Globe and Mail CEO on the ‘courageous step’ into data

“I’ve been in the business for 50 years, and I’ve seen more change in the last three than in any other time. And the biggest difference is data.” That’s what Phillip Crawley, CEO of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national newspaper, told Politico this past summer.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | February 3, 2016

During the past few years, The Globe and Mail has undertaken a number of major projects, from implementing a paywall to the creation of a five-person Interactive News team, where each member is a coder with a good knowledge of design and news sense. The publishing house is also striving to make the best use of data, as Crawley writes in this article.

Around the world the requirement to understand and use data better is top of mind in those parts of the media industry that still have a functioning brain. The competitive advantages to be gained from delivering targeted content and demonstrating advertising effectiveness are increasingly clear.

Proving value and relevance in a world where clients demand measured results, double quick, is the planned payoff for the investment in analytics talent and software.

It might feel uncomfortable, but there’s no option

As the old metrics of “read yesterday” surveys and circulation audits are discarded, in favour of capturing real-time data on customer behaviour and response, the shift can feel uncomfortable, a move away from the tried-and-trusted into a bet on the unknown.

The industry has no option but to take that courageous step. Advertisers will walk away without it. And the good news is that the advent of paywalls and larger subscription revenues also enriches the data pool.

The Globe and Mail’s metered paywall (similar to The New York Times model) enables us to know more about our customers, what they value and how they spend their time accessing our content, so we can feed that knowledge back to curious clients.

Internally it has meant adopting new disciplines as we balance traffic management with the creation of must-read/will-pay content that keeps subscribers coming back for more.

Newsroom managers at The Globe and Mail are motivated to drive conversions, through creation and promotion of content that attracts customers to subscribe, primarily expert business and investment analysis.

Using data for a more personalised customer experience

Subscription businesses depend on customer relationship strategies and tactics. “Big data” (data science) enables us to identify who to target (propensity/predictive modeling) with the most relevant message (contextual modeling and/or recommendation analytics). A non-scientific, one-size-fits-all approach can seem contrived or irrelevant to the individual – whereas big data analytics enable a more personalised experience.

Three cautionary comments are appropriate as we all chase better data:

  • Beware of outsourcing data analytics. That simply levels the playing field instead of providing competitive advantage. Make it an in-house expertise area.
  • Don’t turn a blind eye to the reputational risk of misusing personal information about your customers. Media companies need to establish clear governance policies that say who is protecting privacy in your company.
  • Finally, be careful not to allow data to demystify the magic process of creating connection through content. Strong brands are more than the sum of their parts – and good story-telling reaches the heart and soul as much as the brain.

Phillip Crawley is the Publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper. He oversees the strategy and operations of The Globe and Mail newspaper, websites including, and, and magazines including Report on Business. He joined the organization in 1998. Before arriving in Canada, he was the Managing Director of The New Zealand Herald newspaper. From 1988 to 1997 he worked for Rupert Murdoch, first as Editor of The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong (1988–1993) then as Managing Director of The Times Supplements in London (1993–1997). He worked for Conrad Black as Northern Editor, The Daily Telegraph, London in 1987-88. He is chairman of The Canadian Press and a board member of AAM (Alliance for Audited Media, formerly ABC), The Canadian Newspaper Association, and WAN-IFRA. He serves as Honorary Consul for New Zealand in Toronto. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list in 2012 for his charitable work. Crawley was born in Northumberland, England, and graduated in English at Manchester University. He lives in Toronto with his wife and family.

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