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Custom-made expansion

Broadening role

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At Penton Media, the custom division's responsibilities include educating 260 media brand salespeople on custom opportunities, attending sales calls, building proposals and executing programs. Beyond that, the department has become an incubator for new revenue-generating ideas that aren't custom media products in a traditional sense. “We get a lot of calls from vendors who have new ideas,” said Scott Bieda, VP-Penton Custom Solutions. “We will take the time to evaluate their offerings, get pricing and get examples. If it looks like something we think we can market to our customers—who are the market leaders, publishers and salespeople on our publication franchises—we will bring it on board.” For example, Penton used a vendor to develop mobile applications that provided a platform for exhibitors to promote their offerings to attendees. “The [individual brands at Penton] theoretically could execute programs like those, but they weren't doing it,” Bieda said. “They're all just strapped. When we do something as a custom project, we teach people how to market and sell it, and we produce it here. It's turnkey.” E.Republic is also breaking the tradition of reserving custom media for single-client special projects. Don Pearson, exec VP at e.Republic, oversees the company's 8-year-old custom media division as well as the company's state and local government media portfolio. In 2011, he wants to widely roll out a custom special report model based on a project produced by e.Republic's Center for Digital Education. Until 2010, Converge was a traditional, controlled circulation b-to-b magazine published five times per year. This year, it was rebranded as the “Center for Digital Education's Converge Special Report,” with quarterly editions built around a technology product category and a limited number of sponsors. Each sponsor received a custom-written profile within the print report, as well as leads generated from downloads of the report, a webinar based on the content and e-mail and direct-mail campaigns. Pearson is looking for opportunities to use this model elsewhere. For example, e.Republic's Emergency Management brand is growing rapidly, but he does not want to increase the print publication's frequency. “I'm not going the traditional route from a six-time to a 12-time schedule,” Pearson said. “My next expansion will be topical special reports in the Converge model. We can give some customers more exposure without having to send magazines to a circulation of 50,000. Special reports have limited, focused distribution of about 10,000 copies that we can build a good integrated custom program around.” Like other media executives interviewed for this story, Pearson sees custom media as a linchpin in the evolution of business media companies from print publishing to a fully integrated, multiple platform model. “The marketplace demands that we blend our services and offerings of print, lead generation, research, video, social media and live events,” he said. “The central hub for this transition is the custom media division.”
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