Marketers' use of custom publishing on the rise

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A number of b-to-b marketers still believe in the power of print.

Even though b-to-b ad pages continue their steady decline of the past three years, one area of print appears to be growing—custom publishing. Companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Pitney Bowes Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. are investing substantial portions of their marketing budgets in these ambitious projects.

Pitney Bowes launched Priority, a bimonthly custom publication with a circulation of 700,000, last October, but didn’t officially announce the venture until last month.

Priority, which is produced by The Magazine Group and features articles geared toward helping small-business owners improve their companies’ performance, has been a hit with marketers. Pitney Bowes has sold as many as 11 ad pages in issues of the magazine. Advertisers have included IBM Corp., Dell Inc. and Administaff Inc.

The main goal of Priority is customer retention, said Carlene Armetta, VP-business development for PB Direct, the Pitney Bowes unit serving small businesses.

A rich tradition

Custom publishing is nothing new. Deere & Co. began publishing a magazine for its customers and distributors in the late 19th century, said Rex Hammock, president of Hammock Publishing Inc. and a founder of the Custom Publishing Council. But the awareness of custom publishing has seemed to grow in the past few years, he said.

According to the Custom Publishing Council, 50,000 U.S. companies produce custom publications. Together, these companies spend between $15 billion and $20 billion on these periodicals. The council estimates that custom publishing made up 23.2% of company marketing budgets in 2002, up from 13.2% in 2001.

Rebecca Rolfes, editorial director of Imagination Publishing, which handles H-P’s new magazine, Business View, said custom publishing is often attractive to marketers because it is relatively inexpensive. "For the same price as a full-color ad in a national magazine, multiple insertions, you can have your own magazine," she said.

Custom publishing also offers a company control of content, and its impact is eminently trackable because the database is generally a company’s own customer or prospect base.

The key, however, say custom publishing experts, is to use the platform wisely. The content should help the reader, not blatantly promote the company that publishes the magazine. Perhaps most importantly, the magazine should fit into an overall marketing strategy.

"Marketers are using them a lot more strategically, and they are understanding how to integrate them into the overall b-to-b marketing mix," Hammock said.

Wells Fargo, for example, uses its quarterly Business Advisor, which is created by Imagination Publishing, to cross-sell. "We make [small-business customers] aware of additional products and services that at some point might be beneficial to their businesses," said Elizabeth Cassin Isphording, senior VP-small business marketing at Wells Fargo.

H-P’s new quarterly publication is aimed at tech-savvy directors and C-level executives, according to Imagination’s Rolfes. "It’s a thought leadership magazine," she said.

Cisco Systems publishes iQ, a magazine aimed at a similar audience. Forbes Custom Communications Partners produces the magazine. Packet, a Cisco publication, produced by Sunset Custom Publishing, is aimed at IT professionals.

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