At publishing companies all over the country, circulators have been pulling up chairs to the decision-making table, a place they were rarely invited in years past. If knowledge is power, then circulators are among the mightiest of all. And now, with the advent of integrated relational databases and search engines, technology is reshaping the way magazine audiences are built and maintained—and making circulators much more informed. So audience marketers, go ahead and make yourselves comfortable at that table. It looks like you're staying there for the long haul. And to keep you on your toes, here are the five areas to watch in circulation as 2008 progresses.
1) Integrated databases still rising
Many publishers are still busy combining their print, conference-, and Web-audience databases in order to fully integrate the information and provide advertisers with more complete information about subscribers.
“To me, this actually works as a major convenience for subscribers as well, since they can do all of their transactions with us in one place now,” said Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation at Hanley-Wood.
Gloria Adams, director of audience development at PennWell Corp., said publishers absolutely have to start thinking about total audience and not just print. “The audience for all our products is many times more than just the print magazine, and likely has different demographics. We need to be able to evaluate, compare and market to everyone, and do it easily,” she said.
Kathy Henry, group director of strategic community and audience development at CMP Electronics and the company's Game, Dobb's and International Customer Management Institute groups, said the circ industry is at a tipping point. “The old-world way of building your audience database was through your print brands,” she said. “With more and more print brands folding and shrinking in size, the new-world way of building an audience database is by engaging an online audience to the degree that they are willing to give you information about themselves.” She pointed out that this cultural shift will require a migration from advertiser-centric product fulfillment to member-centric product development. “Most of these products are going to be online tools,” she said. “A media company is nothing without its audience database.”
2) SEO and SEM
Search-engine marketing and search-engine optimization are increasingly being used as a tool in audience development.
“Everyone needs to be involved in SEO and SEM, not just the Web group,” Adams said, who pointed out that if circulators can track where and how people access sub forms, Web sites and the like, publishers will be able to do a much better job of attracting the people desired for different products.
Lebhar-Friedman is putting a major emphasis on SEO and SEM this year, according to Bruce Shriver, the circulation director at the company. Many of the company's sites require registration, which means search engines are unable to read them.
Lebhar wants to continue registering users because of the importance of gathering information, but realizes the growing importance of having searchable content. To address the problem, the company will provide site indexes to the search engines, creating landing pages that serve up sample content so that the sites will be recognized. Lebhar also will purchase key words and phrases.
Henry notes that search-engine optimization is critical for maximizing the value of the content, while SEM is the equivalent of new-business direct mail for the Web. “"Physical touch' marketing—direct mail, telephone, etc.—will be used as engagement-deepening devices,” she said.
CMP just acquired HDI, a company that trains IT help desk support staff. HDI has a membership base and a lot of training events; it is mostly Web-driven but once HDI gets an online lead, it uses direct mail to follow up, Henry said. “This greatly increased their lead conversion. This is a very effective way to use an expensive marketing medium,” she said.
At Penton Media, the primary responsibility of SEM is handled in the company's New Media group. “The audience development team in online focuses mainly on driving Web traffic and SEM,” said Jerry Okabe, VP-audience marketing and circulation at the company. The circulation department does get involved with SEM a little bit, he said, but doesn't have it as a primary responsiblitiy “yet,” he said.
3) Converting to digital
As distribution, postal, and paper costs continue to rise with no end in sight, there is likely to be more magazines converting copies to digitized or electronic versions. These products will allow publishers to engage their audiences in whole new ways.
“We absolutely must start thinking this way,” Adams said. She said current digital editions, usually exact replicas of the print version, underuse all the tools—such as video, interactive elements and moving images—that could be deployed to engage and grow an audience. “As the percentages of digital editions grows, we're going to set the pages up to be easily viewed on computer screens and advertising will be created to take advantage of this format.” For now, though, she said, advertisers aren't taking risks and because of that the shape and format of digital editions has remained static.
Clothier warned that putting together and distributing digital editions is a slow process. “Don't expect your digital distribution to just explode overnight,” she said, but do move forward with it in order to use the tools at your disposal effectively.
4) Telemarketing rule changes
With response rates down across the board in most forms of marketing, telemarketing has lately gained in importance because it is still standing strong as one of the best sources of response. In a long-anticipated move, BPA Worldwide requested all telemarketing to be recorded starting in January and so far the results have been very mixed. Some phone-call recipients don't blink an eye, while others—such as people in government or security—aren't interested in being recorded call recipients to answer personal-identifier questions rather than be recorded.
One of Penton Media's telemarketers told the company that 5% to 10% of calls made to subscribers end with a hangup once the subscriber knows the call is being recorded. The call recipients don't give specific reasons, but Okabe and his staff have theorized that “in this day of privacy concerns and too many organizations having and holding personal information about everyone, there is a distrust and fear to having a conversation recorded,” he said. “ It's more severe in specific markets, like the government.”
BPA attempted to adjust in December by allowing all call recipients to answer personal-identifier questions rather than be recorded. “All must first make the attempt to record. When the target refuses to be recorded, then the telemarketer may revert to the previous methodology of asking for a personal identifier to confirm the request to receive the magazine,” said BPA Worldwide President-CEO Glenn Hansen.
BPA's Teleservices Committee is scheduled to have a meeting next week (March 19) to review results to date. “We have had two inquiries from publishers citing increased costs or too many hangups and this is on the agenda,” Hansen said. “We are curious as to what technique works the best to minimize the negative reaction to recording. We will all be pitching in together on this and help the industry through this transition.”
Brad Mitchell, director of circulation and IT at Babcox Publications, said that taping is a good “common sense” approach and is happy to see “that BPA has relaxed the rule and will allow an alternative form of verification.”
5) Relationship strength
Of all the metrics advertising assistants are poring over to show their bosses, relationship strength is currently one of the most difficult to measure but is growing in significance. “At some point an industry standard will emerge for this,” Henry said. The only way to measure this will be to create a relational database of all of the different touchpoints a customer has, she added.
While a publishing company's relationship with a customer has always been important, it has been generally focused on just the print platform, Okabe said. “Today we are all trying to be information providers and solution providers by offering a variety of products and services to our customers to help them be more sucessful in their business,” he said. Print has been joined by a wide variety of other media “The strength of our relationship with our audience drives what products and services we offer them, and ways for us as a business to maximize our revenues,” Okabe said.
Penton is in the process of creating a database that includes all names from all parts of its company where all interactions with the customer can be recorded. “To this database will be added behavioral data and then we'll really be able to begin to measure our relationship strength with our various audiences,” Okabe said.
Increasingly using the type of aggregated information that tracks every customer interaction that is combined with information found through external sources is in the future for circulators. The more a publishing company can know about its subscribers, the more information it can glean, the more details it can slowly attain, the stronger its position can be with advertisers and in serving the individual customers' desires. Circulators have the power and technology to attain one-to-one marketing. And soon, it seems, that will be the expectation.