ROI, impact of the Internet top topics at WPA’s annual conference

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Marketers that narrowly focus on return on investment to the neglect of branding are being shortsighted, media executives said last week at the Western Publications Association’s Two-Day Publishing Conference in Los Angeles.

Jeff Klein, who until earlier this month was president-CEO of tech publisher 101communications, said in his keynote address Friday that the mantra of marketers has become “ROI, ROI, ROI” and that “in some circles brand has become a dirty word.”

“Marketers are hearing from CFOs, who are watching over their shoulders: ‘How many sales leads did you get from the Internet campaign?’ But that’s stupid,” said Klein, who now serves as nonexecutive chairman of 1105 Media, which recently wrapped up its acquisition of 101communications for an estimated $75 million.

“Brand is important. It builds awareness. It’s a part of the media mix. Great marketers know that.”

Joe Hanson, chairman of Professional Media Group, was equally blunt in his comments regarding the emphasis on ROI. Hanson, who last month received American Business Media’s G.D. Crain Jr. Award for contributions to the development of editorial excellence in business media, was a member of a panel Thursday on “The Publishing Revolution.”

“ROI is a term that comes out of manufacturing,” he said. “I don’t know how anybody really, really measures ROI in advertising. ... How do you measure branding?”

Hanson concluded: “The people who are asking the questions are not the people who have to make the company grow.”

Like it or not, publishers will continue to face demands that they demonstrate the return on the marketing packages they offer, said Gordon Hughes II, ABM president-CEO, who was also on the panel.

“These things come to the fore every time there’s a recession,” Hughes said. But with the development of sophisticated media measurement techniques, the emphasis will be there even in good times, he said.

In past recoveries, Hughes said, “we’ve gone back to a couple of Knicks tickets and a martini. This time, it’s not going away.”

The panelists agreed that, overall, the Internet has been a good thing for publishers. “I believe that every new medium reinforces and strengthens existing media,” Hanson said. “There are great opportunities right now.”

Two of the opportunities Hanson cited were Webinars and monetizing publication archives.

Another panelist, Dan McCarthy, president-CEO of Gallarus Media Holdings, said the Internet has brought truer engagement with consumers of media, and that means publishers must be even more focused on readers’ interests.

“The product has to be so clearly aligned with the interests of the target audience,” he said, “and if you haven’t done that, there is no way it can be successful in your industry.”

Klein also addressed the impact of the Internet in his keynote, saying: “Technology is like a steamroller. If you are not on the steamroller, then you are destined to become part of the road.”

The WPA conference concluded Friday night with the presentation of the annual Maggie Awards for excellence in editorial, design and promotion. A total of 85 awards were given out in a variety of trade, consumer and education categories.

IT Architect, a CMP Media publication that was shuttered earlier this year, won the award for Best Overall Publication/Trade. DGA Quarterly, a publication of the Directors Guild of America, was recognized as Best New Publication/Trade.

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