Rage against the dying of the light: The Publishing Business Conference and Expo 2011

I’m not sure how many marketers attended today’s Magazine Executive Roundtable at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo 2011, but those in attendance would surely have felt a sense of kinship with the panel members. The issues discussed — digitalization, innovation, the convergence of channels and ROI — are topics that saturate the challenging, yet opportunity-ripe, marketing landscape.

“We are in the business of creating quality content,” said Samir Husni, founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. “But we must also create a quality experience. Is the experience the same whether we’re using ink on paper and pixels on a screen?”

Sound familiar?

Ditto for Hugh Wiley’s remarks about how his role as publisher of Bloomberg BusinessWeek involves contending with Twitter for consumers’ attention and how that could actually be more challenging than competing with BusinesWeek’s direct competitors.

“The promise of Bloomberg,” said Wiley, “is to take the 360-degree proposition and own it…There has never been a better time to be a multichannel business.”

Sounds great. But for every company boasting optimism and the dawn of a new day, there’s a company like Hanley Wood, a magazine publisher, exhibition and conference host and provider of custom marketing and data services.

“Our margins for print used to be 40%,” said Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton. “Our margins for trade shows were 75%. But as these two businesses are threatened, I wonder if Hanley Wood can ever get back to the glory days. We’re not shy about digital. We’ve invested tens of millions of dollars in it but the margins are nowhere close to 40% or 75%.”

Don Hawk, co-founder and president of TechTarget, a publisher of integrated media that enable technology providers to reach targeted business communities, spoke about how his company gave up print altogether and moved onto digital to better serve advertisers.

Sorry, direct mail.

“There was a time when we operated print publications,” he said. “We exited after three years. We didn’t feel print was the right vehicle to serve our user or advertiser.”

Hawk said TechTarget now marries traditional publishing principles with lead generation services to introduce his advertisers (IT vendors) to their readers (companies researching IT vendors).

“Advertisers used to expect us to hand leads off to them,” said Hawk. “But what happens after?”

Hawk said TechTarget is now investing time and resources to determine how to capitalize off what happens once the leads have been generated and assigned. He said his advertisers’ success has “a lot to do with what we’re not involved in,” including how they use CRM systems to follow-up with leads. “We’re putting a lot of resources into making that our problem. How can we further insert ourselves into the workflow of our advertisers?”

Replace the word “workflow” with interests and “advertisers” with consumers and you’ve stumbled upon the modern-day marketing dilemma/opportunity.

“If you can keep the customer engaged, keep them within your walls,” claimed Wiley, “that’s stickiness. That’s the promise of a multimedia organization.”

Sounds great. But any marketer worth his salt will agree that Hawk’s counter to Wiley’s assertion perfectly encapsulates the ever-changing, ever-expanding marketing (and publishing) worlds:

“You’ve always got to be looking over your shoulder for somebody coming up with a better idea.”

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