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Meister Media Worldwide reinvents itself in e-media

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After patiently waiting for the specialty agriculture markets it covers to embrace e-media in a major way, Meister Media Worldwide has moved rapidly and decisively online by relaunching the majority of its 20-plus Web sites over the past nine months.

Meister covers the fruit, vegetable, cotton and flower-growing markets, as well as Latin American markets for those products. For a variety of reasons, including limited access to broadband Internet access, most of these audiences have been slow to move to the Web.

Meister leadership made a strategic decision several years ago not to invest heavily in e-media until the technology, advertiser interest and competitive environment were ripe. Once the criteria management set out were met—sometime in 2007—Meister was ready to move quickly online, said Gary Fitzgerald, chairman-CEO of the Willoughby, Ohio-based company.

Rather than assuming the audiences would adopt the Web at the same pace they might have a few years earlier, “we assumed they would apply their personal expectations from everything else they’re doing online to their professional use of the Web,” Fitzgerald said. “So we took the decision that we needed to provide the full Web 2.0 experience from the outset.”

Jim Sulecki, a 20-year Meister veteran who was named director of e-media in January 2008, is leading the effort. He noted that e-media generated only about 2% of the company’s total revenue last year. “Our budget is to double our e-media revenue this year. We’re looking to continue doubling it each year for the next several years,” he said. “We’re looking to get to e-media revenues of about 15% of total revenue for the company by 2012.”

GreenhouseGrower.com, associated with Meister’s largest magazine, Greenhouse Growe, was the first of the company’s sites to undergo a major overhaul. The new look was unveiled last July, and subsequent sites have used the same basic template, which includes a wide format with plenty of white space, social media elements such as commenting on articles, a video destination (called GG TV on GreenhouseGrower.com) and online-only content posted daily.

“Prior to this, we weren’t even posting the full content of our magazines, just the cover story and some key content,” Sulecki said.

GrowingProduce.com, introduced in January, is a new brand for Meister and marked a new development in the company’s online strategy—an online hub for multiple magazines. GrowingProduce.com supplanted stand-alone sites for American Fruit Grower, American Vegetable Grower and Florida Grower.

“When we pull together all the content from the three brands, it’s a more compelling proposition for users,” Sulecki said. Having more content has helped Meister’s position with the major search engines. “From June 2008 through the end of February 2009, we saw a doubling of unique visitors to about 10,500 and a 117% increase in page views,” Sulecki said.

GrowingProduce.com also enables Meister to aggregate a large horizontal audience in addition to the targeted markets it serves with the magazines. “We had some advertising from the big brands on the individual sites, but we’ve definitely seen an increase in business from them since we’ve launched the hub,” Sulecki said.

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