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Giving the customer a voice

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As the Web renders traditional publishing models less effective at generating revenue, b-to-b media companies continue to transform their sales and marketing strategies. Some companies, such as IDG and UBM, have moved into the marketing services arena, while most every media company is scrambling to monetize its social media efforts amid the erosion in publishers' print portfolios. Forbes thinks it has hit upon a new type of publishing model that combines its editorial, marketing services and storytelling elements, which are key to effectively trafficking on social media networks. The platform, called AdVoice, allows marketers to create content, such as blogs, using the same tools as Forbes' editors. Marketers' content will run on Forbes.com and Forbes. AdVoice will be available later this year, but a specific date has not been set, said Chief Revenue Officer Kevin Gentzel. No clients have yet been announced. “We feel strongly that the future of media is all about the heightened relationship between journalists and contributors to Forbes, our audience and our marketing partners,” Gentzel said. AdVoice pricing is sponsorship-based, Gentzel said. Marketers can buy space next to editorial in print, on the Web or in an integrated package, with a minimum quarterly purchase. The introduction of AdVoice coincides with the redesign of Forbes, which was unveiled in late September, as well as an ongoing revamp of Forbes.com that emphasizes the website's bloggers. Gentzel said AdVoice content will be clearly labeled as such on any promotional material, including the landing page that marketers will use to publish. “We will make [it] extremely transparent whose voice a reader or user is consuming,” Gentzel said. “For AdVoice to work best, the content needs to be focused on thought leadership or story narrative rather than a pitch. This storytelling should be a complement to the brand's display advertising.” Ted Kohnen, VP-interactive marketing at b-to-b ad agency Stein Rogan+Partners, called AdVoice a good move and said it was increasingly part of conversations he's having with clients as they budget for 2011. “Contextually aligned content is one of the strongest formats that drives users to action,” said Kohnen, whose clients include PR Newswire and executive recruiting company The Ladders. “If we can align a client's voice and blog on the same subject that's being discussed in Forbes editorial, the reader is going to want to engage further and read my client's blog as well.” Gentzel said Forbes' CMO Network's “Off the Record/On the Record” series helped inspire AdVoice. The program, which debuted in early 2009, invites CEOs to meet with Forbes' leadership for an off-the- record luncheon, followed by an on-the-record interview to run on the Forbes Video Network. “What we kept hearing over and over is that the CMOs were getting into the content-creation business and this was becoming more important to them—to be able to communicate more deeply and in engaging ways with their customers,” Gentzel said. “So we thought we could get really nervous about that, because we're in the content-creation business, too, or embrace it and figure out a way we could create a product that would help distribute marketers' content underneath the Forbes' brand umbrella.” AdVoice is part of “an evolution in marketing that's naturally happening, that should happen and [on which] Forbes is the first one to take a stand in broad daylight,” said Frannie Danzinger, senior VP-media at b-to-b ad agency GyroHSR. She added: “I don't think the model can be successful from an editorial or advertising standpoint if the editorial integrity wasn't maintained, because no marketer would want to purchase that.”
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