Powerhouse Publisher Perfects the High-Wire Act
Access Intelligence, a business-to-business information and marketing solutions provider, is wrestling with issues familiar to most b-to-b publishers. The Rockville, Md.-based company, home to 16 magazines, nearly three dozen newsletters, 10 events and 27 Web sites, got its start as a division of Phillips Publishing International in 1977 and has slowly evolved into the information powerhouse it is today. Don Pazour, the company’s president and CEO, talked with Publishing Executive about his focus on generating revenue from paid products and devising a savvy e-media strategy.
What areas of your business are growing at the most rapid rate these days?
Don Pazour: Our most rapid growth in percentage is in e-media revenue. Within that broad definition, I think webinars and [e-newsletters] are big builders of our business. But as a company, we have been much more focused on selling content, and over 50 percent of our revenue now derives from some sort of subscription payment. Our primary focus is on increasing the sales of information and content whether it be paid webinars, conferences, subscriptions, etc.
How has Access Intelligence responded to an advertising economy that for many publishers has been somewhat stagnant in recent years?
Pazour: It’s been kind of spotty. The aviation market, particularly, has held up pretty well. I’d say the last couple of years we’ve been at least flat, and last year we actually had some growth in the aviation market. The chemical industry has come back with a bang this year—double-digit growth. … So we’re seeing some areas of growth, but I think that with the amount of advertising revenue and print advertising space that was lost in the 2001–2003 period, we are a long way from recovering much of that.
What strategies are you using to drive traffic to your Web sites?
Pazour: Our big focus right now is really working across all the sites to make sure we have excellent links in and out. [We look for] cooperative linkages among similar-type products, because that tends to drive you up the [rankings] in the algorithms that the search engines use. Links in and out are more important than keyword-buying. [But] we are experimenting now with keyword purchasing. … 80 percent of our traffic comes from Google or Yahoo. So we’re focusing on that.
I think the other thing that, in my mind, we in the business-to-business area have to do is concentrate more on repeat visits by the target audience and increase time spent at our Web sites.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in creating a successful online presence for your magazines?
Pazour: Actually, I’ll tell you that by far the biggest challenge we have is in really creating community and getting interactive stuff going on our site. In other words, the forums and the involvement mechanics, which really differentiate the value of a Web experience [from] just reading a magazine or a newsletter. So I think building community is the biggest challenge.
Is there a significant difference in your audience demographics between your print and online readership and, if so, how do you address any differences?
Pazour: I think we have higher numbers of less-targeted visitors to the Web site at this point. But I think it’s more experiential than demographic who the audience is. We continue to want to attract buyers within whatever market we’re in. But I think the challenge is to really [create] exciting and interactive experiences for the user who expects something different from the Internet.
Has access Intelligence had to adapt its conference strategy in a time when people are increasingly turning to the Web to track trends and see products?
Pazour: No. My experience has been that the trade show and face-to-face business had far less of a dip during the recession, and remains very strong and very robust. Our satellite show is in a very mature industry, and this past year we saw 20-percent growth in attendance, 20-percent growth in square feet and 20-percent revenue growth. I think the other type of business we do for the chemical industry is very high-end, CEO-based roundtables, and in the cable industry we do these leader retreats, which are heavily sponsored events. But I think the need for face-to-face has not been reduced by the presence of the Internet. I just haven’t seen it
From where you sit, what would you point to as the main challenges you see facing the industry?
Pazour: I think the big, unanswered
question at this point is: How do our advertisers and our customers in business-to-business cost-effectively market in this new environment? Because I think a lot of money is being spent on buying search words from Google and various other things, and they’re trying less nontraditional approaches to marketing. My question is: Are those mass approaches really going to work in a more vertical world where there’s better targeting? So I think our challenge is to provide advertisers value based on our intellectual and relationship capital within those markets that give them a greater return on their investment as a result of the new capabilities of the Internet.
What’s next for the future of Access Intelligence?
Pazour: The past year we’ve done two acquisitions. We bought the Energy Daily from King Publishing in Washington [D.C.], because we’re finding that daily-insight newsletters renew at about 90 percent and are not affected by all the free information on the Web.
We also bought another information business in the U.K., on pricing in the chemical industry. And again, 90-
percent renewal rates.
Strategically, what we are seeing is that if you can provide high-value information [despite] the glut of free information on the Web, people are willing to pay for it. Premium content can [still] be sold in an environment with massive search capabilities and massive amounts of free information out there. People are still willing to pay for the right stuff.
One of the problems with premium and high-priced information—and also information for a lot of controlled publications where you need to register to get it—is that there is a firewall, so the search engines don’t go in there. They don’t index it. … People use the Internet primarily for research, and if I’m researching something—all of that premium information that’s available out there—I don’t know that it exists. I’d be willing to pay for it. So there are now a couple of companies—we’re working with one called First Rate—that will come in and search an index of premium content and then provide a search for very serious researchers that want to find the right information and don’t mind paying for it. I think that’s a very interesting thing going on, and I think it could be a boom for people like us who sell premium information.
Related story: Don Pazour on Search Engine Optimization and Marketing