Preparing to Lose

If you take your approach for granted, renewals will be few and far between.

Joe Pulizzi By Joe Pulizzi

It was a decade ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Jim McDermott—my boss at Penton Media—and I had just finished inking the agreement on a multi-year custom magazine deal with Autodesk Software.

After receiving the final confirmation about the project, I strolled over to Jim’s office to share the good news. I don’t remember the handshake or the congratulatory banter, but I do remember Jim’s final words before I walked out the door. “Spend today and every day after this preparing to lose this account.”

It wasn’t until our agreement was up three years later that I fully understood the weight of what Jim was trying to tell me. After we lost the account, we made the usual rationalizations about what had happened.

The truth was that we became comfortable. We started getting used to the quarterly magazine process, the ongoing approvals, the photo shoots, the annual client meetings, the accounts receivable. We stopped challenging the client or ourselves. We didn’t spend every day like we would lose the account.

Today, I see this all too often with custom publishers. Clients consistently seek out a vendor that can provide some spark of innovation. This is reality, and you can’t stop clients from looking, but you can get them to think twice.

Here are six strategies that you can employ right now to keep and grow your custom publishing business.

1. Pitch Against Yourself:
I used this technique all the time when evaluating our custom publishing portfolio. On an ongoing basis, put yourself in the shoes of your main competitor and pitch against the business you have. From this perspective, you’ll find out quickly whether or not you’re doing right by your client.

2. The Client is Wrong:
Most custom publishers take a project on “as is.” But how are you sure that the magazine, online microsite, white paper series, social community, is the right strategy or tactic?

Safe is risky today. Be bold and challenge your client’s thinking. They may be right, but they are probably wrong. You are the publishing expert. Show them why.

3. An Idea a Month:
If you aren’t providing an innovative idea or a fresh twist on your client’s content project every month, you can pretty much kiss the renewal goodbye. Why? Because chances are somebody else has an idea and is sharing it with your client right now.

Hold a monthly account review and brainstorming session where you can focus solely on helping your customers with new ideas. Make sure to include Web-savvy employees and those who “get” social media. You can take your business development people and figure out how to monetize and package it.

Even share “off-the-wall” ideas with your customers. Sometimes it’s not the idea, but the fact that you “have” an idea that makes the difference.

4. Listen FOR Your Customers:
Most of your customers are probably setting up their own reputation management systems and using social media to “listen” to their customers and prospects. You should be doing that as well but for them. By using free tools such as Google Alerts and Twitter, you can actively monitor what is going on with your customer’s brands and products. Assign each member of your team to a different “listening” task. This kind of activity will pay off in fresh content and new distribution concepts, as well as new product ideas. 

5. Ask Your Client:
Yes, an off-the-wall concept, but when was the last time you talked to your client about what they want and need from you?

6. Don’t give up:
The grass is always greener, right? I’ve seen far too often that a client makes a move to another publisher, only to become quickly dissatisfied and return to the former publisher the next year. If you do happen to lose the project, keep sending your thoughts to your former client. One small screw-up by the competition could result in a returning project for you the next year.

And if you’re stubborn and won’t do any of the above, concentrate on superior negotiating and insert automatic renewals with percentage increases into every client agreement. There’s a good chance a few clients will forget about that clause in the agreement. At least you can hope.

And they say hope is not a strategy.


Joe Pulizzi is founder of Junta42, an online lead generation/matching service for custom publishers. Joe is also co-author of Get Content. Get Customers., considered the handbook for content marketing. Joe can be contacted at


Joe Pulizzi By Joe Pulizzi

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