Digital Ad Revenue Takes the Form of Content

A Harvard Business Review cartoon shows two dogs chatting. “I’m rooting for the demise of the rolled up print media,” one quips to the other.

As B2B (define) publishers (and all publishers) struggle to close the gap in advertising revenue between print and online, e-mail newsletters continue to be a bright spot in the mix. As subscribers show only fickle loyalty to brands online, the idea of “push” publishing continues to gain ground.

“E-mail newsletters are a key part of our business,” said Sarah Welcome, director, customer intelligence at International Data Group (IDG), a publisher of many tech B2B and consumer properties. “Our heritage is in rich editorial content for IT professionals. To that we’ve added marketer content that we’ve found is also valued by buyers. We push it all out in combination with our e-mail newsletters. E-mail newsletters can be the first place readers interact with companies and products, and are the primary source to generate page views and identify prospects as part of a lead generation program.”

In the U.S., digital revenue has surpassed print for IDG. “Digital revenue, such as advertising and e-mail marketing, is definitely helping to make up for substantial losses in print advertising. It’s still too early to forecast a sustained economic upswing,” Welcome said.

The recession might have scared some publishers, but we haven’t yet seen many digital ad opportunities that take advantage of the unique attributes of the digital channel. These are some bright spots:

  • nicely creates cross-channel advertising opportunities between their print, Web, Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail properties.
  • offers a sponsored widget for some of their properties.
  • IDG offers a display/e-mail combo that advertisers’ value along with the IDG TechNetwork, an ad network of independent sites.
  • Chemical Processing magazine offers a “cartoon caption contest” where readers are invited to submit a caption for a cartoon posted on the site.

There is still more change to come, predicts Rose Southard, director of IT for Putman Media, a multi-channel publisher with titles in many industries including chemical, pharma, commercial food, and manufacturing.

“The B2B publishing industry as a whole will survive as long as there are industries to write about and business buyers and sellers who want information,” she said. “However, I don’t think the B2B publishing business model will look at all the same in the next decade.”

E-mail is a powerful tool, not just for editors to reach readers (and for advertisers to ride along), but to provide data back, Southard said.

“We use e-mail newsletters to bring focus to specific content that we believe is valuable to subscribers — giving advertisers a valuable place to deliver their message. We also gather a set of interesting stats that can help a publisher keep the message relevant,” Southard said.

Context and endorsement of the editorial brand is important, but even in our era of citizen journalists, Welcome is certain that the brand endorsement matters more than content alone.

“Visitors look for a range of content produced by journalists, peers and third-parties such as analysts and vendors. They are also overwhelmed with offers,” Welcome said. “The relationship and credibility of the content provider with a key ingredient of editorial content is important for engaging readers.”

Content from readers also creates new advertising opportunities. Putman offers microsites and forums to advertisers that are focused on a specific topic and feature user-generated content (from YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter).

Advertisers are wise to demand more context, Southard said.

“Publishers can do more to play a leadership role in helping marketers. Delivering an ad based on context helps to ensure you are catching the visitor in a ‘learning moment,’ when they are in the frame of mind to absorb the message,” Southard said.

The opportunity for B2B publishers is big, but not everyone will make it — or even evolve gracefully. Southard said the generational shift in the work force affects how publishers must present and allow interaction with media.

“This is like ‘new math’ in the 1960s,” Southard said. “If you grew up using the Internet in the ‘pontificate’ (listen to the expert), push marketing era you may not understand how to leverage the Internet in the ‘moderate’ (listen to me), pull marketing era.”

It’s both an opportunity and a vulnerability for publishers — and advertisers.

“Publishers are in the middle and need to create a balance between what our audiences are ready for and what our clients are ready for,” Southard said.

What are other publishers doing that help transition to the “new math” of our times? As advertisers and marketers — how are you pushing your publishing partners? Please add your comments below.

Related reading

Flat business devices communication with cloud services isolated on the light blue background.