Government Executive Media Group is in the midst of an evolution.
Once a traditional b2b publisher with print editions, it’s now a digital-only organization with a number of innovative products and events. Its business model doesn’t support user-based revenue and instead focuses in other areas, from advertising, to content marketing, to research and more.
Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group, sat down with Folio: to discuss his big picture strategy.
You can hear Hartman speak more on these topics on Tuesday, October 9, during his main stage panel “Lessons from New Business Models in Media” at The Folio: Show.
Folio: It’s been about a year since you rebranded your content marketing division to Studio 2G. Since then, how has this piece of the business impacted the company’s evolution, and how does it contribute to your overall objectives?
Tim Hartman: Studio 2G has been instrumental in helping us build those services that do all those types of programs, and I think it’s a long term, strategic differentiator for us in our market.
In the era of native content, we needed to separate it from our journalistic efforts and Studio 2G can act as a signal to our readers that something is a sponsor-driven marketing piece rather than an editorially driven article.
Folio: Do these types of nuanced sales, like those involving Studio 2G, present any challenges from a leadership or organizational standpoint?
Hartman: The programs that Studio 2G creates are much more complex than our typical advertising relationships. They’re consultative, they often are integrated across multiple distribution channels like social, or newsletters, or websites, so they are very complex to execute. To prepare for that, we had to build the capabilities to deliver on that regularly.
One of the unique things we did was we created a dedicated program management team that oversees all of the strategic marketing programs that Studio 2G creates to make sure that every step of the way, we’re updating our clients, we’re making sure our internal people understand the role that they’re playing on the project, and it ultimately helps us improve delivery and improve consistency for our clients.
Folio: What are your clients and advertisers looking for from their media partners, and how are you adapting to deliver on that?
Hartman: They are looking for expertise in reaching government decision makers. It’s actually very complicated to execute programs in the government space because the audience has a lot of turnover in it now. The technical abilities to reach them need to be advanced because the government has a lot of firewalls in terms of how you engage and reach their inbox, or even as a website, how they’re able to access you.
And so, our clients are often looking for access to the government audience and the expertise to actually reach them with digital programs or have them turn out for an event. What that means is that we really have become a one-stop shop for engaging government decision makers. We’ve built a suite of services that a marketer can use to fill any gaps they might have in their program when they’re trying to engage a government decision maker.
Folio: It seems like most, if not all, of your revenue comes from advertisers and bigger clients as opposed to readers. Is that your primary focus at the moment?
Hartman: Yes, almost 100 percent of our revenue comes from advertising, marketing services, and events. We’re about 70 percent digital and 30 percent events. We no longer have print revenue, we’ve never had user-based revenue in our mix—although one of the surprises this year has been our paid revenue products, a small paid research product and attendee revenue at our events, have been surprisingly strong for us. We’re looking at ways to capture that energy in the future.
Folio: Do you think then that your brands won’t trend towards a reader-supported revenue model? Do you not see your company creating paywalls or charging a digital subscription for premium content at all anytime soon?
Hartman: I know a lot of b2b companies are looking at user revenues right now and I would advise them to really look at the market for professional content that they’re in. Our primary audience is government readers and it’s a very complicated process to get them to pay for subscriptions for content.
It’s very challenging to become a government contractor and to actually get that end user to get their agency pay for their subscription, so there’s almost nobody in our space that’s charging for government content right now. I think its a valid business model for lots of different markets, but it just doesn’t serve us, given the underlying dynamic of our users.
Folio: Are there any new business models or revenue streams that Government Executive Media Group is currently working on that you’re excited about?
Hartman: I’m very excited about our evolution of lead generation and digital products. We’ve invested a lot in data and technology to provide better account-based marketing capabilities than any competitor in our market. And what we’re finding is that that’s leading to a new type of relationship with companies where marketing clients are more willing to pay for the data directly versus for an advertising program that they ultimately get the data as an end result.
We’re also very encouraged by research and the willingness of government contractors to pay us for insights about our market and our audience.
Hartman: Our focus over the last five years has been to identify and engage every government decision maker in every segment of the public sector. We’ve built two brands in that time period, Defense One and Route Fifty, where audience acquisitions and engagement was the number one priority for those businesses.
They’ve been very successful in building loyal audiences and competing with legacy companies that were already serving those markets. We do it in lots of different ways, but it involves really great journalism, really great digital marketing, and an awareness of who the key audience members are and what your penetration of that market is at all times.
Folio: Does working in the government sector during a tumultuous period of politics such as this one present any unique nuances or challenges, and has this translated into a surge of traffic or subscriptions for your brands?
Hartman: At this time when the country is polarized on so many issues, I think it reemphasizes our mission to help our readers in government, in Washington, and across the country, do a better job and get their jobs done more effectively.
The current political dynamic has definitely driven more engagement for our brands. People are hungrier for news and analysis that helps them make sense of it all. There are so many cultural and political issues that are rising to the forefront of people’s minds that it can be beneficial for companies that are addressing the challenges with real journalism and are focused on the truth.
It’s allowed us to reinforce our brand to our users and it’s allowed us to reinforce the value that we provide them. The result of that is we’ve seen greater and greater loyalty from them. It’s really important, I think, for media companies at this moment to emphasize reader loyalty over just page views or growth in unique visitors or viral hits.
Our jobs have never been more important as arbiters of the truth and your readers and your potential readers will reward your focus on that with their ongoing loyalty and attention. And that’s a central part of the advertising business model.
Folio: What advice do you have for smaller brands who want to explore more in creating content marketing and branded content, who might not have the resources to create a whole division dedicated to that?
Hartman: For companies trying to get more involved in content marketing or strategic marketing services, I’d recommend that they consider partnerships with content creators, with digital agencies, with PR agencies that are in their market, to supplement the relationships and capabilities that they have.
We’ve partnered with a number of different people and organizations in our market also, that have proven to strengthen our capabilities very quickly versus having us have to do every piece of the puzzle. Now we may be doing 70 percent of the project and outsourcing 30 percent of the project. It creates a lean, but scalable model and also can serve to drive business development because often those other companies are those that haven’t been tapped.