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Cut through the clutter with a great story

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For Michael Hurley, custom publishing is all about curling up with a good story. Hurley, VP-custom publishing at construction media company Hanley Wood, said now more than ever storytelling distinguishes custom publishing from previous eras.

"Creative storytelling is one of the most effective ways to positively affect opinion and behavior, and every company has a story to tell," said Hurley, who joined Hanley Wood last December after serving eight years as publisher-director of Hearst Custom Publishing.

Without much direct competition, custom products can enable publishers and their clients to break through the clutter, provided "you can get their attention," he said.

Hurley, who has recently worked on custom publishing projects with business consulting firm RSM McGladrey and paint and coatings company Sherwin-Williams, talked to Media Business about how business publishers can spark that sort of attention through custom media.

MB: What are the hot trends for b-to-b media companies with a significant presence in custom publishing?

Hurley: If there is a trend in custom publishing now it is to really make sure that you're getting the finest edit, the finest design and the finest photography. In the past, because of stricter budgets or publishers looking for bigger margins, we often settled for products that were somewhat lacking in quality. We're also now seeing a lot of folks bringing in big brand names [to contribute to custom media]. For a book about Sherwin-Williams and design, you might bring in a big-time decorator who is going to do some edit rather than having to rely on in-house generalists, who are really good writers but don't have that "behind the rope" expertise that someone else can bring.

MB: How is the custom publishing model changing for advertisers? What are advertisers now looking for in custom media?

Hurley: They're looking for top-notch edit and creative that's going to stir the audience and get them to react in a way the client wants. The other thing that's vitally important?and is white-hot these days?is return on investment. As a publisher, you really need to make sure that you and your client are both clear on the communication objectives for the piece. And you must write, design and build to achieving those objectives. You can't just create a magazine because you can. The other element is how to integrate the product with other marketing tactics you have in the marketplace and how they can complement one another.

MB: People tend to think of print when they think of custom publishing. What potential is there for custom-media products in other media, namely online?

Hurley: Marketers expect custom publishers to understand integrated media. The key for b-to-b media is that buyers are deciding when and where they get their information. So [publishers] have to have the capability and experience [in custom media] on the electronic side.

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