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Jim Elliott Leads A Panel Of Experts On How To Explore Ways Publishers Can Make Money Again From Magazines…Linda Ruth Reporting From ACT 7 Experience…

May 1, 2017

(Right to left) Dan Fuchs, John French, Steve Mayer, and Jim Elliott.

Jim Elliott, President of James G Elliott Co,.led a panel of industry experts to explore the ways in which publishers can make money again, at the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 7 Conference in Mississippi today. Panelists were John French, described as “a rock star in B2B”; Dan Fuchs, VP, publisher and chief revenue officer of HGTV magazine; and Steve Mayer, publisher of Plate magazine. What follows is from that panel discussion:

Elliott: We’ve been told to always run your business as if you’re going to sell it, even if you’re not. We have here representatives of both B2B and consumer publications. Operationally, what would you see as the difference?

Fuchs: A B2C company with a focus on the consumer offers a broader advertising base. We can deliver the consumer, who is interested in that which we aren’t necessarily writing about, whose interests include products outside the vertical product niche. It gives us the opportunity to cast a wider net.

French: B2B’s subject matter being smaller, more focused, and more targeted, delivers an ad base that is more narrow. But the worlds of B2B and B2C are starting to come together through data segmentation. I run into big B2C publishers who don’t know who their subscriber is. That’s changing; it needs to change, and it offers a valuable and targeted approach to advertisers whether in a B2B or B2C environment.

Elliott: What do you see emerging in terms of uses of new technology?

Mayer: Plate mag is in a B2B world, deeply invested in the restaurant industry. Its audience is tactile, tied into the sights, sounds, and smells of the restaurant kitchen. The print magazine, with its tactile nature, has a natural connection, and replicating the experience on line has been a challenge. To meet it, we essentially had to re-invent the site.

Fuchs: There’s still a great deal of profitability in print ad revenue. We’re able, in the publication, to use different varnishes for paint advertisers, for example, giving a tactile experience to introduce a tactile product. We use it to surprise and delight; we look to the consumer for what he or she really wants, and we deliver that.

French: The number one way to get and keep a database of good names is to send a good quality magazine. Whether B2B or B2C, the product has to come first. Use data cross products to discover new audience members.

Mayer: Yes, I agree, a unified audience database across a portfolio of magazines opens opportunities cross-line. You can use the information for audience development. The use of the questionnaire to qualify names can yield deeper information than a consumer magazine might have. It can be used to enrich the story we are telling about our audience. We can create new products around it, and products for more vertical segments of the audience.

Fuchs: At HGTV, we do have a huge trust factor that enables us to collect that kind of information from our list. But because of that trust we have to be careful. We use it to leverage more print ads, doing deals, for example, in the fashion space—we don’t have the editorial content, but we have the readers, and we can separate out the audience with that interest for the advertiser. The ads have a high CPM but deliver a very targeted reader who gets a special offer geared specifically for her. We can deliver the value without betraying the trust.

French: People will give information if they trust the brand. Treat them with care.

Elliott: And how does this tie into your approach to native advertising?

Fuchs: Those kinds of collaborations are a quarter of our ad business. We can do it, we have the resources to create it—our advertisers can’t always. Done effectively and with the consumer in mind it has a tremendous revenue potential.

Mayer: Yes, we work with our advertisers to create custom ads through our marketing department. We’ve taken it far enough to create a whole custom publication. It takes a special kind of client relationship. You need to protect the integrity of the brand, and there needs to be a real purpose, a story to tell. We can show the advertiser where that story lies. They might be so close to it that they don’t see their leadership position in their industry. We can help them tell that story.

French: This can fall down at the sales point. It takes really smart people to convey that, delineate what is the content and what is the ad point. I wonder why it’s taken off the way it has, and I think information flow online is not always real or useful, and the reader has learned to be their own traffic cop. Their attitude is, end it to me and I’ll decide what’s useful. As a result, they don’t worry about that particular advertising approach.

Fuchs: Advertising integration is prolific in TV, and online. Print is held to a higher standard, so it is questioned more vigorously. Custom content for an advertiser tends to perform better than the ads the advertiser sends. We can add that value through the trust that we’ve built with our audience..

BoSacks (from the audience): Is there a potential to abuse that trust?

Mayer: Absolutely. The desperation of some publishers might mean they will take a check for anything. It takes a sophisticated sales person to clarify what is or is not possible and acceptable in this kind of relationship. In some ways it’s old wine in new bottles. We’ve always done some of this. But now ad agencies also are being challenged, and getting into content creation for their clients. They can’t always create the content as successfully as the publisher, however, or as appropriately for the publication.

Fuchs: Generating content for the sake of reach compromises brand equity.

French: We have to convey that we are able to help the advertiser re-shape the message to give the audience.

Elliott: Communication and listening need to be part of the skill set.

French: What did you say? (Laughter)

Elliott: You have to train the sales person, to play the client, play the editor, you need someone versatile in listening to put a deal together. This is a big audacious area for publishing.

Fuchs: You learn and make mistakes as you set expectations. Adopt standards, this is what you can get, what you can say, this is what you can’t do. The advertiser doesn’t get final approval, they need to trust that the publisher will execute the ad to the best of their standards.

Elliott: Going into digital: is programmatic a race to the top or a race to the bottom? Or different races?

Mayer: We don’t’ see much on the programmatic front, it delivers an unbelievably low cost per thousand and the ads often look wrong when they run.

Elliott: Publishers put magazines down. TV people don’t do that!

Fuchs: HDTV magazine is about the success of print, a proof point that people want certain types of content in ink on paper. We embrace the idea that there is other media out there and that print serves a very specific role within it. It’s a challenging idea for the television industry as well as the print—not in terms of content, but in terms of platform. The medium influences the message.

French: Some of the most successful brands of the last 10 years are a combination of magazine and TV.

Elliott: What other assets might a media company have?

Mayer: The other assets had better be just as good, must serve a purpose. Your brand must stand for something. This is a golden age of media, but it’s fragmented, vertical. Highest TV viewership has maybe 8% of the audience. Not like when everyone watched the Ed Sullivan show. You have to start with the why. Why do you exist, what is your purpose? Your purpose, your mission, is what connects publishers, advertisers, and audience. If you undersantd your purpose and mission, it brings you forward.

Elliott: What keeps you up at night?

Fuchs: I’m optimistic about the magazine and the business, and optimism is infectious. We’re all excited about the business, and my goal is to lead everyone on my team to that same level of enthusiasm. I think about how to get that level of excitement across the entire organization.

French: My current job is to be an advisor, so I’m brought in to help with transition. Transition is another word for stress. But as someone who is not the operator anymore, I get to advise and be done. My personal challenge is to be at the constant forefront of technology advancement.

Mayer: I try to instill in my team a passion, which becomes almost a righteous indignation if someone says no. We have a cause. The thing that concerns me about tech is the tendency of everyone to get enamored of the shiny new object. We encounter every day people who think the world has moved on, when in a lot of ways it hasn’t.

Elliott: I am concerned over clients who have good ideas, but not the capacity to implement them. Pick a couple of good ones, and know you can execute on them.

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