Cliona you know, was just, you know, what do you think the future might hold? Um, and you might be able to give anything away. I know, as you said, you’re four weeks into, you know, a brand new, uh, project and functionality and lots of new stuff going on. So probably I suppose, Take some time to let the dust settle.  


I know. And, and we’re, yeah, there’s never a never a dull day. Uh, we’re still all waiting for that. Uh that time on it when it’s not time. Yeah, exactly. When it’s not busy. Uh, no. And, and we’re really with the new website and app, which is fantastic. It’s also putting us on a better footing. We’ve done similar with our analytics, um, infrastructure as well to put us on a better footing to, to accelerate, and to make it easier and quicker to develop. Um, so really continuous product development is, um, Is where we want to be the experimentation is where we want to be. And continuously listening to our customers, we are conscious of the feedback loop and making sure that we do have room to improve there. Yeah. Um, in terms of what we hear from our subscribers. Um, and, and, and this said continuously having that conversation and, and, and what we can, uh, learn from there. We are also conscious of growing our subscription base, which starts with growing our audience for the Irish Times and a focus on a youth audience, um, and younger audiences don’t have the same necessarily sense of, you know, newspapers in the household growing up. Yeah. And so it’s, it’s quite different. I, I certainly grew up with a newspaper in, in the house and, and it does kind of give you a habit as you get older. So we do have, um, free third-level student subscriptions, um, that we promote in colleges. Um, As a, as a benefit for, for students to have that information there, but it’s also with the view to um, makes sense, so being our future readers and our future subscribers, but it is something that is the, the entire media industry has that particular challenge, which might tend very generalist around a younger cohort that’s not to say that they’re not interested in news and media, but there isn’t necessarily a sense of brand loyalty. Yeah. Um, social media plays a big part and it’s about, you need to come to me, you know, as in, in years gone by, it would be that people would come to, um, the Irish Times or, or other sites. Yeah. Um, so it is more, there’s so much content out there and people are getting their news from different sources and I mean, even TikTok. So it’s uh, and you, you even see it in, in US Presidential Elections and different things like that. So it’s, it’s constant because our younger audience. And younger population are absolutely our future readers and our future subscribers. So it’s, um, it’s, it’s, it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting place to be. And as I said, it’s something that we’re very mindful of and, and, and, and really looking to learn how we can, um, encourage more younger readers to the platform. 


Well, I think, uh, as you said, never a dull day, uh, in, in your world. Um, so that does sound like a very exciting future as, as it is currently as well. So that’s all I had to ask from my side. Were there any other points that you wanted to mention before we wrap up? 


Uh, other than to say a big shout out to the team that I have, because I’m one person on this call. Yeah. And all of this work that I’m talking about is being done by, uh, by the, the, the team behind me. So we’ve, Aoiffe Heads of our Digital Subscriptions team, um, and works with Garrett, Francesca, and Mark and Cathal, who is our Analytics Manager, uh, working with Naomi Kavish and Amruta. And Carol and Simon who are also on the team, so credit to all of them. Wow. These are the, uh, the, the people that are, um, keeping the, keeping the wheels going absolutely. And I think that is so important in terms of, and, and the, the, the staff of the Irish Times are all very passionate about the brand that we work for and the ethos of the Irish Times. And it’s very, um, it’s, it is very obvious among, uh, among colleagues. So it’s, it’s, it’s great. So, yes, just to give them a shout out.


Oh, I love that Cliona. I know absolutely. I mean, it does take a village, uh, you know, to, to create something like that. And I hadn’t realized there’s quite that many people in your team. I assume there might be two or three, but that’s absolutely extraordinary. 


Shush, Paula, that’s a small team. We need more resource


Well, You know, it’s, it’s proving itself as I suppose, Cliona, you know, you do have to be future proof, as you said. So, um, yeah, the more resources you can get in there, the more you can test and try and innovate for the future. So exactly. We’re all about growth. So, uh, so that’s wonderful. So Cliona can I make sure to link to you, for example, your LinkedIn profile in the show notes for anyone who I might want to reach out and, and chat to you about anything?


Absolutely. I’d be more than happy to, to do that. Yep. 


Wonderful, great stuff. Okay. Well, on that note, Cliona Mooney, Subscriptions and Reader Insights Director at the Irish Times. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty. 


Thanks, Paula. 


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