How the Circulation Manager’s Duties Have Changed


If you ask circulation managers how the industry in general and their role, in particular, have changed in the last 5 or 10 years, you’ll probably want to take notes. From 5 years ago, there has been a data revolution. But from 10, most agree that it’s become a whole new world.

RELATED: How Can Publishers Use Data Analytics to Increase Revenues

Circulation managers have seen their jobs expand exponentially, and the further you drill down the more responsibility and opportunity you’ll find. It all revolves around data. The opportunities were theoretically always there. But without the technology to mine and analyze data, no one realized the depth and breadth that the circulation manager’s job would ultimately take on.

Time Was . . .

Back in the day, circulation managers had a busy enough job. They managed subscriptions, reached out to subscribers over the phone and via mail, and managed the distribution of the publication. And then along came data.

A funny thing happened when publishing discovered data. They also discovered that so many mysteries about subscribers weren’t really mysteries after all. The effect was like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time. Data analytics was and remains a daily concern, but the information is there. Instead of wondering how to encourage more subscribers and track their experience, circulation managers now worry about which metrics to track and how to use the information effectively.

Data is Limitless, and So Seems the Circulation Manager’s Job

Because so much data flows through circulation, it has fallen on circulation managers to make sense of it and use it. Peter Houston of the Media Briefing says “everyone is expected to be a multidisciplinary, multitasking, cross-departmental, cross-platform ninja.” It’s your data, now go do something productive with it.

The circulation desk, as it was once known, is now a hub for everything from marketing to customer service to audience development, heavy on the marketing. Heavier still on audience development. Dovetail Services Client Services Manager, Lizzie Mooney, tells Houston that the audience and what drives them is at the center of everything that circulation managers do. “The biggest changes,” she explains, “are around the insights and data we have based on behaviours and optimising the customer journey.”

A good mix of experience and fresh, unjaded insight drives successful circulation departments now.

Who Succeeds in Circulation Management

Circulation managers need a whole new skill set nowadays. And according to Quadrant subscription services Senior Client Services Manager, John Diston, it’s a moving target. He tells Houston that a successful circulation manager “needs to have a working understanding of all manner of things that were far more peripheral in the past … marketing, finance, logistics, distribution, data analysis and management, web tech, and customer experience.”

Instead of the well-defined roles and equally defined skills from an era ago, there are a lot of blurred lines between nearly every discipline within publishing now. Diston believes that it’s a good thing. Circulation professionals now know more about the “pressure points” that affect their colleagues in all publishing disciplines. Interns are also a great fit for the circulation department, adds Readly MD, Ranj Begley. She thinks their fresh take on publishing mitigates a lot of the “doom and gloom,” and it approaches this rapidly evolving job with much-needed clearer vision.

Circulation managers have one thing in common, and that’s the fact that nothing stays the same for long. Not anymore. The data revolution has given them the ability to reach customers in a whole new way, and offer them what matters most.

Who knew that the circulation desk that once oversaw subscriptions and distribution would one day transform into something twice as large and still growing? Even the ones at the heart of it all have difficulty pinpointing just what their job duties entail. When another new important metric is discovered, chances are it flows through circulation. They’re the epicenter of marketing and customer development now. Maybe it’s time for a new job title.

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