Circulation is a magazine publishing discipline that is part art and part science. This often complicated and nuanced part of magazine publishing requires a staff that is creative, analytical, hard-working, deadline-driven, service-oriented and curious about how things work!
Unless your publication is located in a magazine center, it is often hard to find experienced circulation staff or a circulation consultant. And, often, the executives that the circulation staff report to were not trained in circulation, so it’s difficult for them to know what to expect.
Publishers have a few options:
- Hire a circulation consultant to train and mentor the staff, and to help the executive team get all they can out of their circulation program.
- Hire a circulation consultant to take over many of the circulation management functions.
Here are the basic functions of a circulation department:
- Create and execute a marketing plan and budget for selling and renewing subscriptions and single copies.
- Plan to deliver the correct number of subscriptions to meet the advertising ratebase. Handle all the auditing and statement filing details to prove their rate base numbers.
- Set up all the customer service policies and make sure subscribers receive good customer service.
- Create marketing pieces to sell subscriptions or direct the circulation consultant on those projects.
- Manage all the vendors and suppliers, such as fulfillment company, newsstand distributor, audit bureau, etc.
- Budget all department revenues and expenses and manage it throughout the year. This may include running “models” that can handle the thousands of details that go into a circulation budget.
- Analyze all circulation activities so that proper business decisions can be made, such as which sources to use for subscription sales or how the rate base should be adjusted.
Often, it is difficult for one department to handle all these details without the help of a circulation consultant. Sometimes all of the circulation functions are outsourced to a circulation consultant, and other times only pieces of it.
Here are common tasks taken on by the circulation consultant to help the magazine publisher:
Analysis – produce monthly reports and make recommendations based on the findings in those reports. Analyze any part of the circulation business to uncover the source of problems, and make recommendations to fix them.
Create marketing pieces – such as renewal series, email or direct mail campaigns.
Vendor RFP and selection. Often a circulation consultant can find just the right vendor and negotiate a more favorable contract than publishers can do on their own. This is especially true for fulfillment vendors.
Any short-term circulation project that requires a high skill level. Some examples of projects that publishers do not have the staff to execute: fulfillment conversions, organizing the department after new staff is hired or laid off, setting up a standard reporting package, or launching a new magazine.
Train and mentor circulation staff. Often circulation consultants are brought in on a monthly basis to make sure that plans are on track and that any problems can be addressed before they become too large to overcome. A regular check-in with a consultant brings discipline to the staff. And, when publishing executives lack experience in circulation, hiring a circulation consultant can provide mentoring and support.
In smaller organizations, or organizations that have difficulty attracting experienced circulation professionals, the decision is made to completely outsource the circulation function. In that case, the circulation consulting firm will perform all the tasks a circulation department would but usually in a remote location.
This arrangement can work very well, too, but a true partnership needs to develop between the magazine publishing executives and the circulation consultant.
One way to begin working with a circulation consultant is to start them off with a project to evaluate your circulation performance, and to ask for recommendations. That assignment will give you a chance to work with the consultant, see how well they understand your publication, and whether they can offer ideas to improve your organization.