As b-to-b media companies increasingly offer online lead generation to their advertising customers, how are these companies, most of which have a heritage of publishing print magazines, altering their structure and personnel?
For Greg Watt, president-CEO at Watt, the shift has been transformative. “We're an information and marketing solutions company,” Watt said. “We're no longer a publisher and haven't been for several years and never will be again.”
Founded in 1917, the company still publishes magazines, including Watt PoultryUSA and Cabinet Maker, and sells print advertising. But it now views itself, at least in part, as a marketing consultancy.
Moreover, digital products account for an increasing share of Watt's business. A case in point is the Watt Animal Nutrition and Health Forum, a virtual trade show slated for the end of April. Lead generation is a primary goal of the event, which is expected to register 1,500 online attendees. Overall, Watt's online revenue grew 40% in 2008, and the company expects its online revenue will be 16% to 18% of its total revenue in 2009. Even with the advertising recession, Watt anticipated online will grow more than 25% this year.
Watt also produces custom media and helps its customers build databases. And these products, and how the company works with its customers, is much more complex, Watt said, adding that this has changed the selling process. No longer are salespeople simply peddling ad pages; they are now engaged in a more consultative sale and often act more like agency account executives than space salesmen.
“On a very regular basis, we bring our customers in to our corporate offices to meet for half-day idea sessions, brainstorming sessions in the creation of new campaigns, trying to meet their goals and objectives,” Watt said. “Overall, it's about how we can help them grow their business.”
This new emphasis and approach has likewise changed the kinds of people who work for Watt. “Those people who aren't able to change and do so with passion are no longer with the organization,” he said.
At many media companies, sales operations are changing because the sales characteristics needed to drive revenue have changed, said Frank J. Connolly Jr., a managing director at media investment bank AdMedia Partners. Selling reach or branding is often not where the game is played online.
“How they approach their client needs to be from a standpoint of accountability media,” Connolly said.
A good example is Tech Target, an information technology media company. From its inception, TechTarget's main goal has been to drive leads for its advertising customers and provide measurable return on investment. In 2000, about a year after the company was founded, it introduced a new job title—the ROI consultant—which has responsibilities similar to an advertising agency account executive, advocating for marketers and making sure that their messages are placed in the right places to generate the most useful leads.
“Their job is to make sure we hit [the marketer's] lead guarantee,” said Don Hawk, TechTarget's president.
As on online lead-generation business, TechTarget's managers receive feedback on how programs are performing on a near-constant basis.
“Agility is very important,” Hawk said. “There is a report card on the business every day.”
Because TechTarget is an online business, where publishing new information is possible 24 hours a day, it has different rhythms for editors than those who are at monthlies, weeklies or even dailies. These editors are continually refreshing their content, making sure it is search engine optimized and so it is seen.
Other b-to-b media companies are taking advantage of the Internet's ability to produce motion and sound by having their editorial staff participate in webinars, which have become a key lead-generation technique.
Even in their daily reporting, editors are being asked to act less like newspaper reporters—focused on producing the written word—and more like television news reporters by, for example, filming interviews.
At IEEE Spectrum, Jim Vick, staff director-publisher of IEEE Media, said his editorial staff has grown into its new responsibilities. “We're doing what Forbes.com has done,” he said. “Our entire editorial staff, about 16 to 17 people, they go out now on assignment carrying a video camera, a digital camera and audio equipment. Some of them are getting damn good at it. At first it was awful; now it's getting really good.”
Many other media companies are making personalities of their editors.
“All the reporters have handicams,” said Jenn Markey, CMO at United Business Media's TechInsights group, which publishes EE Times.
But more important, businesses like TechInsights are transforming themselves far beyond the publishing companies they used to be and, in many cases, doing it via acquisitions. TechInsights, for example, has acquired a handful of technology consulting companies, the most recent being Sanguine Microelectronics, a Chinese firm that supplies analysis and data on semiconductors to companies in Southeast Asia.
Everything Channel, another UBM unit, has pursued a similar strategy, acquiring NextLevel, a marketing services firm that provides such services to Everything Channel's clients as telemarketing services to generate and nurture leads.
As more and more b-to-b media companies transform themselves, it may not be the executives with a publishing background who rise to the top.
At PC Magazine, which discontinued its print edition with its January 2009 issue, Jason Young, who has an Internet background, is running PCMag.com.
“When you go fully to the other side of the story, it's the digital guys who are left running the remaining business,” Young said. M