Controlled Consumer: A Challenge for Circulators, An Advantage for Advertisers

Ask anyone in the media business what the difference is between consumer and controlled magazines and you’ll hear a variety of answers. However, most will articulate that consumer is paid while controlled is free and usually business to business. But what happens when you introduce a title that doesn’t fall neatly into one or the other?

“Controlled consumer” circulation has become the new category to watch. Publishing companies and consumer marketers need to work together to acclimate advertisers and readers to this concept. Smart media buyers will find that controlled-consumer publications offer a laser-like way to reach readers in specific, desirable demographics.

Publishers are realizing that controlled consumer provides a way to launch titles without direct mail campaigns or negative remit business.

To launch a controlled-consumer publication, it behooves the circulator to educate his/her ad sales staff and help them work with buyers and potential advertisers. The circulator needs to convey clearly the facts about controlled-consumer circulation. It’s more arduous for the circulator than a magazine in the traditional circulation model.

To start, the circulation team will preselect names from its own files or outside sources. Because the publisher is using its own sources to choose the subscribers, it can cherry pick the readers who fall into the desired demographic. This way, media buyers are assured that their ads reach a highly targeted audience.

An important point is that the subscribers are people chosen specifically for their demographic data and buying habits. The readers are a known entity and more likely to respond to the advertisers’ products and services.

Controlled-consumer circulation lets circulators set specific requirements for subscribers and continue to ensure that those requirements are met. Knowing the reader before launch also often helps the editorial staff mold the magazine around the exact reader without having to wait for reader surveys and feedback from the first few issues.

By delivering a quality reader and targeted product right at launch, the ad sales team has a strong value proposition from the start. Circulators of controlled-consumer publications will continue to serve their subscribers while converting them to requesters. Another challenge is “re-training” readers. Though good controlled-consumer publications exist, potential subscribers often are looking for the catch when asked to fill out qualification cards.

Marketers of controlled-consumer publications have the task of conveying the magazine’s value to potential subscribers while making them feel part of a specific club for which the magazine has been created. If the editorial quality is strong and the magazine’s content matches the needs and interests of the readers, they’ll become less skeptical and enjoy the publication as much or more than the others that they pay for.

A controlled-consumer publication that is doing its job for advertisers hones its list to ensure that readers are members of the audience the advertisers want to reach. Circulators can save money by using traditional circulation devices like tip-ons, insert cards and even the editor’s letter so the message that this is a great product that’s free to an exclusive audience is continually conveyed in an economical fashion.

In controlled consumer, the readers are the publication’s most valuable asset and must be treated as such. Strong customer service and “subscriber-only” deals and offers are a way to enhance the relationship.

In addition to traditional advertising responses, controlled-consumer publications can help advertisers reach readers with value-added programs. These can include exclusive offers to their subscribers with advertisers using techniques such as direct mail, events and e-mail offers that provide value to the reader. If demographics allow, location events are particularly useful in enhancing the reader’s experience with both the magazine and the advertiser.

As some of the larger magazine publishers begin to serve a combination of paid and controlled consumer, and the category becomes more widely accepted, it grows easier for publishers who want to launch with this kind of circulation. The category will get easier to manage as it grows, but the smartest circulators will understand that their mission is to continue to deliver a specific reader demographic to advertisers. They need to be vigilant about maintaining the quality of their subscriber list and continually devise new ways to attract qualified subscribers.

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