How Publishers are Capitalizing on Their Communities
Building a core audience and packaging that audience for advertisers to target has always been core to the success of the magazine industry. However, publishers are discovering new ways to segment and repackage their audiences in order to take this approach to a whole new level.
Publishers are working hard to build not just audiences, but engaged communities around their brands and content—then launching new revenue streams in the form of video products and events that meet the needs of those communities.
At the Publishing Executive Live: Summit on Redefining the New Media Company held in New York City in September, leaders from the consumer and B2B sides of the industry gathered to share how they've homed in on their core audiences for a panel titled, "Capitalizing on Your Community." The featured publishers have launched new products that add user value and bring the level of engagement that is highly valued by marketers.
For Your Benefit
Each publisher on the "Capitalizing on Your Community" panel found different meaning in the title of the panel. For Ryan Begelman, CEO of the real-estate focused B2B media company BisNow, capitalizing on community is the process of accessing key players in the real estate industry in order to reach the community at large. The power of community comes from the power of word-of-mouth and social reach, says Begelman. "We start by celebritizing individuals of a community," says Begelman. "We write about these big, powerful real estate figures in each market. They end up forwarding it to their mom and to their board of directors, and those people forward it, and it grows socially and organically from there."
But using larger-than-life figures in order to draw readers in doesn't work for all audiences. Foreign Affairs publisher Lynda Hammes describes her brand as one that is "about ideas"—creating value out of those ideas, and making a business out of those ideas—rather than about specific people at the forefront of a community.
And so Hammes has tried to separate the casual readers of Foreign Affairs—those who simply want to stay on top of world events—from the truly dedicated readers, which for example, might rely on the magazine to do their jobs. "We're looking for ways to give more value to the people that are really the power users and really passionate about these issues," says Hammes.
The phrase "capitalizing on your community" may not fully capture the spirit of what publishers are trying to achieve. "In my mind, I don't think 'capitalization' is really the right term," says Mark Subers, group president and media director for North American Publishing Company [owner of Publishing Executive].
Subers approaches content produced by NAPCO—whether in traditional print form, online, or in the form of events or video—as a tool that should help the audience in some way. He seeks not necessarily to capitalize on the community, as much as build a relationship with community members so that readers know that the publication is working for their best interest. "There's a term called prosit that kind of sticks in my head. In Latin, the term means "for your benefit." And I keep circling back to the idea of that."
Breaking Out With Events
More and more publishers are expanding into the events business. (See the feature "Events Are Happening for Magazines" on page 28 for more on that). Despite the wide variation in purpose, type, and scale, publishers hosting events share common goals: to engage with audience members in a more personal fashion and to open new sources of revenue, whether through attendee fees, sponsorships, or a combination of both.
Subers sees events primarily as an opportunity to advance the knowledge of the attendees and attract a target audience coveted by marketers. By hosting events that bring together industry leaders, experts, and vendors, NAPCO can also elevate its brand, as well as drive audiences to its print and online platforms. In this way, successful events can actually make traditional channels more successful as the community begins to see a publisher as an organization that brings them all together.
But publishers can use events to do more than improve their reputations and gain traction in existing markets. Events can also help publishers break into entirely new markets. BisNow's model for entering new markets—which Begelman says the company has "down to clockwork"—utilizes events to support outward expansion. "Say we entered Chicago tomorrow," says Begelman. "By day 120 or so, we can launch our first event, and have 200-plus ticket buyers, and it'll grow from there." As these events catalyze community growth and interest, BisNow works up to holding events every three or four weeks in each of its markets.
New markets don't have to be defined by geographical location, though. Hammes identifies college-aged students as an important demographic for Foreign Affairs, despite their general unwillingness to pay for subscription services. "Students are very important to us because so many of our lifelong readers first learned about [our product] when they were in college. And students aren't going to pay for anything, but they are critical to our future readership," says Hammes.
Foreign Affairs' solution was to invite students to a panel discussion about the Middle East, and then have a grad school fair attached to the event. In addition to nurturing future audience members, Foreign Affairs' event strategy also generated revenue. "While we could not monetize it through content or subscriptions, we were able to monetize it through this grad school fair where our advertisers were featured," says Hammes.
Making Video Viable
There are plenty of reasons for expanding into video. One is demand. Audiences expect video to be part of a media brand's repertoire and are thirsty for it as mobile devices and widespread wireless access has put it at their fingertips. And publishers at the forefront of the industry are finding ways to monetize video in different ways. Yet getting video off the ground has its challenges.
For Subers, making video work for NAPCO required structuring the video department in a very specific way. Unlike departments like accounting, which aren't expected to generate revenue, NAPCO's video department is held accountable for balancing it's own P&L. "We wanted it to be a standalone business unit," says Subers. . "We started very modestly, year one, with our revenue goals," Subers says. "And now in the second year, we have 2 X'd our revenue and 2 X'd our profit."
Another key to NAPCO's video business is that the company is not just selling advertisers access to its communities on a video platform, but also selling its video services to clients, producing videos for clients that may not have the technical skills or storytelling know-how to create meaningful video.
Foreign Affairs' videos specifically target the more dedicated segment of its audience. According to Hammes, most of the publication's videos are either of events or short interviews of world experts conducted by the magazine's editor.
Part of the concern with video is that it has the capability to become very expensive. Between building a studio, buying camera equipment, and hiring people who know how to use that camera equipment, the costs can quickly add up. Subers, who hired an Emmy award-winning director to helm the department and championed the creation of a new studio—knows this well. But the costs are worth it when offset by revenue. "It's been wonderful, and it's a really exciting growth area."
Related story: Forecasting the Future of Print