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Why we’ve purchased three interactive marketing agencies

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Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, across all categories. It is the lifeblood of the world's most successful companies. Probably no manufacturer does it better than Procter & Gamble: Think Swiffer, Tide with Febreze, Tremor … the list goes on and on.

Some companies not only create innovative products but also market their innovations brilliantly: Think Apple's gorgeous iPod enhanced by an astute partnership with its iTunes online store.

Other companies succeed because they put the same old pieces together in a totally different, creative way that makes it feel new. Successful agencies and other service-oriented companies specialize in this area.

Ideally, every business is doing some of the above because, to borrow a great line from Sam Palmisano, chairman-CEO of IBM Corp., "Either you innovate or you're in commodity hell."

Recently, the publishing company that I am privileged to work for, Meredith Corp., announced the acquisition of two interactive marketing-services agencies, Genex and New Media Strategies. This was the third such play by Meredith in nine months following the purchase of interactive agency, O'Grady Meyers in April 2006.

The news of the deals has made headlines and generated some raised eyebrows among those industry watchers who think of Meredith as "sleepy"—a description that we find somewhat surprising since the company actually has a good history of successful innovation.

To name a few of these innovations: Early in our 100-plus-year history, we branched out from subscription magazines to create the famous Red Plaid cookbook. This has become the third best-seller of all time in the nonfiction category, after the Bible and Webster's Dictionary.

We were the first publishers to incorporate prepunched recipe pages, and our electronic subscription sales center (one of the keys to the publishing group's ongoing success) was the first of its kind.

In 1948, we started down a path of diversification on top of our print business when we acquired our first TV station. We now own 14 TV stations, and recently announced the launch of our Video Solutions unit. We continued down that path with the successful launch of our interactive operation in 1999; we now have 30 Web sites, delivering a strong combination of advertising revenue and subscriptions to our magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens.

Meredith's latest aggressive move into the digital arena is part of a two-pronged strategy, focused around ongoing innovation.

One part of the strategy is to make sure Meredith Integrated Marketing (the b-to-b arm of Meredith) is equipped to deliver out-of-the-box marketing communications solutions that anticipate and serve the present and future needs of our clients.

Our job is to create marketing communications that reflect how our clients' brands fit with their customers' lifestyles and to position their products in ways that favorably influence purchase decisions and promote brand loyalty and advocacy.

Understanding the marketplace and the brand/consumer relationship is at the heart of all we do. Now, through New Media Strategies' word-of-mouth capabilities, we believe we can improve upon the creative insights we bring to our client work by tapping into the world's biggest focus group: the Internet.

Another equally important aspect of our job is to ensure that consumers can access our clients' brand messages when they want, online and offline. But it isn't enough to post things in both places; rather, we need to understand what content works in each medium—or, often, across a combination of media—to deliver maximum return on our clients' marketing spending. That's where the digital expertise and experience of the specialists at O'Grady Meyers, Genex and New Media Strategies play a vital role.

By combining our new digital partners' tremendous online expertise and experience with Meredith Publishing's incredible editorial reach and heritage, we can further build on our customer relationship marketing skills to deliver truly unique marketing communication programs for our clients.

The other part of the strategy behind these acquisitions is to continue the diversification of Meredith from a mainly print publisher to a company that creates and distributes "smart content" profitably across all media.

We see this as continuing our proud tradition of innovating to stay abreast of a marketplace in constant motion, where not to innovate would probably be to wither quietly away.

Wendy Riches is exec VP of Meredith Publishing Group. She can be reached at wendy.riches@meredith.com.

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