How Hanley Wood Is Building on Data
For many years B2B media companies had the luxury of a business model that changed very little, says Hanley Wood CEO Peter Goldstone. "You sold a widget, the widget was a four-color ad page, and you sold it a million times. Or an event booth -- you sold that a million times."
But "the world has changed," says Goldstone. And along with it, so has his company. While Hanley Wood remains dedicated to serving the residential and commercial design and construction industries, how it goes about that task has evolved.
This is actually Goldstone's second stint at Hanley Wood. He spent 11 years with the company before moving on to serve as president of Government Executive Media Group, the B2B division of Atlantic Media. Goldstone returned to Hanley Wood in 2012.
In the handful of years that Goldstone has been back, he's led a quick-paced transformation that put data insights and marketing services at the center of the company's business strategy and brought in new talent to support this shift in focus. With the old B2B model turned upside down, print media and trade shows remain, but as components of a much more complex media marketing landscape, says Goldstone.
Hanley Wood's data resources enable it to see future market trends and make more informed marketing strategy recommendations for clients. In particular, Goldstone says the company's acquisition of Metrostudy, a proprietary data platform for the residential construction space, was a "game changer" for the company. Where a lot of publishers traffic in behavioral and demographic data about readers, Metrostudy gathers primary market data. "We have hundreds of researchers that drive up to 200,000 miles every quarter to look at over 36,000 building and housing developments across the country. From that activity we collect a lot of proprietary data in in the building environment."
Data acts as the guiding light for setting media and marketing services solutions, says Goldstone. "That has transformed the company dramatically. Where we used to lead with media or trade show sponsorship, now we lead with data." What sets Hanley Wood above a strict data company, says Goldstone, is its connection to the marketplace through its dominant media brands. The cherry on top, says Goldstone, is the marketing services competency the company has built into a $20 million-plus business. Those services include everything from long-term consultative marketing engagements and website development to lead generation and content marketing. Hanley Wood is even getting into data-as-a-service, providing database management services and helping clients align customer acquisition, media, marketing, and events strategies.
As Goldstone reveals here, a big part of Hanley Wood's evolution required the infusion of the right talent to compete in a digital- and data-oriented marketplace.
What has been most rewarding and what has been most challenging about change for Hanley Wood?
It's been 100% rewarding because Hanley Wood has always had a valued leadership position in the category and what's really rewarding now is the new products, services, technology, and talent that we've invested in are starting to attract new customers. They're relying on us not just for media buys, but for agency work, for content marketing, for data and analytics. It's powerful and you can feel the customer relationship getting stronger. That's really rewarding.
What's been tough is coming to understand that we have to change, that the next chapter of the company shouldn't look anything like the last. And that means you got to make really tough decisions. We went from 35 print magazines down to 15. We're still generating 3X the amount of content because we are leveraging digital platforms now. But it forced us to rethink the talent equation and technology investments.
Where did Hanley Wood's transformation begin?
When I came back as CEO in May of 2012, we agreed to completely transform the company into a digital first company. It's nice to say that, but I had developed tremendous networks in the tech media space at companies like IDG, Geeknet, and Ziff Davis. I started hiring a lot of executives from the tech media space. The reason we were able to get them was that in tech media the lead generation proposition had been in place for 15 years and the value of a lead was getting marginalized and commoditized. [Meanwhile] with the construction space coming out of the recession, I knew our customers would have to rebuild their businesses, and they weren't going to do it in the old ways. I knew a digital platform solution based on lead generation and digital engagement with the audience was going to be the way.
We hired over 20 people from the tech media space to help build up all our digital platforms and strategic marketing services. From that we were able to build a lot of database solutions that we can then white label to our customers. And our customers are starting to implement CRM systems and clean up their databases coming out of the construction market recession. They're enlisting our talent, our expertise, our specialization, our data services, and our data to help build more robust databases that they can leverage for marketing purposes.
Have you had to educate clients on the value of data?
With this weird, crazed moment in time everybody wants data driving digital solutions but they don't necessarily have the talent embedded within the organizations to understand it completely. But they know they have to do it and that's our value proposition. That's why they rely on Metrostudy data and Hanley Wood talent to help navigate this new world -- because it's very complex and the one thing that it really does is help them mitigate risk. You think about all these companies that were detonated during the construction recession -- they don't want to make the same mistakes twice. So all their decisions are data driven, and they're relying on us to help.
How have you changed your sales approach?
We completely changed the sales organization. In the past we had 35 magazines and we probably had 15 different sales groups, and in many cases those 15 sales groups would call the same customers. A customer might want commercial construction, might want single family, might want multi-family. So it was a very inefficient go-to-market strategy.
Two years ago we completely changed the sales structure. We identified our top 50 to 75 accounts and created a corporate accounts sales group that can represent the entire company. They can sell all the assets of company and represent the customer in a coordinated way. We still have some brand-selling going, but that's with the next tier of customers. And we've expanded inside sales too. But the most important thing is we brought in all these specialists to support the media sales folks. We brought in data specialists, we brought in digital lead gen specialists, we brought in digital marketing services specialists.
So we've got generalists that serve the customer holistically, and they have the opportunity to bring in all these specialists to sell different aspects of the portfolio. It's a very coordinated effort and it clearly means that we believe that not one person can be an expert in everything.
Would you say that's a dramatic departure from how B2B media companies have traditionally sold?
First of all I don't think there are too many B2B media companies that have as built-out a portfolio of products and services as we do, so they don't need the specialists that we have. But I think everyone's struggling with that print to digital transformation and a lot of what's holding everyone back is talent. You have to know what pulls the fish in when it comes to talent.
My media sales folks really rely on the data folks to talk about the granular data that we have and how they can unleash that for the customer. And it makes the sales person look smarter. They're not trying to be all things to all people. They're bringing in experts that can help round out the conversation, because all these things are linked. You used to sell a Chinese menu of things. We don't do that anymore.
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Denis Wilson is editor-in-chief of Book Business and Publishing Executive. In this role, he analyzes and reports on the fundamental changes affecting the publishing industry and aims to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.