Meet The Pro50: How Newssolutions is taking productivity to the masses
As part of the News UK behemoth, Newssolutions is placed at the heart of British publishing. Here, Professional Manager talks to commercial director, operations Tracey Hart to find out how her lean and agile team is developing productive publishing for allMatt Scott
In a world of shrinking print sales and dwindling advertising revenues, newspaper publishers are facing tough times when it comes to increasing revenues and turning a profit.
But Newssolutions Limited, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News UK, has turned the shrinking nature of the newspaper market into a surprising and lucrative opportunity.
The company prints 1.2bn copies of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times every year, as well as a further 800m non-News UK titles from their three sites based at Broxbourne, Knowlsey and Eurocentral near Glasgow.
Combined, the three sites print around 2bn newspapers a year, or 40m a week, of which 16m are for third parties.
News UK’s titles have a weekly print reach of approximately 10.5m readers, and represent around 32.5% of UK circulation of national dailies.
As circulation numbers of News UK titles have fallen, however, spare capacity at the stable’s print and distribution hubs have increased and Newssolutions was established to sell this capacity to regional papers and other publishing houses.
From her view at the helm of the business, commercial director, operations Tracey Hart has a uniquely optimistic outlook on the future of the publishing sector and her business.
“If circulations were buoyant for the national newspapers we wouldn’t be here doing what we are doing,” she says. “The services we are selling and the capacity we have available to sell wouldn’t be there if the circulation of The Times and The Sun were what they were.
“It’s given us a chance, and as things decline it’s more of an opportunity for us as there is more to sell.”
In addition to selling print and distribution services, Newssolutions uses the expertise of its staff to offer consultancy services aimed at reducing costs and bringing new ways of thinking to traditional publishing companies.
“We are well-versed in helping to take cost out of a business,” she says. “As much as we have assets to sell, we also have a lot of knowledge and experience. A lot of the regional titles in particular are heavy in terms of headcount and the size of their business, and they have seen bigger declines than the nationals.
“Apart from the content, cover prices and newsstand promotion, which are highly competitive, everything in the middle is following the same supply chain – and there are savings to be made if we all travel together. It is important that we all support each other to keep more titles alive; if the industry shrinks, everyone left is put under further pressure.”
Key to the success of the consulting side of the business, Hart says, are the people at the centre of the business who go out to potential and existing clients and help solve the problems facing their businesses.
“I have picked experienced people to be in the team so that they can hold their own and manage their own piece of the business,” she says. “We have to have the right people with the right contacts, because we are very much an outward-facing group.”
In addition to this core team, a group of News UK staff work part-time with Newssolutions to provide expert support to the sales teams.
“We have a matrix team that sits within the different services within the wider business who work a percentage of their time in Newssolutions,” Hart says. “If we were to bring in a new print client, we have two people in print services who will be a part of that matrix and ensure the implementation is a success.
“As it then gets implemented we stay in contact with the client and manage the relationship, but ultimately we don’t build a plethora of account managers – we let the experts [in News UK] run that longer-term.”
Staff training and development is central to the success of Newssolutions, with bespoke training sessions used to boost individual performance and enhance the overall productivity of the company. Training is delivered via two external consultants who act as executive coaches and provide one-to-one training sessions rather than the traditional group sessions that often take place in large organisations.
“The consultants come into our meetings to help them understand our business, our people and their responsibilities,” Hart says. “They then provide confidential one-to-one coaching for two or three hours to talk about the challenges our staff are facing.
“They look at the mind set and behaviours that are needed to do the job. We don’t look at traditional sales, marketing or presentation skills, it is all about how we can get the best return out of people, how to influence people and how to read the people they meet.”
“It is two hours of selfish training,” she adds. “Group training can be quite generic, but this is absolutely focused on you and tailored to your needs. It is intense and exhausting, but if you want to get a return out of it is very useful for your personal development.”
The consultants also attend client and internal meetings to observe behaviour and then provide additional feedback through group workshops.
The structure of the training also allows Hart to provide additional points for the consultants to help individual members of staff with based on her observations around the workplace. She can then use this to provide additional feedback when assessing performance.
While Newssolutions may sit as part of the News UK behemoth, the team itself is lean and agile, enabling it to adapt to rapidly changing landscapes in an efficient and productive way.
“We are small and can act very quickly,” Hart says. “Our focus is on sales and we don’t let ourselves get bogged down with admin work. It is easy to get bogged down in other areas of the business, but we are very sharp at asking ourselves if we are making any money out of something and if not we move on.”
And at the head of this Hart leads by example, and says it is vital that she remains close to her team and the work they are doing.
“It’s important to stay aware of the day-to-day work your team is doing – and experience their ups and downs with them," she says. "It is also preferable to be cautious about the number of direct reports you have, so that you can maintain a good relationship with each individual.
“Every member of the team needs to understand the importance of their contribution to creating the bigger picture.”
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Read our full analysis of what makes the list of Pro50 companies so productive, including expert analysis from Professor John Van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Illustration by Charles Williams