Staying on top of the game

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It’s a tough time to be a circulator, what with newsstand woes, postal increases, the CAN-SPAM Act and constant pressure to keep up with technology. But it is possible to meet these challenges with innovation and thoughtfulness, said speaker after speaker at the Circulation Management conference held in New York last month.

A panel that focused on trends in b-to-b circulation found Eric Rutter, VP-controlled circulation at Reed Business Information, saying, "Rise up! Rise up, circulators, and make your [salespeople] use circ more effectively!"

In the same session, during a discussion about what to do the next time a CFO says to cut another 10% from the circulation budget, three panelists-Barry Green, VP-director of circulation at Hearst Business Media; Ronda Hughes, circulation director at Advanstar Communications; and Maurice Persiani, VP-business services at McGraw-Hill Cos.-all suggested informing the executive as to exactly what such a cut would mean: less ability to capture and retain circ, less information to work with and less innovation.

But Persiani went on to say that the mechanicals budget is the one that generally needs to be scrutinized. "There are always too many people on the comp list," he said.

Another suggestion was that all comps should be sent digitally to save money. Persiani added that the overall sub list could be trimmed as well. "It’s difficult to explain to an advertiser, but it can make your sub list higher quality," he said.

This led to a conversation about better ways to present readership than through audit numbers. "How do you bring to life that the magazines are reaching the right people?" Persiani asked. "There has to be a better way than the audit statement to bring those people to life [for the advertiser or media buyer]."

Hughes agreed: "I tell my staff all the time, `We’re not back-office employees.’ I sell circ. Sell your circ to your staff and salespeople. You need to pick up the phone, and go to that office and convince them."

Persiani said he sits down with his editors once a month to discuss the circ numbers and incoming data for each publication, making sure editorial is matched to the audience buying the publication. "It can be a pretty frank conversation," he said.

Another session addressed how technology is changing circulation. Dave Zinman, senior VP-marketing and product management at Zinio Systems, showed off a digital blow-in card that his company had recently designed for BusinessWeek that allowed users to go right to a subscription page using a button on the card. The card also was moveable on the page and employed simple animations to entice potential subscribers.

Michelle S. Chabody, chief marketing officer at Newsstand Inc., stressed that readers are constantly changing information-acquisition habits. Mike Oberman, CEO of Omeda Communications, said circulators should watch for foldable digital paper such as the kind currently being tested at MIT. Electronic paper may be a few years from being of use to magazine publishers, but if does catch on, it will mean a new set of data on audience behavior to track and decipher.

At the trends seminar, Barry Green, VP-director of circulation at Hearst Business Media, said not every title needs a digital edition. "Preferably, only magazines that have an audience that actually spends a lot of time with their computers should go digital," he said.

The conference, which attracted some 1,200 attendees, ended with a "power panel" of executives discussing the industry’s future. There, Mike Lavery, president-managing partner of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, said he had recently attended a conference of media buyers and ad agencies where the power of print was evident.

"One thing they said throughout is that print works," Lavery said. "There’s a unique engagement with magazines. As one speaker said, ‘You don’t do your hair while you’re reading a magazine.’ "

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