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

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