At publishing companies across 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 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 to fully integrate 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 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. "With more and more print brands folding or 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 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 tools in audience development.
"Everyone needs to be involved in SEO and SEM, not just the Web group," Adams said, noting that if circulators can track where and how people access sub forms and Web sites, 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, circulation director at the company. Many of the company's sites require registration, which means search engines are unable to read them.
Lebhar-Friedman 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-Friedman also will purchase keywords and phrases.
Henry noted 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.
At Penton Media, SEM is primarily 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."
3) Converting to digital—As distribution, postal and paper costs continue to rise with no end in sight, more magazines will likely convert some subscribers to electronic versions. These products 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 percentage 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.
Kim Clothier, director of circulation at the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, 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 in order to use the tools at your disposal effectively.
4) Telemarketing rule changes—With response rates down across the board in 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 that all telemarketing be recorded starting in January, but so far the results have been mixed. Some call recipients don't blink an eye, while others—such as people in government or security—aren't interested in that approach.
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 has scheduled a meeting for next week 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 to help the industry through this transition."
5) Relationship strength—One metric, relationship strength, is 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 touch points a customer has, she added.
While a publishing company's relationship with a customer has always been important, it has been generally focused on 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.
Penton is in the process of creating a database that includes names from all parts of the company where 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, 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 individual customers' desires. Circulators have the power and technology to attain one-to-one marketing. And soon, it seems, that will be the expectation.