Guest Columnist: 6 Survival Tactics for Today's Economy
The typical response to grim economic news is to slash expenses, cut staff, delay enhancements, trim marketing efforts and even, in the worst cases, cease publishing altogether. But why be typical?
If you’re like me, you’ve grown weary of news stories about publishers’ woes. While ensuring that operations function efficiently is essential, now is not the time to stop investing in the future of your publications. In particular, publishers of association magazines, which deliver significant member value, must continue to meet demanding readers’ needs with quality products.
Certainly, doing business during a recession requires you to more carefully measure the cost versus benefit of any changes or improvements. However, that doesn’t mean eschewing opportunities that may pay off in better days ahead. To be a survivor in this economic environment, publishers should take time for some introspection and conduct self-audits of current operations, then consider and explore new approaches for the coming year.
Self-assessment Helps Identify Potential
Survival depends on your ability to adapt and improve, especially in tough times. While success is measured by a number of factors, consider these six as you take a closer look at your magazines and online media in 2009.
1. Look beyond the obvious when studying financial performance. Bottom-line financial figures tell much of the story regarding performance—and they can point to new opportunities for controlling expenses and tapping revenues. This is the time to pay attention to key production factors and ways to trim expenses, tighten ad/edit ratios, as well as expand revenues—tapping into online opportunities.
To really understand how your magazine’s performance compares with others’, use industry studies and reports to better understand financial operations and identify survival tactics. What are the secrets of the magazines that operate at net profits, and what can you learn from them? Look for production efficiencies, streamlined operations, integrated approaches to sales and management operations, and ways to tap new revenue streams, from social media sites to sponsorships and more.
2. Study staffing and structure. No one wants to cut staff, so look for bottlenecks in the process and unnecessary reporting layers that can be remedied to improve overall efficiency and enable staff to tackle new opportunities that may arise. Do silos and territorial attitudes prevent staff from working effectively? Are electronic and print messages consistent and well-timed? Take an integrated approach by leveraging your magazine’s “content specialists” to deliver information in multiple platforms, from e-newsletters and digital issues, to blogs and wikis.
3. Talk—and listen—to your readers. Use focus groups, discussions at annual meetings and conferences, and other venues to engage readers and find out what’s on their minds. Tap into online resources, such as blogs and other social networks, to track new concerns and issues. And don’t be afraid to ask readers for their feedback on articles or their insights in creating editorial. Readers provide an excellent sounding board for vetting topical ideas and providing regular feedback.
Consistently measuring member/reader feedback is an essential component to continued success. Readers are discerning and demanding. The more you can hone in on their needs, the stronger your reader engagement and success.
Take time this year to evaluate readership feedback to see how you can strengthen your content, refine your articles for quick read, and deliver more “must-read” content in 2009.
4. Tap into social media—it’s not just for millennials. Magazines have been among the trailblazers in creating online social communities. If you are not already testing social media options, take the plunge in 2009.
Tapping social media opportunities is a great way to further engage readers online. Many publications have established blogs and are forming groups on Facebook, Second Life or other social-networking sites; “Twittering” at conferences and other events; and using multiple social media to generate conversation and discussions, and even build revenues.
5. Don’t be paranoid, but know your competition. While your organization may be the only one devoted to your profession or trade, other competitors are, no doubt, developing publications, courses and programs targeted to your audience. Sharpen your competitive marketing IQ by conducting a competitive scan or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, and then create a business plan to maximize your core strengths and minimize weaknesses. What’s your publication’s niche in the market? Is it clearly defined? In tough economic times, the most innovative and resourceful publishers track the market and plan for growth.
6. Get creative in your ad sales efforts. Yesterday’s approach won’t work. The lines between print and online publishing are blending now more than ever. So get creative in developing new opportunities for advertisers to target your audience through ads on your blog, sponsorships of webinars, digital editions and electronic updates, and other online offerings.
Electronic ad opportunities are no longer a free value-add to close the deal; they’re the meat for many advertisers seeking trackable leads and multimedia marketing. Consider whether you’re fully tapping your market with an integrated approach that sells the breadth and depth of your organization’s offerings to advertisers, and look at what competitors are doing.
An integrated approach ensures customers aren’t bombarded by too many efforts with diminishing returns. Tap into opportunities to build on your magazine’s success by expanding the brand in related publications and online e-news publications, Web sites or blogs to benefit from a fully integrated market.
Survival of the Fittest
Tight times can help you focus on the most critical factors that you may have overlooked before. Use this time to assess your own performance to jump-start publishing efforts in 2009. A little introspection and operations review can help you identify new opportunities for growth in the new year to ensure your survival—and success.
Debra J. Stratton is president of Stratton Publishing & Marketing Inc. (StrattonPublishing.com), Alexandria, Va., a leading custom publisher, and research and consulting firm that specializes in association publishing and communication strategic reviews. She also directs Stratton’s nonprofit, Angerosa Research Foundation, which conducts benchmarking research studies to develop financial data and trends information to assist association publishers and marketers. She can be reached at DStratton@StrattonPublishing.com.