Just as it’s essential for publishers to have a solid plan of attack when it comes to their business plan, it’s equally as important for them to strategize different lead offers to target diverse readership. Regardless of the offer, publishers should have plans for how to best serve up and promote products simultaneously across platforms.

For Next Step Magazine, a 15-year-old title helping teens with college planning, marketing lead- gen programs is very “numbers driven,” according to Next Step Publishing president Chris Roberts. “Each marketing channel has a cost. If I use email, there is ‘x’ cost; a call center, ‘y’; SEM, ‘z.’”

However, Next Step’s proprietary lead-gen system, which the company developed in 2003-2004 and updates annually, has been a “saving grace” in developing lead-gen packages, Roberts said. “For example, we may be dealing with two different types of colleges: one that’s online for profit, and one that’s a nonprofit. So, we may find some sites pull really well for a particular college and other don’t and vice versa, or that certain offers pull well for national targeting versus regional targeting.”

Simultaneous Serve-Up
As for NewBay Media’s timing with its lead-gen marketing efforts, Joe Ferrick, vice president of Web development, said it all start with an initial blanket approach with house ads, email blasts and text links, in addition to Facebook and Twitter. Then, they “analyze what worked and schedule the next wave of efforts, which get going a day or two after looking at the first wave’s analytics,” he said.

While NewBay isn’t quite ready to guarantee the number of leads, they talk in “broad strokes” as to how past programs have performed and ballpark numbers for clients. For example, NewBay will tell a Webcast sponsor, "We usually see 250-1000 registrants to our Webcasts," said Ferrick.

For its lead-generation efforts, NewBay has seen “solid returns” when they run the welcome-page interstitial ads. “We time these ads so that the site visitor does not see them before every page load and this timing has been effective,” said Ferrick. “An important component to their lead-gen offers, he added, is that they “vary the creative we use as much as possible.”

When Next Step speaks with advertisers, they show an overall picture of how print interacts with the Web. “We make sure whatever we do has a lead component, particularly with print,” Roberts said, particularly with regards to the multitude of sweepstakes that act as lead generators.

These sweepstakes, which are generally along the lines of “Win Free College Tuition” offers, ask students to sign up and are therefore input into Next Step’s system. “We try to find sites that push people into sweepstakes mode, which means that we’re looking at marketing strategies that involve other Web sites that have sweepstakes sign ups,” Roberts added. Internally, the magazine creates its lead-gen plans at the beginning of every year, and has a good idea of where they will place these offers once they build them.

Through its research, however, the publisher has discovered an interesting trend related to student leads. While referrals from the magazine to the Web site haven’t changed, Roberts said, what has is the method by which readers are filling out response cards. “Our response cards used to be turned in much more often on paper,” he said. “Now, teen readers are still getting lots of info from our magazine, but are opting to go online and fill in their information. Many advertisers have said to us ‘our kids just go to the Web site,’ and we respond by asking them how they thinks readers learned about a particular school. It didn’t come to them in a dream–they saw a billboard or picked up a magazine.”

Key Factors

Because Next Step Magazine must appeal to this type of hybrid print-online lead, it is sure to hit its two year student prospects with a push for “a big sweepstakes in June, because that’s when seniors need money for college and there’s a lot of lead activity. High school seniors are making college decisions, and this promotion corresponds with financial aid decisions,” Roberts said.

There is also a “lot more branding involved” for Next Step lead-gen offers, since there is a longer lead cycle for this student group.

In addition to Next Step Magazine, the company’s founder and CEO David Mammano told FOLIO: in the December “Big Wins for 2009” feature that the publisher also recently launched BackToLearn, an online resource that helps adults research colleges.

BackToLearn offers partners (primarily colleges and universities) a free ad and guarantees a certain amount of leads from that ad, charging for those leads. “Colleges are listed in our directory and pay for every prospect that fills out their request information form. Some traditional advertisers say they don’t pay per lead so we charge them a fixed amount and then guarantee a certain amount of leads,” said Mammano.

Along with the obvious difference in readership, BackToLearn is different from Next Step Magazine because of its different media spend, which does not include sweepstakes, said Roberts. He said BackToLearn offer adult learners “simplicity” and “ease” with “Find Your School” offer, as opposed to Next Step Magazine’s “color and big headlines.” Particularly for the Web experience, Roberts makes sure that Next Step Magazine’s call to action is repeated throughout the copy and and includes big buttons.

Roberts said that Next Step Publishing has tried to keep offers simple, and spent a good deal of time on landing page design and analyzing different editorial copy, images, and calls to action (they haven’t done true A/B testing yet, but Roberts said they should).

For NewBay, its next effort is the “pop-under ads that we will test so as a site visitor exits a page, they’ll see some sort of offer from either NewBay or one our partners,” Ferrick said.