As magazine publishers reinvent themselves, their technology demands are changing as well. Here, FOLIO: spoke with 12 different publishing executives—representing a range of large consumer, b-to-b, online-only and custom publishers—about which technologies are having the biggest impact on their businesses. We asked them about technologies supporting both back-end management and customer-facing products. While each has a different take, one thing is clear: sales management tools and measurement analytics are in high demand.
President | Sunset Publishing
We have converted to an internal back-end tool that allows us to handle our ad tracking, forecasting, production and billing, reducing the need for multiple entries of the same information in sales, production and finance.
For the last several years, we have been using an intranet site to archive all of our sales materials, research, online media kit materials, presentations, etc. This allows our sales offices instant access to what is being created, and allows us to customize presentations quickly and efficiently. Just the transition to online media kits has been a nice way to cut costs and stay more current in the information we present and the way we present it.
Along with many publishers, we use ACT for contact management and Ad Database to search for account and agency contacts—it beats the rolodex.
The technology that has allowed our industry to share rapid reporting (ABC, Ad Measure) with our advertisers and agencies has allowed us to be more timely and responsive.
Of course, we hope to invest in applications for the iPad and other digital reader platforms, the ones available now as well as those that are sure to be coming out in the near future. We are also looking at next generation technology for mobile WAP and iPhone, Blackberry and Android Apps.
One area we continue to work on is how to best organize and archive our digital content assets efficiently and in a way that will be compatible with future technology.
Data security is a big issue for us at Time Inc. We are always looking for robust modules for video, UGC and social media, and SEO best practices that are easy to customize and integrate with large existing networks.
And low prices of course!
Vice President, Technology
Kalmbach Publishing Co.
For booking, managing and tracking display ads, our staff uses Advantage by Advantage Computing Systems but they also like to use ACT on their PCs as a relationship and correspondence management tool. Kalmbach also uses Advantage for both magazine circulation management, products sales, and show, Web site and e-mail newsletter registration which affords us a complete picture of our customers’ interests.
For Web site analytics we use Google’s tools which enable us to easily track click-through, users and time spent on each page. For our e-mail newsletters we have partnered with Silverpop for sending, tracking open rates and click-through. These systems help give us a combined view of our customers interests, which we use to present and create the best possible products.
Probably the most prevalent technology used at Kalmbach is our databases. Just about every department from circulation to editorial have their own database(s) for department specific tracking. Although, in some cases, when those individual databases intersect, we make an effort to combine the data into one system, which multiplies its usefulness.
A few years ago we created an internal video studio to create value-added content for our readers and, although it is no longer new to us, our video offerings continue to grow. In 2010 we will be investing online, although not simply in the form of Web sites. We are in the process of converting all of our sites to a new technology using SiteCore’s CMS but our investment also includes beefing up our Internet connection to the company and hosting partner, redundancy for our Internet-facing servers, and additional layers of security for our systems—basically continuing to manage the growth of our Internet infrastructure.
Senior Vice President of Product Development and Marketing
Greener World Media
We’re a pure online company, so we’re blessed with not having to deal with multiple workflows and a print legacy. Everything is built on a combination of open source platforms that we customize or software instead of applications. It’s been a boon for us—particularly the software stuff—and enabled us to very quickly explore new products and try them without having to take expensive risks. We’re well-funded but very conscious of expenses, and we don’t want to take significant risks in a challenging market, particularly in the b-to-b space.
With back-end management, we’ve made extensive use of a combination of site analytics and SEO tools and competitive analysis tools like Compete.com. They’ve enabled us to systematically monitor effectiveness of new initiatives. It’s helped us to better segment our efforts in the way we focus on our core audience, which are Fortune 1000 professionals in green and sustainability roles, with an emphasis on converting them into “captured users” or “registered users.”
One of the wonderful things about Google Analytics—beside being free—is that it has so many users that it is constantly evolving and you can tailor your efforts with it. I also use Advanced Web Ranking (which is probably the last desktop application I still use), and can monitor our SEO performance in combination with Advanced Link Manager. We’re also dedicated users of Salesforce.com.
Historically, we’ve been a news/opinion/information site but last year we tested a couple of new products. One was a directory application for sustainability consultants. Using an offering from JobThread—which creates turnkey job boards—we got an application up and running in about three days and we got 300 businesses to participate in a few months.
We also developed a paid subscription service called Green Business Intelligence Report, which shows how ‘green’ is perceived by consumers. My background is in subscription and paid products, so I know that the back-end supporting these types of products can be huge. We found an application provider called Monexa that set us up in three weeks with turnkey subscription business model software. That didn’t require a huge investment—maybe a few thousand dollars—but this is not something for the faint of heart to try running on their own.
Everything for our core publishing platform is based on Drupal. We’re essentially running five different Web sites off one platform and the content flows between sites easily but they still maintain a distinct identity. The basic code for Drupal is constantly being improved and it’s not something we have to invest in supporting.
We’re watching what people are doing with virtual events and online education. Any technology that can support us in being a more valuable part of the lead gen process is of interest.
CEO | e.Republic
Like many b-to-b publishers in business for 20-plus years, we had developed internal processes that were useful at one time, but had become outdated, inefficient and stifling of our growth. About 18 months ago, we launched a comprehensive effort to overhaul the technology infrastructure throughout the company to better position e.Republic for strong future expansion. Clearly our technology platform is increasingly a competitive advantage and we’ve been investing to support that.
We implemented Salesforce.com in a number of ways to manage our company’s data. First, we used it in the traditional sense by putting all of our sales databases in one repository on Salesforce. Our sales staffs are set up in business groups to sell different products (advertising, events, research, tradeshows, etc.) to the same clients and Salesforce now allows us to coordinate more effectively internally on each account so we are able to show a single face to the client. We consolidated five distinct databases into one so each salesperson handling a client has one global entry with all related data attached. We freed up 80 to 120 man-hours per week in administrative time and the sales staff can communicate directly through Salesforce and not have e-mails going back and forth seeking out information. In addition, sales reporting to management has moved from a static condition taking 40 to 80 man-hours per month to real-time and zero man-hours.
Second, e.Republic migrated the subscriber files for all four of our primary print magazines, numerous e-newsletters and the registration databases for over 100 events onto a single Salesforce application. e.Republic has four primary print titles, dozens of e-newsletters and more than 150 live events and Webinars per year. Back about 18 months ago, tracking event registrants as well as subscribers to one of our magazines was done in siloed databases with extensive duplication between them. We knew who our audience was in general, but to get specific was a herculean task. Now, each identity within our overall audience has one record that shows all of the products that person is engaged in with e.Republic. It has allowed us to understand at a very granular level who our audience is and what they want most from us.
Our next important step was to add Eloqua to manage all our e-mail distribution, promotional efforts, and forms maintenance. All forms are managed on the Web-based Eloqua system and are seamlessly fed into our new Salesforce database. Customers can manage all their magazine and newsletter subscriptions, as well as event and Webinar registrations through a single online form. Managing these forms through Eloqua has allowed us to more effectively target products (like a specific event or Webinar) to our audience based on a much clearer look at their interaction history with the company. This has also been an important tool in fighting list fatigue by precisely targeting specific offerings to readers. Even better, all this can be managed, with list and marketing campaigns created and launched directly by marketing personnel without having to go through a subscription database manager or IT.
The technology infrastructure we have put in place is already generating benefits for us but most importantly will allow us to scale up in size and services with very little in the way of increased costs. For example, with the acquisition of Governing in December 2009, we were able to have their circulation and registration systems (both previously managed by outside vendors) fully integrated within our systems in 60 days. This included BPA-audited magazines, paid subscriptions, book sales, newsletter subscriptions and event registrations. The cost to Governing for these services was close to $200,000 in 2009 and will be minimal (under $10,000) for e.Republic in 2010.
Vice President | Chief Technology Officer
Some of the back-end management technologies that are having great impact at Consumers Union are the various vendor platforms we have integrated for user behavior tracking and monitoring, such as analytics, user satisfaction polls, multivariate testing and campaign management. These are critical tools that we use to modify our Web sites not only from a conversion standpoint, but also to constantly improve the user experience and the delivery of relevant content.
It is also important that these platforms come with user-friendly administrative console tools that enable our internal business units to manage day-to-day operational tasks without the need of the IT department. This frees up the IT staff to devote more time to new enhancements.
We are constantly looking for new ways to keep our publishing platforms robust, reliable and scalable. To that end, we have started to deploy customer facing Web services and internal applications to the Cloud. Social media and mobile platforms are new areas where we are investing significant dollars to ensure that we are able to reach new and existing consumers via the platforms they are using the most. We also hope to invest heavily on the re-architecture of the above-mentioned content repositories and real-time digital publishing platforms to support new and exiting business models for traditional Web and new social media and mobile platforms. Providing highly personalized products and services to help consumers build communities where they can engage with us and with each other is one of our long-term objectives.
We continue to look for technology solutions that can provide true real-time multi-channel platforms for both our print and digital products. At the same time we are interested in vendor solutions that provide analytical tools to better mine/harvest and understand the vast amounts of user generated content that can be easily integrated with our products and services. A hosted turnkey e-commerce platform that can provide robust subscription management and payment processing is also of great interest to us.
President | King Fish Media
We’re focused on anything that revolves around marketing measurement—from Google Analytics to database software and market research applications. We promise accountability and measurable ROI for all custom media platforms. A lot of what we use is data we get from our customers. There are a lot of out-of-the-box software options that spit out results like Google Analytics but the real value of measurement is diving in and saying, did this thing make money or didn’t it? Look at what Person X did, did they make a second purchase or a third purchase, did they spend more money this time?
There are a few media platforms we feel strongly about including virtual shows and briefing centers, streaming video e-mails, digital magazine readers and iPhone apps. These have instant measurability. With virtual shows and Webcasts, we know someone is spending between 30 and 90 minutes in each of those environments. Streaming video e-mails give us between 75 to 100 seconds to get someone enthused about a product. We can turn around to our clients and say, we sent out 10,000 of these and 8 percent took action. When we do the video e-mail, the conversion rate compared to regular HTML e-mail is two to three times as high. While there’s definitely added expense in creating the video, it’s worth it.
In 2010 we are looking to refine and get better at delivering metrics and analytics for our clients to demonstrate the ROI of custom media solutions. And, we are constantly evaluating media platforms such as virtual briefing centers, social media and iPhone/iPad apps. We believe that content needs to be available on demand for consumers so that means as many platforms as possible.
Senior Vice President for Audience Marketing
Ziff Davis Enterprise
Our ability to federate data across the various platforms we use into meaningful information has had the most impact.
Each of the individual systems (central customer database, e-mail campaign reporting, Web site analytics, transactions/registrations) provides us with lots of data, but it’s only after we can bring it all together that we can do anything useful with it.
There is no single silver bullet with specific product technologies, but our ability to target relevant Web content to users has gotten a lot better in the past year and is showing dividends in increasing time on site across our network.
The central customer database we deployed, along with consolidation of all our users’ transactional history into a unified customer view, has allowed us to successfully take on a range of lead generation and direct response programs that would have not been possible a year ago.
Founder, CEO | Skram Media
The biggest impact for Skram Media on back-end technology has been Salesforce.com. We have a custom install of Salesforce which has had a massive impact on efficiency across the board—ad sales, production and billing. In early 2007, after we acquired Climbing Magazine, I knew we needed to invest in a CRM that could ensure the sales team spent as much time selling (and as little time administering the sale) as possible. My ad sales manager at the time, Kevin Riley, who is now associate publisher, came from a software sales background where he had used Salesforce.com. So with his input and the help of BlueWolf we developed a magazine specific custom install of Salesforce. In addition, as we’re a Mac environment, we integrated an application from Conga to mail merge out of Salesforce to our standard IO. That cut down the IO preparation time from minutes to seconds. We also installed the echosign app into Salesforce, which allows e-signing of IOs—immediately speeding up the signing process and also assisting with a paperless archive of the IOs to log with finance, sales and production.
We also maintain our database of climbing gyms and outdoor stores in Salesforce, and we run all our sales from our marketing to that customer base through Salesforce. As a Web-based solution, all our sales reps can log in and work from Salesforce. There is also a mobile application, so when you’re on a road trip you can look at account history and log call notes. It’s become the spine of the company.
In terms of our Web sites and digital content, I really like the “Unity” approach of Zinio, and I say that as an example to other vendors to offer publishers total solutions. Spending time searching out solutions for different elements of a Web site, be it video or social media apps, and trying to integrate them into existing platforms is time consuming and expensive. And often the expense of integration kills the opportunity.
CTO | Mansueto Ventures
We’ve had two larger technology deployments that have been successful.
As part of Inc., we publish the Inc. 5000 list, which is one of, if not the most important thing we do. We’ve implemented a CRM solution for the application process called SugarCRM that is basically managing all of our outreach in terms of generating applications for it.
In the past, it was managed more informally through a collection of spreadsheets among our staff of 10 or 15 outreach specialists. It was inelegant and error prone—relying on a lot of manual work that software should be doing. Now, we’re tracking all of our efforts and the application data for each company, which enables us to do a bunch of things. For example, we have a clear record of every time we’ve touched one of these applicants or leads.
We now have clearer records. The benefit of that is having all of our customer information as it pertains to the Inc. 5000. We also have magazine subscriptions, the Inc. 5000 conference, and additional products that are specific to the Inc. 5000, the awards or the special issue.
We had problems in the past about contact data getting out of sync. There was a problem where the data was dispersed among a number of databases. Now, by synchronizing all of that, we have one clean record of every customer of ours.
It made our internal operations here more efficient. It has forced some internal business processes on us when in the past we were more informal. Where we had 10 staff last year for outreach, we’re now up to 15 or 20, and as the team scaled up we needed a better solution to help everyone coordinate.
VP, Database Strategy and Marketing | Hearst Magazines
Over the past year for database marketing, our investment in our new customer database platform at Acxiom is clearly having the greatest impact on our business. From a customer perspective, we have a far greater and more aggregated understanding of the different points of interaction across our organization and of who you are. As a result, we are able to reduce duplicate efforts, more effectively target offers and increase our over-delivery of value. From an organizational view, we have been able to automate far more activities, reducing the overall effort required to execute our marketing initiatives and increasing our speed to market. We have also been able to more effectively analyze and report on marketing performance, improving our overall decision making and in turn increasing our focus on higher ROI activities.
In addition, this increased visibility has enabled us to identify data inconsistencies, correct them and increase the effectiveness of our marketing as a result, both directly and through the deployment of improved acquisition models. To date, we are seeing over 200 percent ROI in three years on our database investment through increased mailing efficiency, higher customer response rates and reduced marketing execution resources.
Our primary investments continue to be in four areas:
1. Continuing to build out a dynamic, integrated and flexible customer database platform. While the base platform has been developed in the last 18 months, our 2010 investment is focused on expanding the platform to other areas of Hearst’s business and in turn increasing our view of the entire customer relationship. To that end, our largest investment will continue to be with Acxiom, who is building and managing our new customer database platform.
2. Expanding our analytic capabilities that both automate our ability to understand natural customer segments and behavioral drivers, and increase visibility of our customer data and marketing performance across the broader organization. SAS is providing the bulk of these capabilities in conjunction with the analytic resources/solutions being provided to us by Inductis.
3. Investing in capabilities that enable our ability to deploy real-time treatment decisions on the Web. This would include screening customers to decide on the best cross-sell opportunity, prompting for payment and order renewal where appropriate, and determining our willingness to move from ‘pay now’ to ‘bill me later’ offers. Here we are investing heavily in our internal Web capabilities as well as testing real-time decisioning with Experian.
4. Finally, we are looking to increase our sales process efficiency by expanding our ability to sell multiple products to customers during a single contact point and shift more transactional communications online. This will drive both an increase in overall revenue while reducing the contact expenses associated with each individual sale. In addition, it will simplify the customer’s overall billing/payment experience. Here, we are working closely with CDS to deliver this new capability.
CEO | Discover Media
In general, as a one-title publisher, we are mostly averse to making big technology investments. What we tend to do if we see a need is to be fast followers. We look for best-of-breed, off-the-shelf technology that does well with the thing we’re looking for.
We have an open source CMS called Plone that has built-in blogging software, but that’s not really what it’s good at. So when we really ramped up the blogs in the last 18 months, we went with WordPress and integrated it into Plone.
Rather than trying to invest in internal development, we’d rather go with an external product if one is available. For online video, we use Brightcove and our mobile site is with a company called Mobify. We tend to partner with people who are already doing these things very well. We don’t have the time or resources to do these things. The costs of going off-the-shelf are so low.
The two things that we are probably investing against this year are video and photo galleries. We’re upgrading our video player and navigation and also the way we present photo galleries. The idea is those are big traffic drivers for the site. Video commands a higher CPM. If you’re looking forward to a world where the print magazine is morphing into some kind of tablet, those products are heavy on the multi-media.
If you make the transition to that kind of experience then you’re going to need a lot of photo and multi-media assets. In the short term they work well online, but you also need to work strategically to amass online video. That’s what most publishes are ignoring or now realizing they need to get good at—the short-form video.
COO | Group Publisher
Active Interest Media
There hasn’t necessarily been a transforming technology across the company.
Going forward, we have been looking at all-in-one kinds of systems that have billing, CMS and CRM. There’s so much integration between content and customers that it makes sense conceptually, but it’s still such a daunting task to transfer five major platforms to a new system. But I see a day when we’ll get there because you can appreciate the difference. But, for now, the switching costs stop us in our tracks.
Increasingly, we have campaigns that cross print, event and Web sponsorships. We’re delivering creative, and billing a combined integrated program and allocating dollars across multiple platforms, and we have to make sense of that for the customer—the billing is clear and the deliverables are clear.
When all of this has grown out of an existing print brand, to be scalable, you have to deliver that in a clear and efficient way.