Pulizzi's approach: Build partnerships

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Joe Pulizzi's mantra is don't mix and match. Pulizzi, director of Penton Custom Media and chairman of ABM's custom media committee, said that with more marketers testing custom publishing, b-to-b media companies need to be careful to keep their traditional and custom publishing operations separate to avoid compromising their core business. Pulizzi, who has recently worked on custom-publishing products with BAX Global, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the National Association of Manufacturers, talked to BtoB about some of the other trends in custom publishing.

MB: What are the biggest challenges right now for b-to-b publishers that want to expand or start offering custom publishing services?

Pulizzi: The biggest challenge is it's a different business model; it's more of an agency-type model revolving around client/customer service. For example, whereas you may have an insertion order for your ad pages or sponsorship for your Web pages, [a custom publishing product] requires a very lengthy contract. With selling ad pages you take the materials and run them, with custom publishing you have to partner and interface with the customer every day. B-to-b publishers have the resources and, if they look at the customer a little differently—and the communications challenges of the customer a little bit differently—they can take advantage of custom publishing.

MB: When creating a custom publishing product, how do relationships with advertisers differ compared with traditional media selling?

Pulizzi: It's more of a partner relationship than the client-vendor relationship. You can take on advertising/sponsorship and have a general understanding of their communications objectives and goals, but if you take on a custom publishing product you better be sure of their communications goals and have all the details, because down the line you're going to have to prove that the project was successful. And in order to get that kind of information you have to be involved in marketing discussions with [the clients'] senior people and have regular, ongoing editorial sessions. So basically your goal as a custom publisher is to become an extension of the client's operations.

MB:With the proliferation of custom media, how much of an issue is "cannibalization," or b-to-b publishers possibly eating into more traditional, advertising-driven products?

Pulizzi: I don't think it's much of an issue, because it's the same thing we were talking about in the late 1990s when the Internet came along. It's a just a different communications channel, and a different vehicle that requires more of a one-to-one type of relationship with customers. But with the advances in technology and databases, marketers are [going to do more custom publishing products]. So you have to offer the best communications solutions for your customers and if custom publishing is one of those solutions, then great. When I talk to clients, I'm always under the impression that they're going to choose the vehicle that best suits them. And if you don't offer it, they'll go to somebody else who will.

—Matthew Schwartz

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