Anyone selling magazine advertising today knows that no matter how much people love reading magazines, we all need a grab bag of "out of the box" programs that lure advertisers into our books. That’s why more traditional magazine publishers are seriously looking to add custom publishing as an additional service. It’s an editorial, rather than advertorial, solution for advertisers.

Most successful custom magazines are separate publications that are more useful than boastful. If you can help your advertisers engage their customers with a great editorial product that brings results, and make money while doing it, it’s a win-win. The statistics show that custom publishing is a $45 billion industry that is growing by 15 percent per year.

A Roper study commissioned by the Custom Publishing Council concluded that consumers would rather learn about a company from a custom magazine than an ad. So, how do magazine publishers become winning custom publishers? I asked Matt Peterson, head of Meredith’s Integrated Marketing Group, why they’ve been so successful while other consumer magazine brands have failed. "We are ultimately successful by being innovative in our approach," he says, "by blending the art of custom publishing with the science of direct marketing. Also, when appropriate, we capitalize on Meredith’s assets for specific customers. An example is being able to use the insights we gain from the 75 million people Meredith speaks to regularly and using those insights to enhance the content of a particular program." From our 20 plus years in the business, here are seven "musts" traditional magazine companies should follow to be successful in custom publishing:

1. Get real buy-in from the top. This is the equivalent of "location, location, location" for buying successful real estate. If the head of your company wants to flirt with custom publishing and doesn’t yet get the real business potential, the initiative probably won’t work. Why? Go to number two.
2. Use dedicated resources. That means a sales team, marketing team, account management team, editors, print and Web designers and project managers. If you sell a custom program, and you have to steal resources to make it happen, the client will not feel important, and the initiative won’t last. Plus, it would be hard to expect a team not dedicated to custom publishing to nail it. However, all these people don’t need to be in place right away. For instance, the salesperson can play account manager and the editor can play project manager.
3. Don’t make your current editors custom publishing editors, particularly for a one-sponsor magazine. This puts them in an awkward position and takes away their independence. There are well respected editors out there who would love to work for you on custom publishing.
4. Train your sales team on the value of custom publishing. Not once but over and over, and reward them for bringing in leads that result in business.
5. Use your assets to win clients. Your current advertisers obviously love your database. Custom publishing can hand it to them on a silver platter.
6. Start with a loyal advertiser. A win for that client will put you in business.
7. Make research and ROI an important aspect of your proposal. If you don’t have the resources you need to make the initiative successful, partner with a professional firm.

That’s what National Geographic did after deciding that custom publishing was an important part of its future. Says vice president Steve Giannetti, "We decided the best way to ensure an ongoing quality initiative was to partner with a custom-publishing firm. It’s gotten us up and running within months, not years." And, yes, National Geographic did choose my firm, The Magazine Group. But there are a lot of top companies out there that can help traditional publishers get into custom publishing fast. (Visit the Custom Publishing Council’s Web site for more information:

No matter what route you take, consider custom publishing as your "next new thing." Be in front, not behind, this growing trend fueled by the growing demand of advertisers and readers. Jane Ottenberg is president of The Magazine Group, a leading custom publishing firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. She is on the board of the Custom Publishing Council.

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