Victor Navasky, who last November turned over his editor and publisher title of lefty political magazine The Nation to Katrina vanden Heuvel, once famously said, “What’s bad for the country is good for The Nation.” Your own political views aside, the Bush administration has certainly been good to The Nation. In just five years, the magazine has seen its circulation double to 187,000. And for the past two years, it has been making more money than it spends.
Liberals, hungry for critical political journalism, have found a special haven in The Nation, and have increasingly been turning to the Web to subscribe. Web-sourced subscriptions have increased five-fold since 2002. The significance of the Web-sourced subscriptions was readily apparent, eventually representing 27 percent of the magazine’s overall subscriber base.
Not content to simply watch and wait for more to come in, Scott Klein, vice president of the Web site and technology, and Art Stupar, vice president of circulation, commissioned in 2003 a back-end, browser-based subscription monitoring application, called SUMO, that lets the circulation team quickly create, launch and monitor Web-sourced subscription campaigns. “We’re a very circulation and direct-response driven magazine,” says Stupar. “We do 2 million direct-mail pieces per year. Why shouldn’t we do the same thing on the Web?”
SUMO was designed from the start to enable the circ team to autonomously create, manage and track subscription campaigns with minimal interaction with the Web department. “It’s very difficult to get on a Web developer’s agenda if you’re a circ person,” says Stupar. “This allows us to do things on our own. We don’t have to rely on the Web development staff.”
The application is browser-based and template driven, which lets the circ team set up a campaign through a series of drop-down menus and fields that allow, for example, the user to identify the campaign as radio, TV or Web-only, choose from a selection of pre-created landing pages, determine the term and price, choose between autorenewal or standard renewal, and select promotion key codes. “Most important, we can write promotion copy for one, two or more offer options,” says Stupar, who adds that he can set up a campaign in five minutes with SUMO.
Once the campaign goes live, progress for all of the live campaigns, online and off, is tracked through an interface not unlike an Excel spreadsheet which updates in realtime. Each campaign is listed down the left margin, with a series of columns measuring and adjusting key categories as URLs are clicked on or each order is placed online. “For each campaign,” says Stupar, “SUMO tracks clicks, gross orders, conversions (clicks to orders as a percentage), gross revenue per order and net revenue per order based on revenue less cost of product delivered. We can also track cash versus credit and total revenue.”
The realtime tracking is key, if not addictive. You can literally see the order totals advance as you’re sitting there, and Klein can view the campaign progress page on his mobile device. “When you send out e-mail blasts, that’s when this becomes like crack,” he says.
Clickthroughs and conversion rates are closely monitored and a campaign’s success or failure can be determined in a day or two, allowing Stupar to quickly determine if it should be aborted or allowed to continue. In a deal with Bob Fertik, owner of the Web site Democrats.com, Stupar tested a purchase message in one of Fertik’s e-mail newsletters to 15,000 of his 350,000-name database. A 28 percent conversion rate came through overnight, convincing Stupar that it was worth it to roll out the promotion to the rest of Fertik’s 350,000-name list. Prior to SUMO, the process would have taken closer to two weeks.
For The Nation’s TV and radio campaigns, orders generated via the Web through a URL set up in SUMO are tracked daily, allowing the circ team to efficiently manage offline promotions. “We learned that additional Web orders plus phone response moved a campaign from red to black, allowing us to spend over $200,000 in TV and radio promotion effectively,” says Stupar.
SUMO smoothed out and built up the connection with the fulfillment house as well. Prior to SUMO, orders coming from the Web site could only be separated at the receiving end by a limited number of promotion keys which, says Stupar, drove the term/price and back-end information accordingly.
“There was really no way to interface with the process and deliver orders that had first been identified as resulting from a unique campaign or effort on our end. We’ve gone from seeing the Web as one large, non-differentiated source to seeing it as a direct response tool. On any given day we now deliver 20-30 keys, automatically, identifying the back-end and connecting that information directly to one of 20 to 30 campaigns that now include front-end investment, response and ROI data.”