The Corner Office: Balancing Mediums to Serve the Audience
As publishers continue to try and keep pace with readers, one thing is clear: Digital publishing will not stop growing. But that doesn't mean you should abandon the print foundation on which this industry was built. "Digital transformation is a must, and it's not leaving one medium to go to another," insists Tom Cintorino, executive vice president of digital media for Northstar Travel Media. "It's really finding a balance of all mediums that meet the audience needs … and then generating revenues and profits. That's what being in business is about."
That's exactly what the Secaucus, N.J.-based travel and hospitality b-to-b publisher is working on. Since his hiring last November, Cintorino has been emphasizing the integration of all Northstar Travel Media's digital efforts, relating its online products to its print magazines.
"One of the opportunities … that we're pressing on is to better leverage each of the products with the others," says Cintorino. "In other words, we've been able to generate revenues off of our paid content, but I don't believe we've … made it work together in multiple offers and leveraging the other brands as marketing channels. … A lot of our audience might be interested in [our other digital products], but they may not have known enough about those products with the way we go to market today."
Cintorino says Northstar Travel Media has many digital publishing projects underway, including STAR Service Online, which provides expert hotel information and editorial commentary on some 9,000 hotels; Weissmann Reports; Business Travel Planner 24; and Intelliguide Corporate, which reports up-to-the-minute events affecting travel. And the company is on its way to integrating these products to better benefit its readers, and its bottom line.
Here, Cintorino talks with Publishing Executive about his plans to grow Northstar's digital properties and integrate them to best serve the audience.
How are you growing your digital business?
Tom Cintorino: … We are certainly continuing on building the brand Web sites, which in many cases are the magazine companion sites. We are actively building out our online events—both online brands and counterparts to physical shows. And we're actively building out our paid content and free databases, which include a hotel index (HotelTravelIndex.com) and a cruise directory (OfficialCruiseGuide.com) to be launched on April 14 in conjunction with our co-located events—CruiseWorld 2010 and Home Based [Travel] Agent [Show and Conference}.
What is your plan to integrate those efforts?
Cintorino: Basically, it's looking for symbiotic relationships between the content. We are working on moving toward building a global [audience] database. We are tremendously focused on the audience. And we're going to look to expose the content [that is] contextually relevant to … other [content].
In other words … you should be able to see that there's articles about a geographic area—let's say the Caribbean—[and] you should be able to see hotels that are related to the Caribbean. You should be able to, if you want to take a deep dive for [information on] that hotel, look for paid content, or maybe it's destination information about Mexico or Hawaii that you want to take a deeper dive into and go into the paid content. So essentially, we want to relate it so that you keep peeling back and going deeper and deeper to get more answers to your questions.
For our travel agents and meeting planners, … [we want] to help them have more of a one-stop shop for all of their needs, and … know that they can get answers to their questions, so they keep coming back. That's going to be a mixture of news, how-to content, databases, free databases and paid content.
How are you investing in your digital products?
Cintorino: We're definitely an aggressive company that's on the offensive. We're doing more projects in parallel than I've experienced in my past in publishing. We, within the last year or so, implemented a new content management system. We're just going live with a new e-mail system. We're looking at our list brokerage business and consolidating that. We just changed magazine fulfillment vendors, and we're going to consolidate our paid content audiences with that and also move toward a global audience database. After the Nielsen Travel Group acquisition [Northstar bought Nielsen's Travel Group brands in March], we're relaunching all of those sites; not just moving them on to a common platform, but we're actually relaunching those brands.
How are you staffing for this?
Cintorino: I'm emphasizing front-end development and product management. In combination, I would call that product development; it's really tech management and Web development. And we're leveraging outsourced partners for that stuff that makes sense to outsource … whether it be a Flash development team or database hosting partners or other technology that could drive audience or our revenue.
The editorial function includes content strategy and content generation for all media formats. We don't have a specific hiring initiative for [editorial], but we ensure we maintain expertise on all media. Editors are learning digital means with which to create, acquire and publish content. We are, how- ever, investing in digital marketing, technology staff and Internet technologies, to support editorial and [product quality].
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth?
Cintorino: To me, it's in the combination of everything. We're certainly emphasizing events and paid content. But I don't want to say that's at the expense of our brand sites either, because I think they all serve a purpose in the greater picture. Some of our news sites are going to generate the audience on a very frequent basis. That gives better exposure to our paid content. We are building travel agent communities. … With that, as you gain audience, you're going to be able to engage them more in a community, and we're building the tools to make the community valuable, not just hang a shingle out there that says, "Hey, we have a community."
What challenges do you face in the digital landscape?
Cintorino: We still have tremendous print products, and I would say that, along with our current brands, the type of industry we're in lends itself to staying power with those print brands. The travel industry [has] a very engaging, visual, emotional connection to travel. Therefore, page, branding ads, visual ads are still very important. That also means that you have a lot of resources that are putting out frequency. That comes at a [point where you have to make a] choice of when you're focusing resources on digital products versus print products. So the transformation of staff certainly is an ongoing process, but it's not one that you want to flip the switch on [too quickly to digital]. It would not make business sense to do that.
What are some best practices for fostering digital initiatives?
Cintorino: Product management to me is huge, because [it] … exists in all product companies. … But it did not exist within traditional b-to-b magazine companies. … It is market sensing, building requirements and project managing. … With that being [critical], to me the rest behaves like an assembly line since we need content to feed the market. To increase speed to market, you have to treat all your processes like an assembly line, which means identifying and removing bottlenecks. PE