Customized Solutions: The Custom Content Council's Lori Rosen on Publishing's Next Revenue Frontier
Custom media is on the rise, and an increasingly important part of the revenue pie for publishers looking to leverage editorial, marketing and creative skills to bring a new suite of services to advertisers. Custom publishing is not just conventional marketing on steroids, however—creating effective products from scratch requires a nuanced understanding of a marketer's brand, customer relationships and long-term goals.
Inbox talked with Lori Rosen, executive director of the Custom Content Council, about new directions in custom publishing and what content providers need to consider when looking to successfully compete for this business.
INBOX: What does the Custom Content Council do for publishers?
LORI ROSEN: The Custom Content Council was founded in 1998 to provide a voice and presence for the industry, which then resided in the shadows of the behemoth traditional media industry. We conducted research to measure size and industry growth; we held industry meetings to establish best practices, and we became the clearinghouse and source for marketers and media companies who wanted to learn about custom publishing and grow their own custom media practices.
Soon it became clear that this industry was also large and in some ways even larger than traditional publishing. With the advent of the Web, digital and mobile platforms, custom media grew even more. Today we host an off-site conference, Custom Content Conference, the Pearl Awards, which have become the gold industry standard for custom media, a robust website, and we publish our own magazine called Content, which is sent to 32,000 marketers, three times a year.
INBOX: How can publishers think more like marketers when offering custom publishing services? Why would this approach be beneficial to them?
ROSEN: Custom publishers need to put on their agency hats when selling custom media. They need to assess the challenges: What is the marketer looking for? What are the end goals? Then they need to develop a custom solution in order to satisfy the goals. This is more of an agency mindset rather than a publishing company approach.
INBOX: Are the skill sets different for salespeople pitching custom campaigns? What's important for publishers to understand when moving into this new realm of product sales?
ROSEN: If you are an effective salesperson your skill sets will be effective in a custom media offering. The big difference is that the sale is more long term, with different contract parameters, and more of a full-service solution. There are also less of them, though each contract is much more significant than selling advertising campaigns in a magazine. The rewards are fewer and far between, but potentially lucrative. So you need to fasten your seat belt and get ready for the longer ride.
INBOX: You've said that selling ad space inside custom projects is not a good idea. Why is that?
ROSEN: The message I was trying to convey is: Don't base your custom media program on revenue generated from third-party advertising. If you can sell advertising into your custom media program, that's great. However don't count on that ad revenue to fund the program.
INBOX: How does the custom publishing market currently shake out when comparing business-to-business and consumer publications? Which segment is growing faster?
ROSEN: They look to be running parallel. I see business-to-business companies starting custom media divisions even today. The consumer offerings tend to be more high profile, so there is a perception that that segment is stronger, but I would venture to say that they are both doing well, even in this challenged economy.
INBOX: Is digital becoming a more important side of the custom market? What criteria should a publisher use to help a client decide if they should pursue a digital campaign, print-only campaign, or a multiplatform campaign?
ROSEN: Yes, yes and yes! All campaigns today are multiplatform, and it goes back to what I said earlier: Figure out what the marketer needs and offer them the best solution. We are platform-agnostic. If your audience is more receptive to digital offerings, then that's what they'll get. However, my top line assessment is that print is still a dominant force in custom publishing.
INBOX: Speaking of multiplatform campaigns, are social media services increasingly becoming something publishers offer, either as part of a custom project package or as a separate service?
ROSEN: Social media continues to be in the conversation, but no one has figured out how to monetize it yet. Right now it supports other custom media programs, and is used as an adjunct communications tool for the main custom media programs.
Editor's Note: For more information about custom publishing, including additional insights from Lori Rosen, as well as from Bruce Brandfon, vice president and publisher of Scientific American, and Eric Schwartz of NAPCO's Consumer Technology Publishing Group, check out Publishing Executive's recent free webinar, "Custom Publishing: an Untapped Opportunity for Your Business," held July 15 and archived online for 90 days.