Most newspaper CEOs would kill to be in Phillip Crawley’s shoes.

As CEO and publisher of Canada’s 169-year-old Globe and Mail, he oversees the leading national newspaper in Canada. He has just one significant national rival, The National Post; daily print circulation is above 250,000; a database of registered digital users has reached 100,000 consumers, one third of which are paying for digital-only subscriptions

But while Crawley knows he has more time than many of his peers to adapt to new consumer and advertiser habits, he’s under no illusions about the scale of the threat or how much effort needs to go into tackling them.

At the World Publishing Expo last week, Crawley told TheMediaBriefing: “We’ve got to sharpen up our act. We have to think more precisely about what is it that will make people say: ‘I’ve got to read that, I keep bumping up against this damn paywall, I’m going to pay’.”

Incentivising journalists

One of the Globe and Mail’s most radical moves is how the paper adds subscribers to its year-old paywall.

Crawley says: “Every morning one of our senior editors, someone senior from marketing, someone senior in subscriptions, someone senior in IT, sit down and look at what’s available for them to do that day.

“[They say] Let’s do some video that will be the hot video today, and that’s free, that will drive traffic to the site, will stimulate the casual browser. But then these two or three particularly hot pieces are going to be put behind the pay wall and will be what will drive conversion.

A handful of journalists, called the “Tiger Team” will then work on those stories, either alone or with other editorial staff, to produce articles, videos or other content that will encourage casual readers to subscribe. That team are paid more if they meet monthly targets.

Investment in uniqueness

Crawley says this focus on producing both good content and the right content is what gives the Globe and Mail a shot at survival in the digital era.

He also believes investing in the Mail’s ability to produce unique content is vital. He has just opened a Brazilian bureau to cover business news and the forthcoming football World Cup, at a time when most newspapers are closing their overseas outposts.

“There will be a lot of stories [from Brazil] in the next two years,” he says. “I want to put more of that content behind a paywall. We are creating business content that you can only find behind the paywall, it’s not in the paper.”

Print data?

Despite all the talk of driving digital subscriptions, the G&M is still hugely reliant on print and thus exposed to the the collapse of print advertising revenue.

Half of the G&M’s 150,000 subscribers don’t access digital versions of the paper at all despite having free access as part of their print packages. That creates a big problem for the G&M because advertisers increasingly want better data on the audiences they are buying access to.

“We’ve learned over the last year or so that [ad buyers] are paying less and less attention to readership data, a lot less attention to circulation data,” says Crawley.

“The ad agencies are saying very directly to us, you’ve got a limited period for print media as a whole, to develop the set of data that gives us the information about your customers‘ interaction.”

The G&M and other Canadian Media companies have pressured the country’s separate magazine and newspaper auditors to merge, but they are also telling them they have to develop much more detailed and frequent measurements.

The other print focus for Crawley, is getting more of those print-only readers to access the digital output. There are early signs, the company says, that those using both platforms can lead to a four-to-five percent reduction in the number of people failing to renew their subscriptions.

Crawley says: “What we’ve learned over the last 12 months is that if you are accessing the content as both a digital subscriber and a print subscriber, if you are accessing the content on multiple devices, you are a much more engaged and loyal user. It really works in terms of feeling you are locked into the product.”