Learning from errors essential to development

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After more than 30 years in business, much of it as a CEO of nonmedia companies, I started EH Publishing 15 years ago with one print magazine, a consumer title called Electronic House. Today, EH is a business with 11 print magazines, six major websites, three live events (down from six) and a marketing services business that includes research and custom publishing. We operate in six different industries. Almost all our products were developed from scratch and with in-house talent. Recently, we purchased the Supply Chain Group, which included Modern Materials Handling and other properties, from Reed Business Information with some of its key executives. This was a major departure from how we usually do business. In the past two years, EH has suffered revenue declines of more than 30%. We have been challenged by the shift of revenues from print to digital as well as declines in trade show attendance. I am sure most of you have experienced similar situations. Despite the trauma of the past two years, I remain optimistic about b-to-b media's future. This optimism is one reason we purchased the Supply Chain Group this spring. We are also aggressively increasing our investment in all our other media. The huge change in the media landscape and how audiences receive and use information is impossible to understand completely, but I do understand that these types of times create major opportunities. All of us at EH Publishing want to take full advantage of these opportunities. The key execution strategy, I have always maintained, is to try something, with the understanding that you are going to make mistakes. Make your best ideas come alive; the only way to learn how well they will work is by doing them. Many companies have decision-making cultures that are based on research, risk management profiling and analysis, with the goal of making the perfect decision that creates the perfect outcome the first time. Often that initial decision is deemed to be so perfect that all the company's resources are put into it in the initial stages, an all-in wager. The problem is if the decision is not perfect, all is lost. At EH, we get an idea, do some work and then try it aggressively, knowing we are going to make mistakes. We look for the mistakes all the time. We want to make lots of the big mistakes early. We make changes based on those mistakes and try the project aggressively again. We look for mistakes again. We change it again, and we go for it again. By operating this way, we learn early if there is potential, and we learn how much potential there is. We usually develop a new product faster and at a low cost. We keep our staff excited and focused on success. We also learn early if we have a lemon. If we do, we quit within a quicker time frame and at a lower cost. There are so many new media products we can offer these days. Most of them have not been tried or, if tried, there is little solid information on how they perform. Here are two new ideas we are working on:
  • ?For events, the focus is on audience deliverables at the event. We are dramatically increasing what attendees can take advantage of beyond the show floor. So we increase many of our deliverables—more conference sessions, DVDs of keynote speakers, lunch and parking vouchers—and make them available to all attendees. To pay for these additional deliverables, we make it part of the package, spreading the cost among all attendees, whether they use them or not.
  • ?For digital, we focus on increasing our editorial output by creating webinars and white papers in spite of decreasing advertising support overall. We allow advertisers access to the users of these products on an annual, rather than on an event-by-event, basis. With this system, the advertiser gets a regular stream of high-quality leads, and we get a more consistent revenue stream that is less likely to be altered if administered well.
  • We have many more ideas. There is no clear view of what the big products will be in the future for b-to-b media—particularly for niche media companies like us. I believe if you take this time to aggressively “soft launch” a bunch of products, you have everything to gain and very little to lose. Ken Moyes is president of EH Publishing in Framingham, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected]
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