Guest Column: A Fierce Look at Publishing's New Reality
Many in the industry are hoping that 2010 will be the year of the comeback—or perhaps more conservatively, the bounceback—for advertising-supported online media. While we are seeing advertising clients who went dark in 2009 return to the market, it is important to look at the current reality with sober eyes. Every recession has eventually led to recovery and growth, but each also has left behind its indelible mark in those things that have changed.
The New Reality
For publishers, this recession's lasting change will be the permanent shift of budget dollars away from fixed-placement media—the kind on which we built our businesses, both in print and online—into performance-based marketing. To be sure, publishers have always been judged on performance over the long term, and they witnessed how Google built its now $20-billion business and took significant share of wallet away from traditional media by focusing on performance in the form of the click.
The current shift, however, is different. Despite significant data and experience showing business purchases are made over long time horizons by committees of stakeholders, many b-to-b marketers now believe campaigns should only reach the "perfect prospect," often a VP- or C-level executive. With smaller budgets, marketers are looking to shift risk—in this case, for delivering leads into the sales funnel—onto publishers. In addition, short-staffed marketing departments are looking externally for the creative and collateral to accomplish their goals. All of these factors have assured that lead-generation as a service, rather than media placement as a product, will be the new reality.
The Publisher Response
At FierceMarkets, we are approaching the new reality in 2010 with a few key directives:
1. Focus on building a unique audience. In this new market, where the media company is only paid for the number of qualified responses generated for advertisers, growing the unique audience for your media property is the only thing that matters. Page views were a necessity when Web advertising was in high demand, and time on site and other engagement metrics are great to monitor over time. But neither of these do much to ensure that 250 qualified users will download your client's white paper. Even worse, these engagement metrics can lead to distorted behavior that loses audience, such as forcing the user to click through 10 pages to get information that could have been conveyed in two, or making the user watch a three-minute video for information that could have been scanned in 10 seconds in article form. For this reason, we have shifted our editorial and audience development team goals to acquiring unique monthly visitors (UMVs) and converting those UMVs into e-mail subscribers.