The last few years have seen publishers completely re-engineer their businesses to exploit content across multiple platforms. Strategies have flattened out to accommodate print, events and online as the three main business sectors. And those same publishers that also offer custom publishing—or marketing services, as is now the favored term—are reorganizing their custom groups to help their clients market to an increasingly fickle consumer base. Marketing services are shedding their pre-fab, multiplatform packaging for more flexible, sophisticated projects that truly live up to the word “custom”—starting life at the juncture where clients feel they have the best chance of being where the consumer will be at any given moment.
What Has Changed
What’s changed is the proliferation of media and tools to both maintain and acquire customers. And what was once a menu of turnkey solutions has moved toward more customizable and ever-changing packages.
Discussions don’t have to begin with traditional custom approaches, much less traditional advertising solutions. Instead, packages are tailored to specific tools that marketers actually want to use. And in the process, custom publishing, as a term, has lost its relevance. “We’re in the business of providing marketing solutions, so there is no off-the-shelf program anymore,” says Chris Schraft, president, Time Inc. Content Solutions. “The answer to every question, if you’re a custom publisher, is no longer custom publishing. It’s now about understanding the client’s business objectives, their target consumer and then looking at how customized content expressed in a variety of formats and across a variety of platforms can really deliver on those objectives.”
A Full Realignment
At b-to-b media company CMP, the custom division was renamed and realigned. Now called Marketing Services, the group has been decentralized and deployed to specific regions where services are on the front lines with the customers and prospects. “We have literally aligned it with our customers,” says Scott Vaughan, vice president of marketing and research. “It’s not a separate group that’s centralized that you call up when you need something. We have teams focused in the client regions, or sales regions, working with customers to do that program integration across different platforms—print, online, events—or just deeper into a specific platform.”
One key advantage of this approach is that it works two ways. The client can go to them and say they want to fill out an existing campaign, for example, or CMP can initiate a discussion with a client based on their larger media needs. “Our people are in there working with the client, they understand what their marketing challenges are and on that basis they can recommend to them certain custom solutions, which you can only do if you have a deep understanding of your client’s needs and you’re working with them on an ongoing basis,” says Elliot Kass, managing director, client content services.
The crowded media landscape, for now, seems to be working in favor of the publisher. Customers are aware of the various features and functionality that are out there, but are still relatively unsure how they can specifically apply them to campaigns, which puts the publisher in the fortunate position of educator. “We’re seeing a lot of questions about what they can use and what makes sense to use,” says John Lavey, president of custom publishing firm Hammock Inc. “At the same time, the pressures of the postal increases, increases in the cost of paper, and the difficulty of selling advertising without a robust package of assets to advertisers, are favoring bigger ideas and packages.”
Often, customers begin with a turnkey element, but publishers are finding that upsells are almost inherent as the campaign progresses. “It’s about creating cross-pollination of the different tools that they are using,” says Lavey. “For example, when they have e-commerce sites, it’s about creating communities of users. That’s user-generated content, but there’s a whole platform of managing that community that can be handled by custom publishers like ours. So that the skill sets and the needs for us have changed. It’s still a lot of the same content creation, but it’s also managing non-linear stories and it’s helping connect different media tools.”
Indeed, if there is a single factor that’s changed in the last few years, it’s the multiplatform approach. “The work here is completely multiplatform today. Five years ago it may have been predominantly print-based solutions, today it’s multiplatform with all of our customers seeking digital extensions,” says Schraft.
The relationship, however, is clearly client-focused, almost reactionary. “The client brings you in, you begin to understand their marketing challenges in a deeper way, and based on that you understand what the opportunities are for them to reach out to different parts of their audience in ways that are highly appropriate to that section of the audience,” says Kass.
The trick is to be in a position where you’re structured to field a client’s questions, rather than pushing solutions outward. “The conversation usually starts when the client says, ‘I’ve got a challenge here. I want to reach a certain segment of your audience and I want to reach them with a certain message and I want to generate a certain number of leads. Or I want to be able to brand a new product line I’m rolling out or some combination of these things.’ So they don’t necessarily say to you ‘I want to advertise’ or ‘I want a custom campaign,’ they just tell you what they’re faced with,” adds Kass.
Often, customers will ease into a custom program, but because of the scalable nature of integrated packages, the program can easily be upsold to a variety of configurations—not simply for a pile-on approach, where the program is pressured via a hard sell, but for a truly tailored approach that targets the right audience. “If we create a briefing center, for example, which is a microsite, we can also create all the video programming that’s customized for it, we may create a specific tool that the audience can use. We might write the whitepapers that go on that site, we might aggregate news from our sources from that site. We may hold a live Webcast from that site. So, literally you’re creating a solution that’s right for that client and that audience,” says Vaughan.
And there has to be room for experimentation, especially with an integrated program. “There are times when you’re pioneering something new and you have to partner with the client,” says Vaughan. “At least 10 percent of the marketing budget has to be on experimenting and trialing new things, and most marketers today are in tune with that.”
Executing on these programs is a challenge and publishers are finding that, at a minimum, they’re managing a host of new sub-contractors—video, Web development, and others. Internally, however, the org chart flattens out as sales teams hand the baton backward toward program managers and the content teams. “What we did was first establish enough basis of trust and credibility for what we could bring to them,” says Lavey. “Once that was established, we were very organized and deliberate about taking what could start as a brainstorming session and focusing on the action steps. And one of those next steps was pricing the different elements. And we’re going to go from what has been a couple months of discussions to a proposal, a price, and how we’re going to execute. We also describe where we’re going to interface not only with the customer but with other shops they utilize. It’s both the development of the process and costs—and with the clients, the process is just as important.”
For Schraft’s operation, it’s about understanding the client’s customer market before proceeding. “We start with a customer life cycle approach. We invest deeply to develop a sophisticated understanding of who the target segment is. We look at interaction between a brand and the customer and we work to identify opportunities where the brand interacts best with customers to help drive up things like satisfaction and other behaviors.”
A Horizontal Approach
CMP’s marketing services team has 30 employees organized between pre-sale and post-sale executives. “On the pre-sales we have content and marketing experts—we call them program developers—that are working with the client to develop the program up front, knowing both what’s needed for the audience but also how to make it happen, to execute,” says Vaughan. “And that’s connected to a team in the same region that’s post-sales. Post-sales consists of program management and subject matter experts on different topics, whether it be content, video, research, that will come in on that program to execute it. So we’ve eliminated a lot of the gaps in the process.”
Even though integrated marketing has been around for a couple years, the marketing side is often still turning the battleship around. “It’s a work in progress. You talk to most people and media companies are very siloed, and it’s going to take some time culturally,” says Vaughan.
“For these big, complicated ideas, especially when it involves different departments on the client side, it’s a battleship,” adds Lavey. “It takes a long time to even get to the stage where you’re agreeing on what to do.”