16 Tips For Attracting Digital Dollars
3 publishers share their strategies for driving their digital businesses.March 2012 By James Sturdivant
Ogden hired a separate staff of “Web services” editors to focus on repurposing existing content for various digital products. The company outsources development of blogs, e-commerce, social integration and app development to firms specializing in those areas. “We stick to content development and marketing, which are coincidentally the same things we’ve always done in other media,” Welch says.
The company plans to build out content management to achieve the goal of create-once-distribute-everywhere with minimal effort. Expansion into new mediums such as television will only strengthen cross-channel opportunities, Welch says.
“In one sense, the company gets destroyed and rebuilt every year with the changing media,” he says. “We’re presently installing a new CMS [content management system]; rebuilding our magazine issues as mobile apps; reorganizing staff to focus on new sources of traffic; and shifting advertising-sales efforts toward digital. At the same time, all these activities fit snugly within our traditional self-definition as a company that aggregates content to build audiences, then monetizes the high-quality relationship we have with the audience.
“We are—as all successful traditional publishers are—experts on the passions of select audiences,” he says. “We are leveraging those passions for profit, and as long as we focus on the importance of our relationship with the audience, it seems we will find valuable opportunities for monetization.”
Zimbio & StyleBistro
A company born in the digital age, Zimbio’s approach to making money is influenced by the background of founders Tony Mamone and Danny Khatib. Mamone cut his teeth at Looksmart; Khatib at AOL Time Warner.
“We were both drawn to scale,” Mamone says. “We wanted to build a mass-market media company. We didn’t want to build a niche media company. We like the idea of reaching a very wide audience with a cool product and great content, and we love the idea that that large audience would provide us with data that we could use to optimize the experience.”
Zimbio, an entertainment and pop culture website, was launched in May 2006 as a free product. Meeting the “scale challenge,” the company began to develop a sophisticated advertising-based business model that did not rely on conventional wisdom about how to sell ads online.
The first piece, Mamone says, was audience segmentation. “Our model is to attract an audience, aggregate that audience into segments, and then move advertising messages through to that audience,” he says.
Covering entertainment news, Zimbio appends metadata to various topics and news categories. Audiences who follow certain stars or TV shows can be marketed to in specific ways.
“We do a lot to append structured data to the persons, TV shows, bands, etc., we cover,” Mamone says. “We then bring that to an advertiser and say, ‘Look, if you want to target folks by presenting something about street fashion, you don’t want to be running that against red carpet coverage. You want to be running that against back stage at fashion week maybe.’ … We do a lot to slice and dice the inventory in a way that lets brand advertisers get their message across in a really targeted way.”
The second piece weds sophisticated targeting to an old-school magazine sales concept: brand-response advertising. While many websites today rely on direct response and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) ad units, Zimbio focuses on building elaborate brand campaigns.
“As we started to monetize the site, we realized we can learn a lot from traditional magazine publishers,” he says. “If you open up People magazine you will see a lot of consumer package goods, a lot of retail ads. They are brand advertisements meant to get that message out, so the key focus for us became, ‘How do we deliver a compelling brand message for advertisers through digital experience?’”
Mamone cites a recent project for Cheer laundry detergent that dovetailed with a Cheer campaign involving the Australian rock band Strange Talk. “We hooked on that because we also cover music,” he says. “So … we thought why don’t we do an editorial integration here?”
Zimbio shifted its editorial calendar around to run an exclusive interview with Strange Talk, and researched the top 25 up-and-coming Australian bands for a related feature. The Australian-focused content was promoted across the website (where Cheer was the sole sponsor), mobile and social networking sites. The website was even skinned to match the bright color scheme of the Cheer campaign. “[The advertiser got] a 100-percent share of the voice,” Mamone says.
“They’re measuring us on social engagement, the visual display of what we built, on how innovative it was, the exclusivity of content, and that they got to own certain parts of our experience for a period of weeks,” he says. “All those things make brands smile. You are trying to make the job easier for the media buyer. They get to feel good because they are bringing something unique to their clients.”
Zimbio now reaches more than 25 million viewers and is comScore’s No. 5- ranked entertainment news site. Sister site StyleBistro, launched in July 2010, is one of the fastest-growing publications on the Web, having recently reached 20 million viewers (and cracking the top 10 for fashion and beauty publications, with a larger digital audience than InStyle, Glamour or Vogue, Mamone says). “The plan is to roll out a third, fourth, fifth vertical as we move forward—the third coming later this year—but not 50 [verticals],” Mamone says. “We think the sweet spot is in the seven to 10 vertical range, each top 10 in their category.”
“… In digital, you get to focus on trying to find ways to attract new dollars, trying to find ways to attract new buyers, new ad campaigns and new audiences, and hook audiences into being loyalists … but we don’t have it nailed. Nobody does. Everyone is learning and innovating and trying, and that’s what’s fun.”
For business-to-business publisher ALM, the name of the game has been diversification. The expansion of rich media has created new options for advertisers and generated more revenue from websites. Content that was previously reserved for select audiences has been repurposed in new electronic products. Investment in technology has created new capabilities in data collection and use.
“We are constantly researching ways to make [products] better and keep up with the new technology being introduced,” says ALM Senior Vice President Kevin Vermeulen. “We track how our content is being accessed on a regular basis, which enables us to move faster to keep up with the changing times. We know our readers value our content, so we need to be sure we can get them access to it in the way they want it.”
The same goes for advertisers. “We rolled out rich media, which enabled us to offer different ad units to clients, enabling us to generate more revenue from the websites while allowing advertisers to get more creative,” he says.
While ALM has long sold print and online subscriptions, the company has lately put more emphasis on selling site licenses to law firms. “By enabling them to do this digitally with a firm-wide site license, we are able to provide them access to the content on a timely basis, while allowing us to increase our readership and subscription revenues.”
The company has created new, paid subscription newsletters and databases utilizing pre-existing content creation channels, such as articles for litigators. An iPad newsletter, The Litigation Daily, is one result of these efforts, generating new subscription and ad revenue. These new products also allow ALM to reach an international audience, Vermeulen says.
New data-collection tools, which allow for sophisticated tracking of audience usage on various digital sites, have been matched by extensive training of new and existing staff. Such efforts were spearheaded in recent years by the hiring of executives with digital experience. “We had many of the right assets,” Vermeulen says. “We needed to do a better job of bringing them together”—a goal that required the right management.
Moving forward, “We want to sell more content to more people in the legal profession, whether it’s data or news and information on a computer, tablet or smartphone doesn’t matter, as long as it’s ALM content they want and are willing to pay for. It’s our job to generate the right content and enable the market to access it.” PE