Identifying the Rich Data Opportunity
In 2006, sales of data and market information accounted for an average of 7 percent of revenue among b-to-b publishers that generate more than $5 million in annual revenue, and just 2 percent of revenue for publishers that do less than $5 million per year, according to Folio:'s 2007 B-to-B CEO Survey [Folio:, May]. However, 25 percent of publishers with more than $5 million in annual revenue and 21 percent under $5 million said they expect data and market information sales to yield increased revenue in 2007. This shows data, long touted as a rising star in b-to-b publishing's product line-up, may finally be coming into its own as a key revenue contributor.
But how do they get there? For many publishers, the difficulty is not so much obtaining and monetizing the data but recognizing the opportunity in the first place. A few years ago, e.Republic, a 20-year-old publisher serving the state and local government and education technology markets, didn't see the potential in data and actually helped research firms such as Gartner Group build products based on its own data, according to CEO Dennis McKenna. They've since seen the light.
Today e.Republic's business intelligence group accounts for 20 percent of the company's overall revenue and is its fastest-growing and highest margin operation. "This is the era of ï¾‘The Long Tail,' and if you're serving a specific business category, there is information that you as a publisher can get hold of that's of value to your customers," says McKenna. "Sometimes you can't see it. We were so close to the information that we didn't see the value of it for our customers."
By the mid-Nineties, customer demand for more business intelligence on the government market, coupled with the emergence of the Internet as an efficient data gathering tool, helped fuel e.Republic's data push. It also helped that this was information the industry wanted available. "With growth of the Web in the late Nineties, there was an opportunity to start aggregating government procurement information," says McKenna. "One of the things that is unique about the public sector is that so much data is publicly available. Whenever a government agency wants to buy something of size, they have to go out through a public request-for-proposal. We felt we could deliver that information in a very timely, very concise way."
The initial opportunity was in the contact information and relationships e.Republic had cultivated through its magazines (particularly flagship Government Technology) and its events, including three trade shows and more than 100 smaller conferences and meetings. "That contact information alone was extremely valuable to customers," says Cathilea Robinett, executive director of e.Republic's research arm, the Center for Digital Government. "But a lot of media companies don't realize that."
In 1998, e.Republic rolled out its Digital Government Navigator, one of the first products to aggregate buying opportunities within the government market.
The subscription-based Navigator offers several different features for prospective sales reps, including RFP Watch, which covers bids and contracts awarded from state and local areas, Deal Watch, and news updates. Subscribers can view a map of the U.S. and see breakdowns on data points such as state budgets, IT spending, fiscal periods, the largest department budgets, the procurement process for each jurisdiction and key contacts. "If I'm a salesman for, say, Cisco, and I'm going to call on the state of California, I've got a profile on the chief information officer. I've got his contact information, quick access to his Web site, and an archive of stories Government Technology has written about those contacts," says McKenna.
Subscribers can also personalize and automate the information they receive. A button called Hot List lets subscribers add the bids or contracts they are most interested in. A feature called My Nav Agent lets subscribers dictate which information they are specifically interested in and sends real-time updates to that account. "It needed to be easy to use so they get a lot of value from it," says Robinett.
Investing in a Data Business
While the Web has made automated aggregation easier, a committed data business is not something that can be added to the pile of an existing department's responsibilities. e.Republic has about 155 full-time employees, with 40 people devoted to its business intelligence unit. "We're constantly aggregating data. We have some folks and that's all they do all day long," says Robinett. "You can imagine all the data they have to collect with contact information and RFP updates. We collect information on all 50 states, and for the top 100 cities and counties for local government. Cities and counties get really small, really fast. I liken it to painting the Golden Gate Bridge;once you think you're done, it's time to start all over again."
e.Republic offers different subscription levels for Navigator, ranging from $5,000 on the education side of the business to $25,000 for the government side. Navigator has about 10,000 individual users, spread across nearly 200 subscribing organizations. Members can also tap e.Republic for custom research, which varies in pricing from $5,000 to $100,000. The company does 10 to 20 custom projects at any one time.
Currently, events are e.Republic's single biggest revenue stream, followed by print. But data is the third largest revenue stream and growing quickly. "Rich data products have been the fastest growing part of our business for the last three years," says McKenna.
Creating New Products From Data
While each business group (print, events, data) functions as a distinct unit, there are cross-over opportunities with the data. e.Republic has developed a series of surveys that have gained national media attention by ranking state governments on their use of technology. "When we first started, governors weren't paying that much attention to technology," says Robinett. "But we got a lot of press from this and now we have governors come up to us at our conferences and say, ï¾‘We're going to be number one this year!'"
e.Republic also offers a series of executive teleconferences each month featuring the chief information officer from a different jurisdiction. Members log on to hear what those jurisdictions plan on doing over next year or two. A "Best of the Web" contest offers a competition for government Web sites that doubles as an effective channel for collecting data. "We look at hundreds of Web sites each year, this is like the Oscars of government," says Robinett. "You can imagine how much information we can aggregate from that data."
e.Republic's data business has become one of the "legs of the chair" that can help close sales. "In the b-to-b space, one of the main purposes is to connect buyers and sellers," says McKenna. "We felt that we offered a certain level of marketing reach into the government community through advertising in the magazines. Through face-to-face events, we put them together in one-to-one marketing with their clients. But with Navigator and the business intelligence group, we can get high value leads and specific high value, rich-data market intelligence, to really complete that selling transaction. We can offer a full spectrum of services to help companies market and actually close business in the public market. Each is a distinct, separate business unit, but it's a range of services that we can offer to our industry customers."