‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’

June 9, 2014

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do
—Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology

By Bob Bobber
Circulation Counts 

A couple months ago I used a quote I heard from Herm Edwards, a former NFL Player and coach who is now an ESPN analyst, who said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

I have no idea if it was he who originated that quote or if he heard it somewhere else, but since then I have used it on several occasions and it has drawn rave reviews. It lead to thinking that I haven’t addressed the subject of planning in a long time in this column, so I am going to give a few basics to proper planning, particularly as it applies to circulation.


Set A Goal

The first step of planning is obvious. We must have a goal. However, I have seen during the years that many goals are too ambitious and set more to please the publisher or corporate office. We want them to be happy and feel good about the job we are doing.

One method of planning as it relates to goal setting that I like is setting three sets of goals.

Goal 1: What you feel confident you can accomplish without additional personnel or financial assistance. You can do it with the people you have and the money you already have in the budget.

Goal 2: What you feel confident you could do if given reasonable additional personnel or financial assistance. This should be justified by additional revenue or circulation gains that translate directly to additional advertising revenue such as insert fees.

Goal 3: What I once heard called “blue sky” goals. These are goals that could be reached if everything fell right. If you got the additional personnel and financial assistance. If market conditions improved dramatically. If there is exceptional news happenings or new editorial ventures.

I would then put probability percentages on each goal. Goal 1 should be something like 80 percent to 90  percent (there are no guarantees). Goal 2 should fall in the 40 percent to 60 percent range and Goal 3 should be less than 25 percent.

In dealing with circulation revenue goals, one part of the goal planning process should be breaking down revenue increase or decreases by volume and rate. How much of your change in revenue is going to be attributed to rate increases and how much will be volume increases. For instance, if your circulation revenue is going up $10,000, 70 percent could be because you raised your home delivery rates and 30 percent could be because your single-copy volume went up because of the home delivery increase. This type of analysis will keep you on top of what is really going on in your department

The second step in planning is quantify everything as much as possible and in as much detail as you can. It is one thing to say we want to increase single-copy circulation by 2 percent and another thing to break it down to say, we are going to increase single copy by the addition of 10 new coin racks and three new dealers, while keeping returns under 18 percent and expanding our distribution points into six new apartment complexes.

Address all the various areas of circulation in a similar fashion, whether it be home delivery, bulk sales, NIE, or mail. In new subscriber acquisition, break it down by type of solicitation, phone, crew, direct mail, kiosk, Internet or voluntary. Of course, you must also put the financial impact of all your plans in the commentary.

The third step in planning is to set a timeline for your plan. This is where I think so many people fail in the planning process. It is so important that one outline the process by which one is going to implement the plan and put it on a timetable. For instance we want to buy 10 new coin racks. When do we get pricing from various vendors, when do we place the order, when will they be delivered, when do we want to know where they are going, when do we want them on the street?

Then ask: What are the expectations for how long it will take to realize the increase? You are not going up 2 percent the day they go out. By doing this, one of the side benefits is that we don’t plug in the new revenue or circulation numbers before we have the racks. You are not caught promising circulation numbers that you can’t deliver at that time. The timeline will also allow you to monitor your progress along the way and make mid-course adjustments if necessary. For instance, say you order your 10 racks but then it takes an extra six weeks to get delivery. Now everything is off track and adjustments need to be made, so let everyone know what is going on.

The fourth and final step is looking long range. How does this year’s plan effect the following year? Or the year after that?

Planning should be more than one year at a time. When I was with the Tribune Co. many years ago, we had a five-year plan. Someone asked why five years? And the answer was: “If it was good enough for the Russians it was good enough for us.”

I know that is somewhat facetious but it does mean that there is not an exact time frame that we should use but it should be at least three years and probably now more than 10. The planning for beyond year-one does not need to be nearly as detailed as the upcoming year, but it should cover all the basics.

What will the revenue and expenses be? What capital expenditures are in the works? What personnel additions or reductions are we anticipating? The long range part of the plan should be like the one-year plan from the standpoint of having three different goals—makeable, ambitious and “blue sky.” I know it is hard sometimes to think beyond the immediacy of the present, but good executives can extract themselves from the swamp of today’s challenges and the impending alligators and think about the dry land of development of tomorrow. © Bob Bobber 2014


Bob Bobber is a newspaper consultant specializing in circulation sales, training and public speaking. You contact him at rjbobber@bellsouth.net.

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