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Custom Content Council conference focuses on relevancy, fending off ad agencies

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Custom publishers are well-positioned with the direction media and marketing are headed—provided they produce relevant content and fend off competition from advertising agencies.

Those were key themes at the Custom Content Council’s annual conference last week in Nashville.

“Consumers are in control, and they know it,” said Sandra Zoratti, VP-global solutions marketing at InfoPrint Solutions Co., a joint venture of IBM Corp. and Ricoh Co. “The time for custom content has really come like never before.” To take advantage of this opportunity, custom content creators have to stay relevant, Zoratti said. “Relevent custom content is proven to drive engagement,” she said. “Irrelevant content drives disengagement.”

Zoratti shared a case study involving Reed Business Information’s Graphic Arts Monthly, which hired InfoPrint Solutions to help bolster its ad revenue and re-energize its subscribers. The magazine sent out an online survey to subscribers asking which of five topics they wanted to read about in its January issue. Based on this audience input, it sent out five versions of the issue, featuring different cover stories and graphics.

Of potential good news for business publishers, Zoratti said that in the past three months, even amid all the focus on Apple Inc.’s iPad, she’s seen a renewed interest in print, as marketers try to achieve better balance between on- and offline.

For KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the challenge of remaining relevant to its customers “between flights” spurred the creation of iFly, a digital bimonthly magazine, Albert Jan Prevoo, director-customer media at KLM, said in another session at the CCC conference.

The magazine, which features videos and Flash animation, as well as robust advertising support, is sent to 1.5 million KLM customers, who receive different content based on such demographics as gender, age and frequent-flier tier. It has an open rate of 45%—“That is big,” Prevoo said—and 350,000 active readers. Using sophisticated analytics, KLM has been able to tie customer interaction with the magazine to ticket sales.

A CEO panel on the closing day of the conference focused at length on the need for custom content creators to distinguish themselves from the advertising agencies encroaching on their space.

“Advertising agencies are sprinters. I like to think we’re marathon runners,” said Diana Pohly, president-CEO of Pohly Co., noting how custom media companies tend to focus more on long-form content. “It’s two different talent bases,” added Pohly, who came to custom publishing after 15 years in the advertising business.

Cameron Brown, president of King Fish Media, said custom publishers need to take charge of new-media platforms if they want to keep ahead of agencies. “If we don’t take control at a strategic level,” he said, “then we’re going to let in a lot more agency types.”

In an interview immediately after the conference concluded, CCC Executive Director Lori Rosen said she didn’t see ad agencies as that much of a threat to custom media companies. “They tried a while ago, and I don’t think that they’re a formidable player in the market,” she said.

Rosen said the conference attracted 114 attendees, which was on par with attendance at last year’s event in Miami. The council, which was created in 1998 by the Magazine Publishers of America and became independent in 2002, changed its name from the Custom Publishing Council earlier this year.

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