Marketing services caught fire in 2011, with major b-to-b and consumer publishers, and even regional media companies getting in the game. A new revenue stream from advertisers outside print pages excited publishers, as ad pages aren’t recovering the way initially hoped.

Fortunately, marketing services appears to be living up to the hype. Here, FOLIO: catches up with two publishers on how their marketing service divisions are faring, and what’s next for the sector.

Regional Opportunity

Churm Media, a Newport Beach, California-based regional publisher, debuted its Custom Content division in March. For Churm, publisher of titles such as OC METRO, OC Family, OC MENUS and Southland Golf, this launch was more of a formality, as the company has produced custom content for clients for a decade.

CEO Steve Churm talks about the opportunity for publishers in the custom content space, “Long before the Internet and the proliferation of email and social media, a company didn’t need to develop a lot of information about itself for the public domain,” he tells FOLIO:. “Today, companies in all industry sectors are being looked at, approached, explored and researched on a wide number of platforms. Companies need to be on every one of those platforms, with their message, with their story, with who they are; it has to be fresh and it has to be renewed.”

Leading Churm’s marketing services division is Kimberly Porrazzo, who formerly acted as editorial director of the publisher’s magazine portfolio. Porrazzo highlights the advantage publishers have in this space when compared to traditional marketing companies.

“You could liken it to being introduced at a podium to give a speech to 1,000 people; that’s like delivering an ad message. It’s much different than being introduced to someone, making eye contact, shaking hands and having a personal exchange,” says Porrazzo. “I think that’s what brands are eager to do: Speak directly to the consumer, and I think we can provide that in a way marketing companies cannot.”

Since launch, Churm landed four client campaigns; the roster includes Disneyland and Beauty Encounter, an online cosmetic retailer. Porrazzo counts demand as one of the challenges of Churm’s new division; the company currently has four proposals out to prospective clients, in addition to the projects already underway.

“I think there is a real opportunity for regional publishers who are rooted within a certain territory,” says Porrazzo. “Custom content allows you to go outside of that regional footprint for revenue. There is no reason we can’t deliver website content for someone in Connecticut, for example.”

Staff Preparation to Ensure Client Satisfaction

Kim Paulsen, SVP of Penton Media’s Marketing Services & Technology Group, says training the publisher’s sales team as well as educating clients on new services has taken more time than initially anticipated. “One benefit for Penton is the fact that we cross so many different industries, which allows us to learn and teach others what is working in different markets,” she says.

Training for Penton staff includes formal education on-site, online learning and in-person sales support. According to Paulsen, the biggest challenge for her staff is determining exactly where a potential customer is in the buying cycle, and then creating products that will encourage them to the next stage of the sale.

Porrazzo says Churm has not touted itself as a content producer, but more of a content strategist, to potential marketing services clients. “When we sit down with clients, we ask about objectives, voice. Is it more conversational or corporate? When you ask those questions upfront, it streamlines the process.”

At Penton, Paulsen says that finding the right kind of content for a campaign is often dependent on client knowledge and then asking the client for input. “The key is understanding what they actually have already that is important, so we know what else they need to complete their assets (content offerings). The other key understanding is how well do these assets perform.”

After client expectation is realized, it’s imperative for the writers on the project to understand what these expectations are. “There is training involved; it’s not like getting an assignment, writing it and sending it out. When you have a large client, you have a large group of people working on the project, and it’s about unifying the process,” says Porrazzo.

Marketing Services to Eclipse Print Advertising?

Porrazzo says that as far as Churm Custom Content is concerned, growth lies solely in content; not in other areas like social media or design. Moving custom magazines into the digital arena is one potential growth area for Churm.

By sticking solely to content, the new custom division is not only gaining new clients for Churm, but it has also upped client retention rates for the publisher.

“The performance thus far has been very significant, as we continue to see a lot of real unevenness about ad spend in traditional media forms (print advertising). This has helped considerably to offset the continued decline in that revenue. It’s helped us to maintain budgets overall as a company,” says Churm. “Obviously, this one division is doing much better than expected. It is really a hedge, and is an alternative as we try to stabilize that advertising spending.”

Yet that hedge may evolve into more of a solid bet as the group grows. “I can see 3 or 4 years down the road, maybe sooner, a majority of our revenue coming from these marketing service areas,” says Churm.

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