Consumer marketers can solve multimedia equation
Organizational issues are among the many that magazine publishers face as they push to become multimedia branded content providers. Their existing base of talent represents a potentially important advantage over digital-only competitors. But particularly in large companies, it's no small challenge to reshape the infrastructure and culture, blend traditional and new skill sets and create dynamics that deploy human assets best.
Circulation professionals are a case in point. Are they being integrated into the multimedia equation? There's no across-the-board answer, in either consumer or business-to-business media companies traditionally based in print. But few would dispute that BTB publishers are further along the media integration curve. Having been hit even harder than consumer publishers by the drastic decline in print ad budgets during the early 2000s recession, and being largely dependent on a controlled-circulation model, BTB's very survival depended on embracing the media-neutral mindset swiftly.
The transformation is founded in leveraging audience data through centralized databases that span offline and online channels.
BTB firms, of course, employ staff skilled specifically in the technical and marketing aspects of the Web. But the smart ones also have understood that there's benefit in extending to the digital arena the deep market and audience knowledge and marketing expertise of those who've managed their print circulation over the years. Such BTB publishers have required circulators to become "audience developers" who are integral to, or even the point people in, this process.
And though this has been sink or swim in some BTB firms, others have provided the support for individuals and departments to make the transition. They've broken down silos and reinforced management's mandate that traditional and nontraditional staff work together to create the synergies needed for rapid change.
Is this happening on the consumer side? Certainly, consumer marketers have been expected to guide Web-based subscription marketing in most companies, and multimedia dynamics naturally lead to some blurring of traditional roles.
"Editors traditionally 'own' content, but on the Web, consumer marketers are essentially marketing subscriptions on the 'front page' of the publication," Bill Baird, president of Web marketing consultancy Baird Direct Marketing, said during a recent Fulfillment Management Association panel that focused on consumer marketers' roles.
But how many consumer marketers are embedded in the broader, strategic integration issues now being tackled at the corporate level?
"When you see major publishers starting whole new digital divisions, you have to wonder, will consumer marketers be an integral part of multimedia initiatives?" publishing consultant Chip Block asked. "Will they play a strategic role in this arena or be confined to circulation?"
It seems logical that publishers would expand the consumer marketing role rather than have two sets of professionals marketing to the same audience based on the media involved, said Steve Strickman, consultant to Palm Coast Data.
"But if we look at the history, many publishers changed the title from circulation director to consumer marketing director and then did not follow through on actually expanding the role," he said.
Publishers tend to think of multimedia in terms of ad sales. They don't realize that consumer marketers are accustomed to working across media platforms, said David Leckey, executive vice president of consumer marketing for American Media Inc.
For starters, consumer marketers' expertise can help companies use multimedia to increase circulation profitability.
"How many consumers are going to be willing to pay for branded ring tones on their cell phones? Maybe not that many," Mr. Baird said. "But might we be able to use a branded ring tone as a premium to generate a higher-priced, more profitable subscription? Consumer marketers understand these dynamics."
Experimentation, testing, finding cost-effective new channels and integrating these into an overall mix to achieve maximum profitability are core consumer marketing skills. Shouldn't these be put to work in helping publishers expand and connect their print and online communities and determine how best to monetize their audiences through advertiser- and consumer-supported components?
Consumer marketers need to be persistent about conveying the transferability of their skills - and their determination not to be sidelined from the integration game - to management. Management, for its part, might want to recall recent history.
It wasn't long ago that cutbacks caused scores of consumer marketers to move to direct marketing companies and other industries where their skills were welcomed. Losing that knowledge base and talent pool and then having to rebuild them cost publishers more than they saved, both in compensation and DM performance. Showing that they value these assets and intend to make them integral in their evolving companies could prevent a similar scenario in the years ahead. n
Karlene Lukovitz is president of KL MediaLink LLC, Wilton, CT. Reach her at email@example.com.