Publishers focus on centralizing mobile strategy to meet brand needs
By Charlotte Woolard
The mobile audience for ALM brands grew by more than 30% in 2012, said Jeff Litvack, senior VP-digital. That shift outpaced expectations and drove the media company to develop an aggressive strategy to serve its content on multiple devices.
“ALM was already investing in mobile, but the acceleration and the adoption rate by attorneys is happening really fast,” he said.
The company hired Jeff Litvack last year in part to spearhead companywide development of mobile products. It's a step that many b-to-b media companies—from ALM to IDG and Cygnus are taking—moving forward a centralized mobile strategy to achieve economies of scale and then tailoring those overarching strategies to meet brand needs.
Jeff Litvack joined a company that had four tablet editions under its belt. ALM had seen its audience migrate from BlackBerry phones to iPhones, and the publisher had noticed a distinct digital usage pattern. Attorneys access ALM content on their way to the office, at the end of the workday and before bed—all times of day that they are likely to be using a mobile device.
Jeff Litvack is advancing the mobile strategy on five fronts. The company will develop mobile-optimized websites and introduce breaking news apps for its publications, he said. Updated tablet editions of publications such as American Lawyer and National Law Journal will incorporate new layers of interactivity. ALM will also introduce a cross-title platform that lets lawyers select relevant news streams and build personalized interfaces. In addition, the publisher will build utility apps including court calendars.
“This is all going to happen over the next year, with the primary focus on mobile websites and apps in the next two quarters,” Jeff Litvack said. “The growth we've seen so far has been on nonoptimized sites. Once we optimize, we expect page views and unique visitors and visits will increase exponentially.”
At Cygnus Business Media, James Capo, director-digital business development in the public safety group, meets with his peers in groups stretched across verticals such as construction and transportation to form a unified approach. “We need a global strategy as a corporation on how we're going to attack these specific platforms with some modifications for the groups,” he said. “To have economies of scale and buying power, you need to work as one platform.”
Cygnus has rolled out a robust mobile lineup, focusing on responsive design and native applications that offer a new distribution channel with revenue potential, Capo said. The company has launched more than a dozen apps, and tablet editions for brands such as Firehouse World have featured interactive elements and new content rather than content already offered online or in print. The company will continue to launch new mobile products and will expand current offerings from iOS to Android platforms, Capo said.
Cygnus has also produced apps to support its events portfolio, he said, concentrating on the development of yearround advertising and marketing vehicles rather than multiday pushes concentrated around the event date itself.
The efforts have seen continued user adoption, with number of downloads and return visits climbing month-over-month, Capo said. Tablet products attract both crossover and also new audience members, he said, and the vehicles also provide long-tail benefits for advertisers as readers explore archived editions.
Mobile advertising holds promise for b-to-b publishers, executives said, but marketers have been slow to embrace the full capabilities of the broader digital platforms that publishers are building.
“[Mobile] is absolutely a big growth area,” said Rebecca McPheters, CEO of media consulting and research firm McPheters & Co. “But it hasn't scaled quite as quickly as some people might have expected, and advertising isn't there yet. There are a very small number of advertisers who are doing good work in this area, and the number is not growing, even though interactive ads outperform static ads.”
That doesn't mean that publishers don't have their own reasons to invest. As audiences embrace multiple devices, production efficiencies have also been a driver for evolution.
IDG Consumer & SMB made over its PCWorld and Macworld brands last year, with the company embracing HTML5 and developing a proprietary content management system to streamline production for delivery across multiple devices. “We wanted to have one platform that can access all of these channels with a back- and front-end fit,” said Aaron Jones, former CTO-IDG Consumer & SMB. “HTML5 was an obvious choice for us. Responsive design was a bit of a gamble. It was a relatively nascent use of the technology, but it was mature enough.”
Jones led that transition and now has been tapped to serve as CTO of IDG Communications, where he will apply his experience to developing client sites. The redesign of the Macworld and PCWorld websites to better accommodate mobile traffic helped boost advertising click-through rates by 80%, according to IDG. Mobile visitors make up 20% to 30% of the traffic spread across the two sites and the company's recently debuted techhive.com, Jones said.
Investment has benefits outside of production and advertising as well, said Kelley Damore, senior VP-editorial director at UBM Tech Channel. The company launched its CRN news app on iOS last September after research revealed that more than half the brand's audience carried iPads. The format has given the editorial team more storytelling tools, Damore said.
“CRN historically is a newspaper,” she said. “Our iPad app harkens back to the day of the newspaper. We make a determination of what is an A1 story. It gives us an ability that we don't have online to package.”