Reader-service solution

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Reader-service cards have been losing their power for a number of years. Magazine readers have shifted their mode of communication with advertisers from the cards to 800 numbers, e-mail and Web sites. Consequently, some magazine publishers have lost the ability to claim those sales leads for each advertiser.

Bobit Business Media has found a solution: reader-service system ARGI Focus. The product, built by MediaBrains but sold this spring to ARGI, has helped Bobit grow some of its magazine's sales leads exponentially.

Focus tracks 800 numbers and Web traffic originating from the magazine's advertising and compiles a single-lead report. "When the 800 numbers came along and started to take leads away from people filling out the cards, and then Web addresses made it even worse, I got tired of publishers asking me what's wrong with the reader service," said Christine Oldenbrook, director of marketing and e-media at Bobit.

The single-lead report provides an aggregate of the response channels, and tracks response channels that weren't previously being followed. "Compared to this time last year, we have seen a 100% to 200% increase in the number of leads and referrals we are delivering to our advertisers," she said.

When Oldenbrook joined Bobit in January 2006, she turned to MediaBrains to help figure out how to get in front of all the different response mechanisms and find a way to track them all. "We had leads coming through the door but most of them were through the 800 number or the Web; and [they weren't] tracked and put together with the other leads, so it was as if those leads didn't exist. That had to change. There had to be a way to track it all and put it all together," she said

Each title using Focus is given its own 800 number that can be tracked and filed in one large lead database. Each advertiser, each ad, each press release, each product release gets assigned a number and is trackable.

"This way, we're getting credit for the reader response that we're generating," Oldenbrook said. Every other week Bobit sends its advertisers an e-mail with leads from a variety of sources.

"The other benefit of [using ARGI Focus] is that having reader response on the Web drives a lot more readers to the Internet than we had going there before," Oldenbrook said.

For one of Bobit's titles, Nails, the company has created a character—Fifi—in order to get readers to look at the reader-response materials. The character appears throughout the magazine's promotions, even "answering" 800 number calls. Oldenbrook thinks the character works for the female, beauty market, but she worries about creating personals for other industries. "I'm not sure security integration management would be as responsive to this sort of marketing technique," she said.

Some of Bobit's titles have actually briefly cancelled the reader service because the response got to be so overwhelming, Oldenbrook said. "The advertisers want those leads," she said, "so you can't really stop once you get started."

Sometimes, though, the numbers can alarm advertisers.

"The circulation needs to be truly strong before you start something like this," Oldenbrook said. "Putting a mechanism out there isn't going to develop leads for you if you have an unresponsive group. Don't open the kimono if you don't have a strong readership because you'll have some upset advertisers."

One of Bobit's titles did open that proverbial "kimono" too early, and Oldenbrook said she took it as an opportunity to strengthen all the company's circulation, which has paid off. One book that changed its reader-service mechanism to Focus last year went from bringing in 100 to 6,000 leads a month.

All Bobit's titles now use the Focus system, with the exception of its automotive titles and its mass-transit books. "The products for sale in those books are too big for this," Oldenbrook said. "This is better for mid-to-lower-end products and price points."

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