Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Team Tactics

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Team Tactics

Article excerpt

For circulation district managers, stress comes with the turf, especially at smaller papers, where home delivery service, single-copy outlets sales and collections are as much part of the job as fickle weather, fickle kids and finicky subscribers.

The unexpected lurks daily, and when it strikes in your territory, you have to fix it. if that sounds like a recipe for distress, it is. Burnout is a hazard of the profession.

So how do you grow circulation when you're hustling to deliver down routes?

You might try a new approach, an alternative to the traditional model, in which one district manager oversees an or most circulation functions in a geographical area. The new model, bandied about for years, has already been adopted by a lot of manufacturers outside newspapers. It revolves around teamwork and specialization. In the past couple of years, newspapers have begun applying it - in varying forms and with varying degrees of success - sometimes racking up impressive performance gains.

The Concord Monitor, for example, unchained district managers in January from the geographical zones where they had presided over nearly all circulation functions. Under the new structure, renamed "field managers" work as a team, each member specializing in such functions as carrier retention, sales-marketing, and customer service.

In just five months, the system has proven "extraordinarily successful," said Arthur Dwight, Monitor circulation director. "We started to accomplish things we never could have done before."

How successful." Since reorganizing in January, the number of delivery complaints dropped over 30% to .48 per 1,000 subscribers per day, from .77. Door-to-door subscription sales increased between 10% and 20% and collections outstanding fell by half, to 4% from 8%.

"It's the best thing I've done since I've been here," Dwight said, admitting surprise at the speed of the improvements," and long term, I think it will be greater." He expects improved recruiting to result in better carriers, and, in turn, improved service.

Perhaps best of all, tapping into teamwork costs nothing. In fact, when a fifth district manager quit during the transition, their new efficiency allowed the Monitor's four other district managers the time to take up the slack - for a few dollars more.

The Monitor, with 22,000 morning circulation, is one of the latest in a string of New England papers to adopt this nontraditional circulation management concept - among them the other papers owned by the Monitor's parent company, Newspapers of New England: the Valley News, Lebanon, N.H.; the Recorder, Greenfield, Mass.; Daily Hampshire Gazzette, Northampton, Mass., Dwight said.

What's driving the change, Dwight confessed, is the gradual realization that a district manager's work, as historically structured, was inherently impossible. Service, sales, collections, marketing - you can't do everything well."

Now, each Monitor field manager has a specialty, and goals, formerly set for each district, are combined. Monthly bonuses are shared and are contingent on overall circulation increases and other performance goals. That makes managers interdependent. As Dwight said, "The team makes it or breaks it."

The Monitor's four field managers together oversee 160 youth carriers, who deliver to homes, and 50 adult drivers, who transport bundles to carriers and stores, service news racks and deliver to outlying homes. But each has a specialty. The niches are: single-copy (stores and newsracks), service (missed deliveries, carrier retention, contracting), recruitment (finding and training carriers), sales and marketing (promotions and sales). All managers work outside their specialty, however, mainly organizing subscription drives by youth carriers. A part-time telemarketing staff answers to Dwight.

"We're able to respond to things faster because there is no conflict between sales and service," Dwight said. …

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