39 minutes | Oct 19, 2020

'Retention has been one of our best stories of the year': Bob Cohn on steering The Economist through the crisis

Bob Cohn joined The Economist Group in February after more than a decade at The Atlantic, where he served on both sides of the fence -- as its digital editor and later as its president. As president and managing director, his stated remit was to grow The Economist's global readership and open up new commercial opportunities in North America.

Of course, merely six weeks into the job, the coronavirus pandemic hit. With it came a surge of subscribers as readers looked to the Economist to unpick the impact on the economy, politics, culture and more.

"We did see, for a few months back in the spring, new subscribers coming [in] at about twice the rate that we expected," said Cohn on the Digiday podcast.

Subscriptions and circulation made up around two-thirds (£204 million;$265 million) of the £326 million ($423 million) The Economist Group generated in revenue in the year to Mar. 31 2020. In recent months, pre-pandemic, the company had already shifted its subscription strategy from focusing on acquisition to more of a retention push. The surge in subscribers during the coronavirus crisis created "a kind of urgency" to keep the newly acquired users.

"We were an acquisition machine; we were not focused as diligently as we could on retention," prior to Cohn's arrival, he said. "We came into this year with a determination to be better at that and embrace best practice and go beyond best practice."

Some of the new efforts have involved the creation of subscriber-only digital events (some 27,000 subscribers tuned in to watch a Bill Gates interview,) increasing the price of its introductory offers and exclusive subscriber newsletters. The number of subscribers in The Economist's "highly engaged" category increased 21% last year, Cohn said

Looking ahead, The Economist plans to roll out a new customer experience platform and create more products at a wider price range to tap a more diversified user base.

"Retention has been one of our best stories of the year," Cohn said.

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