Don't Just Sit There, Innovate Your Way Out of the Downturn

Here's What We're Doing to Create Our Own Uptick

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The way out of the recession is not to wait for an uptick. The way out is to create our own uptick.

Our publishing company has been as hard hit as anybody, but we have very smart and resilient people scouring the landscape for new revenue streams and ways of becoming more important than ever to readers and advertisers.

It's my feeling that traditional journalism is viewed as an undervalued and underappreciated commodity, so our job as publishers is to move up higher on the food chain. After all, we've got an expensive and elaborate distribution pipeline already in place, and a great opportunity to fill it with more valuable merchandise.

It's not just us: Meredith Publishing, for example, is offering a Better Homes & Gardens home-repair service. And The New York Times, unwilling to wait around for more ads, is filling its pipeline with all sorts of interesting ventures. The Times has formed a wine club, a Knowledge Network with its journalists teaching online courses, and offers historical photos from its extensive archives.

Here are a few examples of what we're doing at Crain Communications: Mary Kramer, publisher of Crain's Detroit Business, tells me how her publication is upgrading the value of the product by appealing to a specialized audience. Mary says CDB is testing a weekly e-news product with the University of Michigan at Dearborn's College of Business this fall. The publication already has a "best of Crain" feature for its own e-mails, selecting stories from other company publications that it thinks its Detroit readers would value.

For the college product, Crain's Detroit Business is organizing its articles into the best "strategic-management story," the best "finance story," etc. Mary says the college is excited about offering its business students up-to-date information about companies that are not necessarily Fortune 500 but offer real-world information. The school is paying for this online product, and the publication is selling advertisers who want to reach a 20-something and 30-something demographic.

Our publishers aren't waiting around for things to get better. As Tony Eagan, publisher of Plastics News, put it: "We tell our customers repeatedly how important it is to stay visible, in bad times especially. At the National Plastics Exposition we practiced what we've been preaching." The PN team "attacked the show in full force," posting more than 125 stories and 17 videos online and translating 30 articles into Chinese for a special China daily e-mail, all while publishing the show daily.

Modern Healthcare Publisher Fawn Lopez knows how to get the most out of a good idea. To respond to her readers' interest in and questions about the information-technology stimulus bill, the publication launched a case-study contest on how readers (hospital management) intended to apply for stimulus funding. The best case studies were published in a special section and posted on its website. Modern Healthcare is also planning a webinar featuring chief information officers from the winning hospitals talking about their projects.

I like what Crain's Cleveland Business is doing to energize the troops. Brian Tucker, publisher of our Cleveland weekly, said the publication "has used these times to rally the entire staff around an effort to rethink our future. We have created a Google group in which we share the latest stories about changes in the media landscape, and have gathered the entire staff to brainstorm new ways of doing things. We have created four working groups that are comprised of folks from across all departments. ... The process has engaged the staff," Brian says, by creating new opportunities and empowering its people.

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