Marketing team structures and insights from the academic publishing industry

Updated: Apr 14

The International Bunch was commissioned to carry out in-depth market research looking at a range of publishing organizations from across the industry. We explored how marketing departments are structured and the challenges they face. In addition to focusing on structure and how that changes, we also looked at the current trends in scholarly marketing and explored some of the key themes which emerged from the research. We’d like to thank those involved in this research project for their support and we have summarized the findings below.


In this blog post, we summarize some of the key trends and themes and present a list of suggested recommendations for publishers to consider in relation to marketing structures and practices.


Trends


  • Streamlining – across the industry publishers are streamlining marketing departments, sometimes combining roles, but also introducing additional tiers to build in career progression. This trend is resulting in broader roles rather than specialist niche roles, requiring staff to be multi-skilled and adaptable, and reducing the importance of subject-specific experience

  • Impact – an increase in being ‘smart’ and effective in marketing, improving ROI is having an impact on marketing activities in terms of how they are measured

  • Open research – some publishers are finding that print monograph sales are down, making it hard to justify marketing spend. To recoup some of this loss there is a trend towards increased marketing around event sponsorship. Publishers who are putting a significant focus on open access are seen to be making the most change in the industry. There is an acknowledgement across scholarly publishing that there is a need to future-proof activities and be prepared for the increasing impact of open access

  • Outsourcing – there are some interesting changes going on in how publishers outsource work. There is a current trend towards bringing in freelance specialists to upskill in-house teams, at the same time as a decrease in outsourcing task work in favour of using templates and subscription services in-house instead. A good example of this is replacing the outsourcing of some digital design work with a subscription to Canva, meaning materials can be created in-house within a consistent suite of templates


Themes


  • Retention – career progression is important to junior staff and without it, they are unlikely to stay longer than a year or two. There is a tendency for managerial roles to be given to internal applicants, which does give the perception of potential progression, but sometimes means the skill or experience pool is limited. Experience publishing marketers are often drawn away into other industries due to more competitive salaries and benefits

  • Budget cuts – there is a consensus that marketing budgets are being cut and expectations are still increasing, so departments are trying to deliver increasing returns on decreasing investments. This puts pressure on senior and junior staff, and there are suggestions that more realistic and accurate KPIs are needed. Budget cuts are also mirrored in libraries, meaning they want more for their money and have to be selective in the products they take up

  • Customer focus – there is an increased emphasis on understanding the end-user of the content, their needs and creating stories that resonate. Marketing departments are moving towards having the content customer at the centre of their strategies, rather than the author/researcher. Part of this involves work on brand profile, as often customers identify with a journal or series, rather than with a large publishing brand


Recommendations


The research on marketing structures culminated in a detailed list of over 20 recommendations. We have focused on four of the key ones here for publishers to consider.


  1. Be more agile - The publishing industry is recognising the need to be agile and adaptable in the face of a fast-changing research and communications environment. This approach can include agile working practices and mindsets, streamlined teams with the ability to move quickly, alongside official agile training

  2. Upskilling and empowerment – to retain the best staff in a competitive recruitment market and make the most of a streamlined team it is essential to invest in effective, tailored training on a regular basis and centralized processes and support

  3. Going external – Don’t be afraid to look outside the industry, especially if there is a need for more innovative approaches and fresh ideas. Great marketing strategies and activities are transferable, product knowledge is not always the most important experience

  4. Know your department – focusing on team members and knowing their drivers means you can effectively motivate and get the best out of them long-term. If this means reconsidering salaries and benefits, then be brave and do it


Tell us your experiences


Do you work in marketing with a publisher? Maybe you manage a team within a busy marketing department. We would love to hear about your experiences in the industry and if you are seeing some of these themes and trends in practice.

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