For most b-to-b publishers, print has receded into a broader array of information services and marketing initiatives for brand partners, including events, digital and data. This is not news, but grappling with how this media mix impacts strategic focus going forward is still new. Publishers are increasingly “taking the plunge” and rallying behind a corporate mission statement designed to crisply define the kind of media company they are.
Hanley Wood, for example, is not only evolving into a digital-first content operation and adjusting its entire production processes accordingly, it’s officially announcing it as a corporate strategy. Still others, like UBM, have shifted towards defining themselves as primarily an events and marketing services operation.
For some companies, however, external messaging and positioning is less important than an internal understanding of where the company is focusing its strategic resources. “We haven’t done anything formal externally,” says Vance CEO Peggy Walker. “Internally, we’ve gone through a number of messages to get people on board with how we need to focus our resources and time.”
The Vance Publishing Corporation, which produces brands in the agribusiness, beauty and woodworking markets, initiated an internal review about four years ago to examine what it would take to go digital-first. “We brought in a consultant and spent a year with the editorial, e-media and analytics teams to look at how their workday would change,” she says.
Nevertheless, a new story needs to be told to partners and customers outside the firm. “In a conversation with a marketer, we are describing ourselves as a marketing partner,” adds Walker. “With, say, Modern Salon, we refer to it as a brand and we’ve stopped referring to it as a publication. It makes it easier to have a conversation with a marketer and their plans and how we fit in.
And Vance’s corporate site, which reflects the company’s 75th anniversary, clearly features its marketing services (e.g., analytic services, list rental, market intelligence, and so on) alongside its flagship brands.
Again, for Walker, defining the corporate mission has been more about making sure the stars are aligned internally. “As difficult a transition as all of this is, it’s still what we do and have always done. It’s just we do more of some things and less of others. We’ve brought on new talent and new functions, but it’s also changed the way print staff have had to learn new skills in order to adapt.”
Focus on What Works, Get Rid of What Doesn’t
For other publishers, making the transition to multichannel media model has required a pragmatic look at what works and what doesn’t and focusing the sometimes limited resources only on opportunities that can efficiently scale.
“There are two things going on,” says John Siefert, CEO of Virgo. “A lot of people who have jobs like mine are trying to pick a path on what their company is going to be. What’s shocking is they seem to be a little hesitant to pick that path. In some cases, they’re positioning themselves on more than one path—‘We’re a lead-gen company, but we still love content, and we’re all about the audience.’ I think there’s been a little bit of schizophrenia on how they’re trying to keep their businesses afloat.”
Siefert took his management team through the tough process of grading where to allocate resources. That meant taking a hard look at not only what was making money and what wasn’t, but also the effort put into those initiatives.
He had his team plot out on what he called the “Easy, Easy” grid the brands and platforms that were easy or hard to produce and sell. The exercise helped the team determine where the best opportunities for growth were. “It helped us figure out how to scale the company,” he says. “Why would we be focusing on the things that don’t have potential to scale and grow? It was an ah-ha moment. We got different perspectives from folks. Just because something is easy from a sales perspective doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute.”
As an example, virtual events were a product for which the sales team was having an easy time selling $5,000 to $7,000 virtual booths. “But the user experience sucked and the execution was a total resource drain on our marketing services team,” says Siefert.
Instead, Virgo’s marketing services team has been building destination sites for clients that leverage content marketing. Resources are used more efficiently and the projects, which can have multiple underwriters for a single destination, have “significantly eclipsed” the revenue that the virtual events used to make, Siefert says.