Holding media's feet to the fire

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B-to-b media company Questex Media Group Holdings and Canada's largest media company, CanWest Global Communications, both declared bankruptcy last week, just one day after Condé Nast closed four publications—including the 70-year-old Gourmet—and laid off 180 people. In order for traditional media to avoid irrelevance, they must face tough questions about the value they bring to the market. You should be pressing the issue. Traditional media's value has long been based upon “The Audience,” that mysterious and protected collection of people who have agreed to enter into a trusted relationship with the media company. But today the audience dictates the terms of engagement. You won't find them on circulation lists anymore. They gather in Google search results, on LinkedIn, special-interest Web sites and anywhere else they choose. In light of this reality, marketers should challenge their media partners to answer these four questions: 1) How will you apply new tools to meet my needs? Publishers today should be experts in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and any other tools that are relevant to your business. Every marketing program should leverage not just its audience but also the vast communities of potential buyers who are congregating elsewhere. Any publisher that confines your program to a captive list is cheating you. 2) How are you building community? For a glimpse of the future of media, check out Spiceworks, a company that has built a community of more than 750,000 technology professionals without editors or lists. There's still value in audience, but influence is shifting from a top-down to a networked model. In the future, successful publishers—and marketers—will be those that enable productive conversations, not just blast e-mail. 3) How will you help me build trust? Now that everyone has access to the tools of media, publishers no longer have a monopoly on trust. Buyers don't want to hear your marketing message; they want a relationship with advisers who can help them succeed. Media companies know how to build trust on a large scale. Their new mission must be to educate clients in the tactics of creating and sustaining these relationships. The best ones will seek to teach customers to become self-sufficient by building their own media properties. There will always be new customers to fill the pipeline. 4) How will you make yourself indispensable? If everyone is now “the media,” then what will a media company do to sustain its value to you? Lead qualification, community-building and education are possibilities; display advertising is not. Media companies need to raise the stakes in order to justify your continued business. You do them a favor by moving the process along.
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