Are Your Priorities Straight?
Are your priorities straight? There may be no more important question in publishing today as audiences demand ever-more sophisticated modes of content delivery and need-fulfillment. Faced with complex problems and decisions, readers and advertisers seek simple, yet elegant solutions, which can be difficult for publishers faced with a dizzying array of new content delivery options, often-limited staff resources and unproven return on investment (ROI). Making decisions about where to focus company money and time is never an easy call.
“It is intimidating for [employees] if all they hear from us is ‘do more, more, more’—the ‘run ’til you fall’ approach,” says Larry Lannon, director of e-media content at Overland Park, Kan.-based Ascend Media. “That’s not good for anybody. We have to approach this revolution from an intelligent perspective, and make sure [that] in doing more things, we don’t sacrifice quality.”
Publishing Executive contacted the decision-makers within industry market segments who are enjoying strong growth in revenue and ad pages over the last year, according to IMS’ Magazine Health Watch, a database of advertising activity in consumer and business-to-business magazines. Each of them stressed the importance of maintaining a focus on quality content, while at the same time being willing to take calculated risks and, above all, paying attention to the needs of readers and advertisers.
Integrating Across Departments
“In integrated media you … have to do more servicing and work internally within your organization to make sure the implementation is successful for your clients,” says Helen Berman, principal of the advertising sales consultancy Helen Berman Corp. “Maintain editorial integrity, but open lines of communication [between editorial and sales], because it takes a team,” she says, to develop a successful integrated media strategy.
John Cappelletti—CEO of Itasca, Ill.-based Putman Media—says his company underwent a two-year transition from being a print-focused company to a fully integrated, multimedia destination site. “We changed the culture here by showing that this [multimedia environment] is where the … end-user community is,” he says. The 70-year-old company has brands in industries including food, pharmaceuticals, and control and instrumentation systems.
Beginning in 2004, Putman overhauled its online presence, launching a range of digital products, including
19 e-newsletters, and by the end of 2005 had recorded triple-digit increases in revenue, site traffic and newsletter subscriptions. This rate of growth has been more than enough to feed internal enthusiasm for what Cappelletti terms a “culture of innovation.”
Ascend Media “had all the classic transition challenges” related to moving aggressively into online space, Lannon notes. “We had skill sets tailored to a particular type of publishing business—sales, content, audience development, operations and management,” he says of the company as it existed a few years ago. “That had to be adapted to the digital revolution. We chose to use our existing assets—brands, people, systems—and make a transition by layering new skill sets onto the foundation set, so our audience development people were from circulation, for instance. That’s an ongoing process, obviously, and is an ongoing challenge. I don’t think that’s very different from the challenge most or all traditional publishers of all sizes and types have faced in the last decade or more.”
In making this transition, the commitment of senior management has been critical.
“There’s been no division among the management team about prioritizing integrated media,” Lannon stresses. “In that sense [the transition has been] simple. We need to understand new features and … make investments, and then train and support them. The key to all of that is having senior management that is committed to that process.”
The company, which focuses on the medical and health care industries, recently expanded its allied health care division to encompass 14 small- to medium-sized publications. While the division has moved aggressively into the integrated market through podcasts, e-newsletters and sponsored webinars, such growth has not yet required the hiring of multimedia specialists. “We’re comfortable with the people we have now,” Lannon says. “We have fairly small staffs, and we need people who understand why they’re being asked to do different things.”
Lannon says he can envision adding specialized staff—video editors as webcasts become more important, for instance—but that, for now, the focus is on judiciously adding media tailored to the immediate strategic objectives of the company.
“It’s easy to say we need another blog or newsletter,” he notes, “but [in some cases] people do not have the time. So in that sense, it is incumbent on everyone to think through this scarce resource, which is not talent, it’s time. Our commitment to editors is to let them participate in that process. You have to prioritize and learn from your experience—you might find that when you put 10 hours into something, only part of it is valued by the audience, and so it just needs seven hours. You can create time there,” he says.
New Ways to Sell
Warren Bimblick, senior vice president of financial services, marketing media and custom group at Penton Media, suggests that, in selling integrated media packages, a better approach is “talking to the advertisers about what you’re trying to accomplish rather than [about] how many units of something I can sell you.”
Penton, the largest b-to-b company in the United States, produces 113 trade magazines, 145 Web sites and 96 trade shows in 30 industries. Its financial services division publishes Registered Rep, serving retail financial-services professionals, and Trusts & Estates, aimed at wealth-management professionals.
“We try not to go in to an advertiser with the ‘blue plate special,’ which is ‘next month is something on such-and such,’” Bimblick says. “We say, ‘What are you trying to do? How are you trying to differentiate,’ and then, ‘What are the appropriate media avenues to reach those people?’”
Such an approach requires a new type of salesperson trained in new ways, Berman says.
“Salespeople now often have a complex array of product offerings for their clients [that] they must master, and then they have to adjust the way they sell, and it’s not an automatic adjustment,” she says. “So the executives need to make sure they train their salespeople to create a bridge between magazine-only and multimedia selling.”
What is required, she says, is a shift from “categorical” selling, where each avenue and option is laid out for an advertiser to choose, to “problem-solution selling”—an approach that requires understanding clients and their needs, as Bimblick suggested, and being able to match those needs to a wide array of advertising and event opportunities.
“One of the most important things [senior-level executives] have to do is make sure [that] the compensation package [they are giving to their salespeople] is in alignment with their sales goals, because salespeople are very clever, and they will figure out where the money is,” Berman notes. “Make sure it is [financially] worth it to them to sell digital media.”
She adds, “You also need to train them particularly in the area of digital and online media. If salespeople don’t understand how to sell it, they will shy away from it.”
Berman says salespeople must go higher up in their advertising clients’ decision-making units than in the past, talking to vice presidents and presidents, “but will only be invited to do that if they really understand their market.”
“If the client sells catheters to hospitals, they have to understand the hospital and medical market as well as the goals and challenges of the catheter company,” she says. “The ramification is [that] you need smart salespeople.”
Understanding What You Offer
According to Marilou Barsam, senior vice president of client and corporate marketing at Needham, Mass.-based IT media company TechTarget, publishers must be able to provide integrated online programs that mirror the decision-making process of those audiences advertisers are trying to reach.
TechTarget’s products are aimed at IT professionals in a range of markets, including storage, information security and software development. The company offers a suite of online advertising options, white-paper sponsorships and invitation-only events.
At TechTarget, she says, “Publishers have to be acutely aware of the IT-buyer process. You have to understand that the IT buyer goes through a journey, beginning with research, that helps them solve a problem in their enterprise.”
Barsam says that when a customer approaches TechTarget, they are advised to spread their money over a range of media modes in order to capture an audience at each point in the buying cycle. Multimedia packages should offer a series of options, from fulfilling initial research needs (white papers) to further engaging prospects as they get closer to choosing a specific vendor (webcasts and podcasts), to options such as trial software downloads, virtual events and live events, which “put [a customer’s] company solution in front of them.”
Paying close attention to users can be eye-opening, says Bimblick, citing the number of CFOs he sees participating in business finance webinars.
“It seems counter intuitive to think that C-suite executives would spend time on a webinar,” he says. “But they do, because they are interested in … hearing an expert speak, but also being able to ask a question and hear what others are asking.”
Lannon calls this type of interactivity the “use of ideas,” because its true value lies in providing context and analysis tailored to immediate need, rather than in simply finding new ways to repackage fixed content.
In the commercial real estate segment, there is a focus on in-person events, and Penton’s sales team has responded by working with clients to formulate mini-conferences of 50-75 people. Responding to research that points to an underserved niche market, the company will also launch a trade show in the Midwest in July.
“It’s all about segmenting,” Bimblick says. “If you have a magazine with a circulation of 40,000, chances are most advertisers are not trying to reach all 40,000, because not everyone is in the same stage of the buying cycle. The trick is, how do you actually come up with a way to reach the 5,000 people who are interested?”
Analytics and Research Are Key
“We’re out there trying as many things as we can,” Cappelletti says of Putman’s multimedia strategy. “It’s not a hard business to figure out. What is hard is the discipline to actually measure, refine, repeat. With so much data available, it’s hard to be disciplined, to take time to understand and act on it.”
“Analytics helps us identify which brands [will be well-received] ... and which markets are most amenable,” Lannon says. “We make a pretty serious effort to train salespeople and editors [to] make sure everybody is focused on the metrics. Metrics are a great window on the world in some ways.”
At Penton, editors at Registered Rep benefit from monthly studies of user preferences and habits. “That is to make sure the content in our magazines is exactly what our readers are interested in, and that there is no disconnect between what the editors think they want and what [the readers] do want,” says Bimblick.
Penton leverages a list of 6 million names to do proprietary research for clients, helping them to determine whether they should enter a market, or if a white paper or webinar is best for a desired audience.
According to Barsam, such research should be central to a company’s media and marketing strategy, and is an essential function of any effective data management system.
“TechTarget generates millions of IT leads a year,” she notes. “Think of that as inventory. Publishers need to be able to offer behind-the-scenes analytics and insights as to who they are [servicing]. We need to have a lot of analytics in terms of who the audience is … [in order to] advise clients as to what they could be developing content around.”
The ROI Factor
Penton does “soft testing” of Web sites and other products, showing them to potential customers and users to make sure each product meets their needs. Introducing a new product without research to suggest a viable ROI is a risky proposition, Bimblick says.
“The notion that, ‘if you build it, they will come,’ is nonsense,” he says. “It doesn’t work in this space.”
“I think my job as management is to help set the priorities and fight for them,” he says. “If I see an opportunity for a trade show in the Midwest that doesn’t exist, I try to go and find resources for it. If it’s a question of redesigning a Web site that has $30,000 worth of revenue and we could get to $35,000, I’ll think, ‘Hmm, maybe [we] can wait on that one.’”
On the other hand, as Lannon points out, traffic and revenue do not always move at the same pace, and strong audience development can point the way to ROI down the road.
“The truth of the matter is, you want to build traffic now and stickiness for the future, even if there’s not immediate revenue,” he says. “If you don’t work to build your traffic, you will have problems. Fortunately, all the things we are talking about, we think will build traffic and we will be able to monetize quickly.”