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Business publishers urged to catch custom media wave

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As traditional print revenue continues to experience growing pressure, business publishers ought to ramp up their investment in custom publishing, according to panelists who spoke last week at an American Business Media forum titled “Next Generation Content Marketing: Using Content as the Center of Your Customer Marketing.”

Custom publishing has been around for more than 100 years but has only recently emerged as an effective advertising tool to help companies cut through the proverbial clutter.

“When you talk about an industry that’s growing nearly 20% annually—with $7 billion in revenue for b-to-b media—that’s a real business,” said Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, in his opening remarks.

Overall spending on custom publishing was expected to increase 22.1% last year to $34.70 billion and grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15.4% from 2005 to 2010, according to media investment bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

The Custom Publishing Council is even more sanguine. According to the trade group, spending on custom publishing was expected to reach $45.80 billion in 2006—about double that of 2000.

The surge in spending on custom publishing is a reflection of a media climate in which it is increasingly difficult for any one company to stand out.

“Marketers want to get more targeted and create a deeper relationship,” said Joe Pulizzi, group director of Penton Custom Media and chairman of ABM’s Custom Media Committee. (ABM is currently developing a custom publishing award which it hopes to unveil in 2008.)

Pulizzi said the term “custom publishing” these days means “content marketing,” which can encompass custom media, custom publishing, branded content and custom content.

“We want to establish a dialogue [through custom media,]” he said. “Content marketing shouldn’t be one-way. You need to create that feedback loop and make the content relevant.”

Pulizzi said custom media can include traditional print products, e-magazines, podcasts, white papers, custom events, microsites and Webcasts.

But whatever the medium, the product has to be a long-term commitment because “one-off” custom media projects seldom achieve an advertiser’s objective of building a dialogue with its customers, according to the panelists. It also needs a strong ROI, which is easier to track with custom media than traditional ad sales, they said.

Rebecca Rolfes, exec VP-new business development at custom publishing company Imagination Publishing, who has worked with such clients as Motorola Inc. and Yahoo!, said, “You have to make [the product] accountable so the buyer can go to his CEO and justify the cost when the CEO says, ‘Why do I need this?’ ”

Rolfes said associations present an attractive market for custom publishing because most of them have a publishing charter. “They always have a publishing budget,” she said. “They just haven’t used it very well. But now they’re looking to custom media.”

Michael Hurley, VP-custom publishing at Hanley Wood, stressed the need to not “overly brand” the customer in the editorial. “It needs third-party credibility,” he said. “It’s more of a soft sell that blends content with marketing messages.”

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