A new business model for a transformed media company

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SourceMedia, which publishes American Banker and other financial brands, is a very different company than it was just a couple of years ago. In 2009, with the economy shaky and the media business changing fast, we began an aggressive program aimed at transforming our business. On the upside, we had an opportunity to capitalize on the financial industry's turmoil. As an information provider to financial services professionals, we were able to seize the moment to reinforce our value proposition—for subscribers, event attendees, marketing services clients—as their source of clarity and insight amid chaos. To be effective, we had to increase the utility of our products and services for both existing and adjacent market communities; deliver a broader range of media and marketing service capabilities; and achieve all this with an emphasis on digital services paid for by the end user. In pursuing this strategy, we focused on four broad, interrelated objectives: reinventing our culture, increasing our digital acumen, diversifying our revenues, and driving growth, both organically and through acquisition. Eighteen months later, I'm gratified to say that we have made significant progress on all of these goals. When I took the company's leadership, one of my first objectives was to re-establish the trust of our employees, understanding that without their renewed commitment, our path would only be steeper. This was not only about communicating our values; it was about changing SourceMedia's business culture, in a sense, changing our DNA. We had to show by our actions that we were willing to invest in the capabilities we needed to succeed both by bringing in new colleagues and by retraining the talented team we already had in place. An important initiative was to expand the capabilities of our marketing services group. This transformation was accelerated by the appointment of a leader with an agency and integrated-marketing background. To make this hire, we looked outside traditional b-to-b in part because the role would be critical in facilitating cultural change, especially within our sales organization. Our aim was to evolve from being “just another vendor” to filling the role of strategic marketing partner. The approach has led to expanded relationships with existing customers, opened the door to new client relationships and driven an increase in average proposal value. We also set out to invest in new lines of business, identifying two as priorities: research and training. Our research business enables us to conduct syndicated and custom research through ongoing survey panels comprised of thousands of executives in our primary market segments. As I write this, three panels are live, having been underwritten by syndicated and custom sponsors. Our training portfolio is also contributing, through online and live continuing education credit, professional development and custom training programs. Both training and research are more than just new products or services. They deliver high-value business tools to our audiences, they engage marketing clients in broader discussions about their goals, and they do so in a digital context. This leads me to the most important element of Source- Media's transformation: our digital strategy. Recognizing that digital platforms make us more competitive in every aspect of what we do, we're working to bring force and scale to our digital operations, to completely reinvent and rebuild our digital business. Our plans required both investment and reorganization. With digital activities dispersed across our organization, we opted to create a central digital operations group. We're adding 11 new positions, with digital general managers supporting each of our primary market groups as well as audience development and social media professionals. We're also committed to making additional operating investments in SEO marketing, sales training and internal editorial best practice seminars. We're expanding our portfolio of digital products and increasing engagement on those platforms; enhancing capabilities of editors, marketers and salespeople; and raising our game in advertising, lead generation and social media. Finally, we're actively seeking acquisitions to accelerate our strategy. Earlier this year we acquired a small online information and event company, adding to revenue diversity and tapping into an adjacent market. Our new strategy is working. In 2010, revenue grew, despite some portfolio pruning. And year-to-date revenue growth for 2011 is even stronger, with marketing services, conferences, online advertising and paid circulation leading the charge. Doug Manoni is CEO of SourceMedia. He can be reached at [email protected]
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