ABM meeting focuses on content and its discontents
By Sean Callahan
“Content Matters”—that was the title of American Business Media's Executive Forum, which took place last month in Chicago. And content apparently does matter to every player in the b-to-b ecosystem: publishers, marketers (see sidebar) and ad agencies.
In a keynote address, Judy Franks, president of Marketing Democracy, offered an ad agency perspective on content's evolution. She said the primary direction of media's shift is to convergence, as tablets bring the experiences of online, print, radio and television to a single screen.
In this climate, Franks said, “the most powerful media brands are evolving into "transmedia' brands.” She asserted that social networking sites, such as Facebook, have made it easier than ever to pass along content from other media. In the end, she said, the most effective content is the content “we love to share.”
In other sessions, publishing executives shared a variety of approaches to creating paid content. Kevin McKean, VP-editorial director of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, said in the conference's opening session, “You do not get good content without investment.”
Consumer Reports, which generates about $225 million from users annually, charges for its ratings and test reports, but it places some basic content in front of its paywall, mainly for search engine optimization purposes to attract new paying subscribers. The company had previously relied on paid search to attract new subscribers, but the cost became prohibitive.
McKean cautioned against offering subscription packages that bundle print and the Web. Many users have specific channel preferences, he said. Tossing in print when a reader only wants Web access adds unnecessary production and delivery costs. He also argued that micropayments are a problematic content strategy, because the publisher has to sell the reader again and again on paying for the content. “Once content is created, your goal should be to maximize its use,” McKean said.
Ultimately, McKean recommended what he called a “porous” paywall, similar to what Consumer Reports uses or the metered model pioneered by the Financial Times, both of which mix free and paid content.
Peter Hoyt, CEO of the Path to Purchase Institute, a for-profit association for consumer marketers trying to reach shoppers online and offline, described how his organization evolved from what used to be Hoyt Publishing, a b-to-b media company. With the association model, companies that were once just readers of his publications are now paying members of the Path to Purchase Institute.
Sheila Rice, Northstar Travel Media's VP-business development and licensing, described how her company's central travel database includes 70,000 geographic places, 160,000 hotels, 31,000 points of interest and other travel-oriented information. Northstar has bundled this information and licenses it for use by other companies, such as American Express Co., AOL Inc., Dow Jones & Co. and Yahoo.
Near the end of the conference, a panel of b-to-b editorial leaders addressed content creation. David Berlind, chief content officer-editor in chief of UBM TechWeb, said he wants editorial staffers to become recognized authorities in their coverage areas. “They have to step up and become "brandividuals,' ” he said, “producing text, video, still images and in the audio realm.”
Berlind also noted how difficult it can be to use the many metrics, such as page views, offered by the Web to judge the worth of editors and the content they produce, particularly in b-to-b, where the audiences are so narrow and specialized. “The 100,000 people who viewed a Steve Jobs story may have had a collective budget of a dollar,” he said. “But the 100 people who viewed another story about IBM, their budget was about $5 billion.”