Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2) Evaluating media properties: New Media pros look at legacy titles as starting points for new digital publications

The list: Most B2B titles are qualified circulation magazines that mail their publications to a set list free each month. In the past, a publisher might start a new B2B magazine simply because they felt they had in their possession a good list of those in the industry – the rest, they felt was easy. Give a publisher a good list of readers and the rest of the job was simply hiring editors and sales people and start publishing.

Today, publishers often try and save their magazines by cutting circulation costs, starting with dropping their BPA audits and leading to ending their qualification process. Although there are costs to auditing a magazine, the real costs are in the qualification process. In the past, circulation managers depended on sending out mailings to readers to get them to fill out those "bingo" cards and mailing them back in. If the manager could get a good percentage to respond to that first mailing then they could limit their efforts from there – usually more mailings and faxing.

Today the cost is in telemarketing efforts. Killing the qualification process means thousands of dollars in savings, but it also means that the list – that is, the database of subscribers – is getting stale.

A magazine that has just recently dropped their BPA probably still has a good list. But anything over two years or so is stale.

But there is more to it that just the "freshness" of the list, there is also its quality. In the nineties, most B2B sales forces competed with each other not only over who reached the most qualified readers, but what readers were more qualified than others. A construction magazine might ask for information on the reader's job title in their company, but did they ask how big the company is, what their sales volume is, and what that reader was authorized to design, buy or specify? Some BPA audits were as big as their magazines (OK, I exaggerate a little), while others were four pages of very general data. The four page audit is the standard today, I'm afraid to report.

When TNM first started publishing, Reed Business Information was shuttering a series of magazines. Many of these titles couldn't find buyers before they were shuttered. But these titles still had good lists of readers and when buyers emerged to pick off the remnants those buyers generally found that their properties were in better shape than they could have otherwise expected.

The database: this is one area where I admit to having a bit of a fetish. For me, as a B2B publisher, I felt that one of the most important things I needed to have in my possession was as complete a database of advertising leads as possible.

Often I would come into a situation where next to nothing was in the possession of the publisher and would have to begin the process of building it myself, often by getting information from the sales reps. They hated that. Many ad reps felt that I wanted that database so I could make them expendable. Wrong. For me, the database was where our sales efforts began, and where my own efforts to help the staff started.

As time wore on, most publishers started to depend on the competitive analysis companies who counted ad pages and gave the publishers market share data. Then came the database solutions: ACT!, for instance; later and others.

Most New Media pros looking at several properties will find the databases in the widest imaginable condition (? I'm not sure I said this well). A major publisher, say one of the top ten media companies, probably have moved their reps onto a system such as Getting access to that database is essential, of course, but could be complicated by the publishing group the property belonged to. That is, the publisher may consider this data proprietary because it also applies to other titles they own.

Asking for sample entries is always a good idea. Gaining the market share reports, in detail, is also a good idea. Being able to combine them yourself puts you way ahead.

But how good is this information? Ah, there's the rub. Often it is not so good. Horrible, in fact. Part of the problem is that a New Media may be looking at the market in a very different way than the previous publisher.

A good story to tell might be when I move to Chicago to take over a B2B property. That legacy title saw itself as competing against the big construction equipment magazines. I didn't see things this way. As someone who had experience with regional construction companies, I looked at things from the reader's perspective, not the big advertiser's perspective. I knew that contractors bought a wide range of products, of which construction equipment was just the most obvious.

So when I saw the database of advertising leads I quickly noticed that it really only reflected at best one quarter of the companies I felt we should approach. This new way of looking at the market gave our reps a tremendous advantage – yes, they had to make lots of cold calls, but every time we landed a new client in a new part of the industry we saw that we have a very large share of their budget. We continued to go after out small share of the equipment market, but over time equipment advertising became less important and as a result the magazine found itself on firmer footing that it had in the past.

In the new world of mobile and tablet publishing platforms, where some new ventures believe they can make a go of it on reader revenue, the database might not appear to be a big concern. But then again, if I were entering the market I'd want to go head to head with those folks.

Part three, will talk about the clients, and the staff.