Uncover the Power of Data and Turn Print Profitable

Viewpoint: Parnell Woodard, Emerge Partners

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Parnell Woodard
Parnell Woodard

In this ultra-volatile moment of recession, the print sector (magazines, newspapers, journals, etc.) has become the poster child of a graveyard future. And that should just not be. Sure, newsstand is down, circulation is falling and readers are getting free content on the internet.

Yet to capitulate to inevitability due to a lack of forward thinking is unforgivable in the digital age. The print medium is sitting on true firepower: brand loyalty, killer lists and well-established communities. In today's age of community-based, social marketing, no medium has more underutilized assets than newspapers and magazines. They have communities of readers that offer marketers the real power to have one-to-one relationships with interested and motivated consumers. Yet they are not using the new metrics and database tools to tap into that there gold.

Here are three suggestions for returning print media to the black-ink column of the balance sheet:

1. Go to the bench.
It's an age-old philosophy in sports, especially baseball. When your team's sucking wind and your overpaid pros aren't getting the job done, you go to the bench. Think for a moment, to long before Roy Tomilson invented e-mail and social-network wunderkinds such as Mark Zuckerberg even were born. Magazines, for example, compiled tremendous subscriber lists and forged strong reader communities that bore the fruit of fierce brand loyalty. Even years ago, you could drill down to get to the differences between guys who read Hot Rod vs. Automobile.

Now is the time for print barons to stop selling their extensive databases to list brokers for mere pennies on the dollar and recklessly diluting their value -- and start using them in conjunction with their established brand communities to generate viable new revenue streams.

Now is the time to gather and update your deep subscriber list, re-establish that once-strong connection to your reader community and reposition your brand to advertisers for today's very targeted media outreach power. How, with cash flow invariable a little tight at the moment, do you accomplish this task? Grab your assets and start learning how to use them.

2. Use the new tools of the trade.
Concepts such as digital, rich media, data management and mining, social networking, rich e-mail, super-targeted segmentation, instant (yes, instant) response, and rapidly measurable ROI all apply to print media today. Did you know there are new and proprietary software packages and powerful broadband and mobile technologies virtually untapped by the print community?

Your subscriber list is your most valuable asset -- it has data both valuable and verifiable. To tap into these data and turn them into powerful marketing vehicles, analysts steeped in the nuances of today's digital and direct analytics tools use a number of growing technologies. When you combine the power of your new data with new methods for delivering your message to the exact audience mined above, you can deliver ROI that amazes.

Savvy digital and direct agencies have created tools and processes to turn your communities of like-minded consumers into additional revenue. We're not talking about buying a list of known diabetics and hoping they respond to your offer. We're talking about reaching the person when they've been diagnosed with information they want and need -- right now.

You can, however, have the greatest assets in the world, throw all the hip, new buzzword technology at them until hell freezes over and still end up sending Air Force One over midtown without warning at lunchtime. We all know great execution will never overcome a bad idea in the first place. These are strange times for marketers, to say the least, but no less exciting or profitable when you discover how to use your existing weapons in the face of seismic technological and anthropological shift. Let me paraphrase an old Hunter Thompson gonzoism: When the going gets weird ...

3. It's time to turn pro.
And the real pros are the ones with the great ideas. The very nature of the beast -- a million different titles for a million different consumers -- demands the rapid deployment of media and message tailored to the loyal community of followers.

Ad Age recently wrote how marketers are using direct marketing via e-mail. The flower children (pun intended) at FTD use their database and modern e-mail tactics to entice folks to let themselves be reminded to buy FTD's product on important dates.

A little extrapolation here: Just imagine having the target-rich databases of someone like, say, Hachette Filipacchi Media at your fingertips. With titles such as Car and Driver, Woman's Day, Metropolitan Home, Elle, Boating and others, the possibilities are staggering. Where, for example, is the Road & Track/Castrol Oil marriage of experts reminding a car nut like me to change my oil this month -- using Castrol?

While the tools and technology exist to return print media to profitability, the ideas are not sitting on a shelf somewhere like so much ripe fruit. Publishers must gather their existing weapons, use new technology to re-mine them for delivery with pinpoint accuracy and then get creative again. Innovate, take chances, get help from those with experience the areas of data mining and creative delivery, but most of all, get going, as it's almost too late.

No one's promising a full return to the halcyon days of Jann Wenner's backstage bashes, Hugh Hefner's mansion-wide orgies or Anna Wintour's runway riots -- but I'll be damned if we don't start generating new revenue.

Parnell Woodard is CEO of Emerge Partners, a direct- and digital-marketing company in New York.
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