Custom content moving from 'fixed' to fluid

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B-to-b media veteran Charles Lee recently took charge as VP-strategic programs and custom solutions at IDG Strategic Marketing Services (SMS). Formerly VP-business development and IDG corporate sales, Lee was promoted in September as part of the unit's rebranding as SMS. Growth in custom media played a major role in the choice to rebrand, he said. Through September, SMS revenue from integrated and custom programs rose more than 30% from the same period last year. Lee recently spoke to Media Business about trends in custom publishing.

MB: How is custom media changing the nature of business publishing?

Lee: It's a large part of the evolution of the publishing business, especially as the publishing industry evolves to a digital-first model. The custom media business allows our customers to be much more personalized and targeted with their communications and engagements with audiences that publishers serve.

MB: You have spoken about custom media moving toward “unstructured content services.”' How can business publishers capitalize on that?

Lee: Five, six years ago, the custom publishing business, within traditional publishing, was a very printcentric format: advertorials, custom magazines, printed customer newsletters. [As the Web gained influence], custom publishing executives realized the opportunity that the digital platform provided to create content in more flexible formats, [including] webinars and white papers. But it was still a fixed format. You didn't necessarily have the 8½-by-11 construct of a physical page, but you were still very married to the construction of content within, say, a fixed document or video. The new era that we believe the business is heading [toward] ,is “unstructured content services.” [That is] not defining content by a fixed format but structured by end-customer need, on a day-to-day basis. The prior phases were: create, syndicate, shelf-life and expire. Now, it's content and services that provide our customers the ability to communicate to their customer with real-time publishing. Business publishers need to recalibrate their mindsets and shouldn't let traditional content formats dictate how they now create content.

MB: How is custom media part of the rebranding of IDG's corporate sales unit to IDG Strategic Marketing Services?

Lee: It's central to the rebranding. SMS embodies services that go well beyond traditional media relationships, such as strategic programs and socialized advertising services. Custom continues to be a driving force behind these new relationships, and our unstructured content and social media services are examples of where we've taken aggressive steps and expect significant growth in the coming year. I'd like to say we're making a bet and going out on a limb, but the reality is we're monetizing these services already.

MB: For all the discussion of custom media, it's still a tiny percentage of business publishers' revenues. Why is there this disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality?

Lee: I can't speak for other publishers. But IDG has made a very deliberate move to the digital-first model, and that's made us look at our business differently and understand what feeds into that model—and custom is paramount. Our business is heavily reliant on custom business for growth.

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