From custom ads to custom apps, publishers increasingly tailor content for advertisers.
If everyone's a publisher - from solo bloggers to Fortune 500 companies that maintain YouTube channels, mobile apps, and Facebook Pages – where does that leave traditional publishers?
Publishers have been forced to supplement traditional media sales with more advanced services, including interactive marketing strategies and technologies – or risk becoming obsolete.
Over the past year, publishers have invested millions of dollars to acquire interactive agencies and expand in-house marketing and technology teams. The services they offer run the gamut: developing custom ads, building apps for mobile devices, optimizing sites for search engines, and even managing social media communications.
Consider these developments:
May 2011: Book publisher Random House purchases Smashing Ideas, a digital agency specializing in putting books on devices like Apple's iPad. The digital agency's clients include Microsoft and Hasbro.
April 2011: Dow Jones launches Content Lab, a custom content unit that will offer, among other things, social media management, BtoBonline.com reported.
March 2011: B2B publisher Penton Media acquires digital marketing agency EyeTraffic, Folio magazine reported.
January 2011: Huffington Post hires 12 in ad sales, operations, and marketing; three are tasked with guiding advertisers on the best ways to use the site's sponsored content opportunities.
July 2010: Meredith buys mobile marketing company Hyperfactory.
June 2010: Hearst acquires iCrossing, an agency specializing in search marketing, for a reported $325 million.
To be sure, publishers have long offered marketing services to advertisers, from producing one-page local inserts in community newspapers to high-end custom magazines for airlines, universities, hospitals, and other targeted audiences.
An estimated $24 billion was spent on the production and delivery of print custom products in 2010, according to a study by Custom Content Council and ContentWise magazine. That same study found that the amount of resources allocated to custom content on emerging platforms, such as video, mobile, and virtual events, is increasing, too. It totaled $12.5 billion in 2010, reportedly an all-time high.
To better understand how publishers are packaging marketing solutions, let's take a look at two companies: IDG, a technology media, events, and research company with $3.2 billion in annual revenue, and Hearst, a media company with $3.8 billion in annual revenue.
Hearst: Acquiring and Sharing Talent
Since Hearst purchased iCrossing last year, the agency that specialized in search marketing has grown to 650 employees, a 10 percent increase from a year ago.
It serves as digital agency of record for more than a dozen companies, including a "large" new client, according to Tari Haro, iCrossing's CMO. She declined to disclose the client.
Since the acquisition, here are examples of how iCrossing and Hearst work together:
-iCrossing has a team of a half dozen or so people dedicated to developing digital marketing strategies for Hearst properties and clients. "We are tapping into the broader iCrossing team to implement these programs (search, social, mobile app development, etc.)," said Dana Mellecker, iCrossing's senior director of public relations.
-Hearst is also providing resources to iCrossing, such as writers, photographers, and video production talent, to assist with custom branded content. For instance, a Hearst copywriter with expertise in personal finance wrote a custom article for an iCrossing client on how to manage student loans in a bad economy.
Topic ideas are generated through a "social listening" program on behalf of a client, said Dana Mellecker, senior director of public relations at iCrossing. "We use these insights to develop content strategies to drive awareness and engagement. The content is then produced through a combination of Hearst and iCrossing resources," he said.
Laura Schooling, director of marketing services at Hearst Magazines Digital Media, said services offered range from search and social strategy to brand and media strategy. "We have to have a very tight-knit relationship with our editorial teams to understand the content that's most relevant to our consumers," she said.
What's more, the marketing services team must stay aware of emerging technologies and trends - and work with ad tech vendors that bring innovation. For instance, Hearst teamed up with Metaio, which develops augmented reality technology, on J.C. Penney's back-to-school campaign last year. The application lets a person stand in front of their computer's webcam and virtually browse attire.
IDG: Building In-House Expertise
IDG recently hired its 60th employee in its global solutions-strategic marketing services unit, about twice the number from a few years ago. Other IDG media brands have their own custom or services groups such as Content Works at PCWorld|Macworld.
"The services business is a big area of focus. A lot of big customers want someone to sort it out, manage to certain objectives," said Bob Carrigan, IDG's CEO and chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. "When you look at lead generation, research, ad networks – it's a media buying service, social media service. It's not standard. Almost all these big programs are customized."
Among IDG's special offerings: a so-called social ad unit that incorporates video, white paper downloads, and other interactive features, and a widget or so-called "nanosite."
For Dell's Take Your Own Path Heroes campaign, IDG's marketing services unit and ad platform partner Flite developed an ad that includes a video featuring Warren Brown. He's a lawyer who gave up his career to start a bakery business, CakeLove, and relied on Dell for advice about a point of sale system and other technology needs.
IDG also worked with Flite to create a widget for Juniper Networks, the maker of high-speed switching routers. From the ad, a person can view one of three videos, including one titled, "Priceline saves with Juniper," download whitepapers, share the whitepapers on Twitter and Facebook, or click through to a sign-up page for a free 30-day trial of Juniper's mobile security software suite.
Getting It Right – or Write
Ziff Davis Enterprise, a B2B tech publisher whose titles include eWeek, CIO Insight, and Baseline has cast a wide net for business. (Disclosure: I was an editor there from 2001-2007.)
A look at ZDE's website shows that its custom publishing arm has expanded since 2007 to include custom blogging and social media outreach.
"Don't have time to maintain your social media feeds such as Twitter or Facebook? Our Strategic Content team has social media experts who are seasoned at effectively sending out just the write message and building a community," reads the company's pitch for social media services.
Goes to show, it's hard work to get this stuff right – or write.
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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