Using Editorial to Spot Business Opportunities
When I wrote about launching a paid newsletter recently, it was interesting, though unsurprising, that the idea came from an editor. Actually in this case it was a staffer who had moved from editorial to a business department, but clearly someone who still had the editorial eye.
I made that transition early. As co-editor of my college weekly I was recruited to take over as publisher and handle the business end, too. The then-publisher handing over the reins was my friend Larry Kramer, who was headed to media glory via such successes as founding MarketWatch and more recently, rescuing USA Today. At the time I joked I was “going over to the dark side.”
Spotting editorial needs has always been the best starting point for publishing products. When I owned an ad-based trade magazine for headshops in the late 1970’s and those stores came under attack by local laws everywhere, I started a biweekly newsletter called Legal Update. Hundreds of readers were eager to pay hundreds of dollars a year to get that critical information first.
Many years later, I learned a great takeaway on how to leverage your editors for sales as president of a division at UCG, then one of the largest five business information companies in the U.S. UCG would hold training sessions for editors from throughout the organization about how to recognize a new business opportunity. Editors are closest to the pulse of the market, or should be, and have valuable insights if they know how to recognize them. (Perhaps there is an idea for a webinar series, a conference, or a market report.) Most suggestions were not viable, as you’d expect. For those that were, the editor would receive a bonus, which encouraged others to keep a lookout. This was not a commission, which might have skewed the editor’s priorities.
It is not news that editors and staff writers have far more expanded duties than when I was an editor in the halcyon days of magazine publishing. Now the skillset includes functions that range from knowing your way around CMS technology and analytics, SEO considerations, where to forage for copyright-free photography, versioning for newsletters and teaser copy, and crafting the perfect social media snippets that gain maximum sharing.
Do any of those additional skills violate the traditional wall between church and state? I think not. They reflect the wider playing field which editors are required to navigate. The need for healthy B2B publishing to accommodate sponsored content is part of this new reality as well. I have never allowed sponsors to tell me what to publish. Learning how to walk that line is just another of the expanded skillsets a good editor must be expert at.
How Adweek Has Evolved the Role of Editors
Adweek has been hiring editorial staff over the past year, which I always take as the sign of a healthy media enterprise. With a nod toward the skills referenced above, CEO Jeff Litvack sees the process of building a successful editorial department as constantly asking, “How can we be better at what we do?” That includes considering tasks that may not be editorially related. “It is part of a broader conversation to find win-wins for our business. We want to have a deeper relationship with our community. Everyone is getting aligned with that.”
I know from my own B2B publishing that often industry leaders are the ones who have the resources to have researched important market information other companies cannot. Obvious, right? This same economic wherewithal also makes them prominent advertisers. Should we shun their valuable information because they pay our publication for ads? That is literally the old adage of biting off your nose to spite your face.
“The wall between editorial and business has become more translucent,” Litvack explains. This is not about having editors selling or being coerced to write glowing copy about advertisers. For example, Adweek created a sponsored section called the Digital Transformation Playbook sponsored by Accenture. “Bright lines were agreed to from the start.” The editors create strong content for their readers, some of which is based on insights and data from Accenture. Editors have the right to reject anything and to shape the content as they see fit. The result is valuable to the market, well-read and profitable to the enterprise.
Jeff Litvack says the editors view the bigger question as, “How do I support the business?” They see the results of this approach as a growing editorial department which can produce more and better work – and not incidentally, although unstated, support their own jobs.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.