A Top Publisher Takes NYT Digital Innovation Report to Heart

Susan Hassler, editor-in-chief of the excellent IEEE Spectrum Magazine, concluded the Editorial Best Practices & Workflow track at last week’s SIIA Regional Training Series with a familiar refrain: use the actionable New York Times Digital Innovation Report. Her favorite line from the 96-page tome is that it used to be hitting the send button on a story marked the end of your work; today, it marks the beginning.

Hassler has put together her own Top 11 from the Times Report. Here they are with some of my notes and quotes from the Report:

1. Build your structure with Legos not bricks. “The right structure for today won’t be the right structure for tomorrow,” the Report said. “Our needs will change quickly and our skills will become out of date. More than anything we need to make ourselves adaptable. That means constantly assessing needs, recruiting talent and changing structures. And that means sometimes creating jobs with expiration dates to help us in transitional moments.”

2. Add the necessary digital capabilities to your staff. “Create tools to become a platform for the reaction after the news breaks. For example, we could create an interactive quiz or survey related to the draft, or start a moderated discussion thread with prominent figures.”

3. View your output like your audience does. IEEE launched a new mobile site in January, and since that time mobile traffic has jumped 80%—now accounting for 15% of all traffic. Part of that had to come from optimizing the designs for mobile.

4. Empower your staff to do more testing. Create a culture of experimentation. As an example, the Times Report said that people interested in the longtime hit show Wicked were having trouble finding the original Times review. They suggested adding landing pages for the cultural content that are more like guides. Optimized for search and social, these guides would serve the reader who want a more timeless resource. Most B2B publishers have similar “timeless” content that should be made easy to find. One other great quote: “Reward experimentation. Currently, the risk of failing greatly outweighs the reward of succeeding at The Times.”

5. As you enter into new areas—webinars, live events, etc.—rethink the competition. You’re taking on new types of companies now—it’s a different playing field. In-person attendees, people on the webcast, digital subscribers are all now members of your audience.

6. Consider creating a digital fellowship program. Partner with a local university or community college. “Once [students from those programs] are in the door, we have a better chance of retaining top performers.”

7. Let employees transfer easily between editorial and business units. For smaller publishers, the idea might be to give editorial people the chance to sit in on a business or marketing-side meeting/task force and vice versa.

8. Coordinate your efforts. There are pockets of people doing lots of interesting work. “The newsroom should begin an intensive review of its print traditions and digital needs—and create a road map for the difficult transition ahead. We need to know where we are, where we’re headed and where we want to go.”

9. An article begins life when you hit send. “We need to be better advocates of our own work,” the Report concluded. “[This] means identifying and sharing best practices at the ground level, and encouraging reporters and editors to promote their stories. In addition, we must take the process of optimization, for search and social, more seriously and ensure we are updating our tools and workflow along with our changing needs.”

10. Find staff people who take well to digital. Make sure hiring managers understand the demands of the jobs they’re trying to fill, and can assess the skills of applicants. Put less emphasis on traditional journalism skills in digital hires, and put more emphasis on digital skills in journalism hires. Empower and develop your digital talent by asking them to help shape, rather than simply implement, strategy.

11. Start a task force to lead the digital-first, new-product thinking. One conclusion I found interesting: “Kill off mediocre efforts. To free up resources for new initiatives, we need to be quicker and smarter about pulling resources from efforts that aren’t working. And we must do it in a way that is transparent so that people understand the reasons behind the decision, so that they will be willing to experiment again.”

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

Regional Training Day Shows People the Money and More

How do I monetize thee? Let me count the ways. That was one theme from yesterday’s filled-to-the-brim, information-overloaded Regional Training Series: Edit, Pricing, Sales staged superbly by SIIA staff in Manhattan. The depth and breadth of the various models and ideas that were expounded upon make attending these kinds of events and belonging to SIIA so valuable.

Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content at travel start-up Skift, said they monetize their 50,000 free newsletter list and 200,000 Twitter followers with native advertising, subscription reports (“research light”)—“Hilton might sponsor a report we write on extended stays that will help them be a thought leader,” Clampet said—and SkiftIQ data products they produce comparing as many as 125 travel brands on things like responding to customers on Twitter (American good, United bad). Skift also just put on their first in-person, one-day event in The New York Times Center last week. How did it go? “It will be two days next year,” said Clampet. They are also starting an in-house studio next month.

His co-panelist, Michael Lavitt, Aviation Week’s director editorial and online production, spoke of cutting back to 26 print issues (from 46) but upping their excellent, daily online output—taking stories from the magazine and “trickling them out” during the week. “We’re trying to get younger,” he said. New features will include 40 under 40 aerospace leaders. They hired a social media manager who’s so good that she’ll now head up their free website. But don’t look for breaking news there—that’s still for those who pay.

Pricing Strategies…

Paul Rowlings, SVP commercial development for the global company Wood MacKenzie, delivered an exciting case study on their “need to change” the way they do things—as part of the Pricing strand. One slide of an endless array of reports they offered told it all. “Part of the problem of implementing all this is there was a mess of a range of discounts going on,” he said. “Everyone was just doing the best deal you can—just to get them in here. It will take years to work through that legacy of discounts.”

By redesigning their portal and getting more content laid out neatly in front of their customers, Wood MacKenzie was able to get a huge increase in engagement. They also did a Product Usage Analysis showing how their reports are being used and learning how their clients are interacting with their content.

“It worked,” said Rowlings. “About 9 months into this experience, our portal usage has gone way up.” The question then became, “how do you get clients to pay for that when there isn’t a built-in price mechanism? We didn’t want clients to ration their number of users. How do we make money out of this?” Their 95-plus% retention rate obviously wasn’t the problem. Charging higher rates was.

That led to a discussion on pricing. Would customers pay more for data that they were now using more? They would. “We were pleasantly surprised by the reaction from our sales team and customers,” Rowlings said. The data from the usage reports had given [our sales people] a degree of confidence. He advised starting early in approaching price increases. “Start having those conversations now.”

Rowlings’ 3 key takeaways:
- trust that your data will get you to the right answer; don’t prejudge it;
- talk to your clients;
- don’t be afraid to take risks and make bold changes, if you feel it’s right. “We needed to change the game to get where we wanted to go.”

Digital Sales…

Another way of monetizing is through digital ads, and Leslie Laredo, president of The Laredo Group, did a full-day presentation of those fundamentals. Again, the discussion turned to data. “The #1 thing I’m hiring at my company are data analysts,” she said. “[Data is] changing how advertising works.”

She said that if you’re simply optimizing clicks, then “you’re reacting to the wrong action. Clicking is so easy. We want Calls to Action, interaction rates rather than click-through rates. If we watch a commercial on tv that we like, we don’t run to the store as soon as we see it.” It lays the groundwork. She also said something that I wrote about on Monday, that her highest click rates are on Saturday. You should test it.

“We’re all busy. People go to your website to read your content. They have to have the impulse to do it and the time to do it.” She said that search is becoming less valuable compared to social, mobile and native. “How do people know to search for you if they don’t have a trigger to find you. Search is great but not the trigger or inspiration.”

Which brings us back to data. “Maybe we also need to get away from keywords as the right way of finding our audience. I have data, I know your background.” She told of websites that will show you just how much information is being collected on you (Ghostery). Laredo and others yesterday also had optimistic words for print. “Print is a bigger driver to search than online. TV, print, conversations—those are what leads people to search.”

She encouraged more video content. “More and more content will trump a lot of things for revenue opportunities.” And she doesn’t ever want to see “learn more” as a benefit. “’Get the recipe now’—that’s a benefit. A benefit has to be strong enough to get people to want to click. Moat Ad Search is another website Laredo recommended—“it will show you all the ads of a company and the sites they appear on.

Editorial Best Practices…

A session on Raising Your Business IQ for editors brought up some actionable ideas. Editors should be highly valued in a company, but it’s a two-way street, said David Longobardi, EVP and chief content officer, SourceMedia. They should be invited to the executive table but must bring ideas with them. “We invite our lead editors of each brand to write an internal white paper,” he said.

“We ask them to redefine the market and the audience, explain the eco-system, identify trends that are changing the industry, and draw conclusions at the end. Is it a growth market? That document becomes the foundation for our strategic planning process. That’s where we start our discussions. It’s a good opportunity to set the tone. Editors have led our brands into the digital future.”

Co-presenting was Alex DeBarr, president and CEO, of Naylor, a media and event management company. He said that it’s important for any remaining walls in your company to come down. “We don’t believe in silos.” To capitalize—he used that word instead of monetize—on your brand, an editor must:
- “Understand your company’s capital structure; do you know how they make money? You gotta know.”
- “Understand the business model you live in; make sure your team understands it.”
- “Understand what [you and/or] your team does well; you have to make understanding your market a competitive advantage.”
- “Create your own definition of great content based on what your market needs.”
- “Help circulation people understand the market.”

Know how your digital products work, he added, and how they can be monetized and sold. Draw market maps that show channels of distribution and a trend sheet with the top 5 trends in the market. But most of all, speak up.


Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.


Testing, Renewals, New Revenue, Data. And That’s Just One BIMS Time Slot.

I have a problem to work out for 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 11. What breakout session do I attend at the Business Information & Media Summit in Miami Beach? This is a problem that everyone in the industry should have. Here’s why.

Choice 1: After speaking by phone with new SIPA Board member Benny DiCecca yesterday—he’s the CEO of Wellesley Information Systems (WIS)—I’m ready to follow him anywhere. He’s a panelist on the session New Products. New Partners. New Revenue? Developing Future Revenue-Drivers for Your Business. In 15 years, DiCecca has built WIS into a 130-plus employee company that started with conferences but has expanded into roadshows, webcasts, global events and large-scale partnering.

“It’s a matter of looking at your existing products—publications, webinars, live shows, educational events—and seeing what people are willing to pay for,” DiCecca said. “And then testing that line of thinking. Are you best with an app, mobile, print, no print. Talk to people, see the money…Millennials now pose entirely new challenges, so we’re trying to figure that out—what mobile devices mean for us. Do we build quick informational apps, native apps? Focus groups are also incredibly important, as are predictive analytics that will help shape your new products.”

Joining DiCecca will be Robert Dippell of Praetorian Digital, Ed Gillette of Scranton Gillette/SGC Horizon, and Andy Weber, CEO of Farm Journal Media. “Truly multimedia solutions [are] driven where multimedia platforms are [responding] to customers’ needs, not just bundling for cheaper prices…” Weber has said. “So, the focus is helping customers achieve their objectives.”

Choice 2: Online Testing Techniques with Matt Bailey, author of the new book, Wired to Be Wowed: Great Marketing Isn’t an Accident. This should be a very actionable session. “People with testing experience get great results and can point to why,” Bailey told me last month. “They make time. It comes down to ultimately creating a culture of testing. You can start small, so people can see the results [and why you are] trying to produce a data-centric culture. Before we can get anything, what does the data say?…What is a good third-party way to look at my data, to test in a low-impact, high yield way?”

The point of airing my mid-morning-to-be crisis is not sympathy. After all, this is Miami Beach. It’s that as I look at every time period of the three-day information- and solution-athon, great sessions stand out. You can fly in Monday morning and leave Wednesday afternoon pocketing success stories and marketing/lead gen tips just shouting to be implemented at home.

Choice 3Randy Greenberg, COO of Greene/QCSS, and David DePaolo, president of WorkCompCentral, present Keep Renewal Revenue Flowing. I’ve known Randy a while and treasure the information he and QCSS bring. And renewals are our lifeblood. On their excellent blog, I especially like the post, “7 Ways to Build an Emotional Connection With Callers.” (Number 4 – “Smile as you speak.”)

Choice 4: Surely, that’s enough for one 55-minute spot. But there’s more. My excellent colleague here at SIIA Matt Kinsman moderates a panel session titled: Getting the Tech (Digital) and Business Sides to Work Together. On his all-star panel are James Capo of Access Intelligence, Joel Hughes of Scranton Gillette, David Klein, Sr. from Crain Communications Inc., and Roberta Muller from Northstar Travel Media. What can be more important than getting those two areas to cooperate?

Choice 5: Chris Taggart, the founder of Open Corporates, will deliver Is the Future of Data Open?—a valuable session for everyone in the industry.

Can you say “cloning”? In reality, I will probably be assigned to monitor one of the main session rooms and then cover those before me. That’s okay—saves me from telling Randy or Matt or Benny that I chose someone else. But I hope you and your colleagues take a good look at the BIMS schedule and who’s attending to see the value. And then come face the 10:30 “crisis” with me.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

Usage Data Leads Two Companies Down Profitable Path

Have you looked at your analytics and data today?

I just read about Airbnb’s turning point in an article on the site First Round Review—and it reminded me of something from Molly Lindblom’s and David Foster’s recent session at SIPA 2014: New Rules for Product Development and Time to Market. Both “case studies” began by looking at usage data.

Lindblom’s case study came from her days working at LexisNexis CourtLink. (She now has her own company called Business Transformations.) In that study, she said the first thing they did was to “took a look at the usage data.” They were trying to help attorneys and librarians track existing cases and find new ones through aggregate court dockets.

Lindblom noticed that the usage history had spiked at certain points, and that new job titles were showing interest in the product—marketing and business development names.

“I talked to our VP of business development to try to figure out what was going on. So we each called 7 or 8 of these people, and we learned a consistent story. People said, ‘I’m prepping for a client meeting and I want to know what other law firms are servicing my clients. I also want to know what my client’s litigation trends are…Because at the end of the day for me to earn more business from this client, I have to be smarter than any other attorney that walks in the door and talks to them, and I just recently figured out I can do this with your dockets.’

“And the marketers said, ‘We’re helping the attorneys get smarter when they go into these client development meetings.’ So I went back to the product development manager, we looked at each other, and I said, “This is really cool. This can make court dockets sexy in a way they weren’t sexy up to this point!”

(You should check out her whole case study for that session on the SIPA 2014, members-only archives page.)

Similarly, Airbnb, while trying to fix their new product—they were in the process of failing forward as Lindblom and Foster recommended—pored over their “search results for New York City listings, trying to figure out what wasn’t working, why they weren’t growing. [They] noticed a pattern. There’s some similarity between all these 40 listings. The similarity is that the photos [were bad]…People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn’t a surprise that people weren’t booking rooms because you couldn’t even really see what it is that you were paying for.”

So a three-person team flew to New York, rented a camera, and spent time with the customers listing properties and posting wonderful, high-resolution pictures. A week later, the results showed that “improving the pictures doubled the weekly revenue to $400 per week. This was the first financial improvement that the company had seen in over eight months. They knew they were onto something.” The Airbnb solution was fueled in a similar, get-to-know-your-customers way as Lindblom’s.

Foster, president of BVR in Portland, Ore., spoke about the importance of growth, and how delays in product launches can hurt your bottom line. “Information companies that grew 25% got 5X revenues when they sold,” he said. “Growth is the greatest enhancement of business value.” He added, “You’re not investing in technology to create something. You’re investing in technology to create the ability to rapidly create lots of stuff.”

One other similarity in these two examples is to test early. While saying that they don’t let data push them around and don’t develop “reactively” to metrics, Airbnb does want ideas—on your first day of work no less! (They changed stars to hearts through this method.)

“Focus on failure,” Lindblom said. “Test assumptions to find out where you fail. Fail cheap, fail quickly, learn something and know where to go from here.”

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

CODiE Awards Judge Webinar: How to Judge a CODiE Award

On October 6, 2014 we hosted a CODiE Awards webinar specifically for the Content, Education, and Software judges. The primary purpose of the webinar was to provide important information about the judging process, including responsibilities for all categories.

During the webinar we covered:

  • How to nominate
  • A review of the new categories
  • What happens during the first-round judging process
  • The complete CODiE Awards timeline
  • Tips and Tricks

Attracting New Readers and Keeping in Step With the Ones You Have

Some observations from the week and what they mean for publishers.

1. “If [newspaper] publishers reduced the steep prices of their Sunday products, they could attract new and former customers to boost circulation on the day of the week that typically delivers half of their advertising revenues and often more than half of their profits. To offset the decline in circulation revenue, increased Sunday readership ought to attract more advertising.”
—Alan Mutter on his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog.

The takeaway: Is there something you’re doing that you’ve always been doing that may not make sense anymore? Rules change. What is your gateway for attracting new readers?

2. “…there has often been evidence of a disconnect between the social media managers and customer service team. Leaving teams to operate in silos, when the customer will be exposed to both, can have lasting negative impact effects. Examples from the past include Eurostar, which continued to tweet seasonal offers when its trains became stuck in the Channel Tunnel.”
—Hotwire and 33 Digital’s 2014 Digital Trends Report

The takeaway: Are there areas in your company that should be working better together?

3. “’Pre-emptive computing’ will continue to disturb some consumers, but many will see it as yet another tool to provide for a more satisfying interactive experience. The public has already grown to accept ‘you may also like’ notifications as a part of everyday digital life. With a little intuitive help, [people] can have a more satisfying experience…”
—Leslie Campisi, blogging about that Hotwire report, on PBS’s Media Shift site

The takeaway: If we don’t learn more about our customers, then we will lose their trust in being able to lead them to the places they need to go.

4. “…publishers should not start with a focus on platforms when developing new products and content, but instead think about your customer first, and to do that you have to know who your customers are…The attitudes and behaviors of that next generation are very different from our current [audience], because they grew up in a world where there is so much media that they don’t go out and seek it.”
—Mary Beth Christie, online product management director at the Financial Times on Journalism.co.uk

The takeaway: Create a “single ecosystem with many parts, rather than lots of different ones that you’re going to have to stitch together later.” Have access to analytics that can monitor all the different devices your audience might use.

5. “[Membership organizations] with active online communities appear to have higher overall membership renewal rates…Real-time email messages from community discussions have a higher open rate than daily-digest emails. For subscribers who opt to receive an email for every new message posted to a discussion, the open rate is 34%—among daily-digest recipients, 26.9%.”
Associations Now

The takeaway: Get your Listserv or community forum(s) as active as possible. The more your customers/members/subscribers are talking with each other, the more they will identify with you and renew.

6. “If you need to send to an ‘old’ list, say one that you haven’t emailed in over six months, or a purchased/rented list, it’s best to have that list cleaned by a list hygiene service like Fresh Address to remove as many addresses as possible that are undeliverable…Spam Traps [or complainers].
—Good post from the Real Magnet Blog on list hygiene

The takeaway:
As their lead says, “Maintaining high standards of ‘list health’ is an integral part of any successful email marketing campaign.”

7. What’s the key to a good webinar or workshop? “I’m always thinking, ‘what’s the takeaway?’ Is it in the subject matter that the presenter provides? I’m always asking speakers to include extra bonuses [in their presentation]—checklists, templates, spread sheet metrics so you can plug in different factors, if they have those available. You want people to have something tangible to take back. ‘I just came from this webinar and have this template that I should now integrate into xyz process…’”
—Jeff Grizzel, conference director, FDAnews

The takeaway: Think takeaways. Notes can be fleeting, but templates, checklists, charts and guides are more lasting and more likely to integrate into someone’s processes.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

Baseball Team’s Successful Sales Pitches May Be Hit for Publishers

For a while, selling subscriptions seemed like enough. It’s a good product, your content is unique, and the price point reasonable. And then the Internet exploded, free content abounded, and subscriptions got tougher to sell. And publishers added stuff.

For the Washington Nationals baseball team—the top seed in the upcoming National League playoffs and coming off the first no-hitter in franchise history yesterday—they reached this point last year. For them, the “Internet” equates to the explosion of so many things to do in the Washington, D.C. area. The “free content” that now abounds is all the games that are televised—theirs and others. And because of this—and cost—their season ticket subscriptions went down last year.

So what did they do? What would any good “publisher” do? Marketed. Here are ideas as chronicled by Thomas Heath’s Value Added column in today’s Washington Post.

- The Nationals created a membership club called Nats Plus. “People were saying, ‘Why do I need a plan? There’s StubHub,’” said Valerie Camillo, the team’s chief marketing and revenue officer. Now fans can get on-field photos, autographs, batting practice passes, tickets to exhibition games. Would publisher equivalents be special access to writers and bloggers, and “gold” passes to one or more of your events?

- “[Camillo] knew the key was getting fans face-to-face with Nationals salesmen,” writes Heath. So the team invited fans to certain games this year to upsell them on season ticket plans, using conference rooms in the stadium. For the Nationals, a ticket to a game does not cost much, and the potential upsell can be great. Given the cost of most publishers’ live events, it’s hard to give that away for a possible upsell. But still, the value of that “face-to-face” should not be underestimated. Maybe there are lower-cost, in-person events that you can put on to get new people out.

- The Nationals didn’t offer the shorter ticket plans (5, 10 and 20 games) until later in the year so fans would not be tempted to buy those instead of a full or half season.

- Camillo “boosted bonuses for her sales staff if they sold Nats Plus plans.”

- The sales staff was taught better public speaking and given the option to call on the general manager (their publisher?) to close the deal. The sales staff connected the dollars fans spent to the ability to get better players. Publishing equivalent might be to find a very specific interest of a potential subscriber and say that their subscription/membership would enable further work into that microsite.

- Season ticket holders now have cards that they use to get into the stadium, buy food, buy a cap, etc. (And special lines to get in, and then buy food.) Those cards allow the team to amass loads of data on them and then market to similar people. “We have data that shows new buyers for 2015 are getting younger, more diverse and more family-oriented,” Camillo said. The publisher equivalent might be awards programs—those can draw lots of data—surveys, and other “benefits”-for-info programs.

- There are also special areas at the stadium where certain season ticket holders can go that regular ticket holders can’t. You feel like you’re missing out. Similarly, you might try levels on your website or with your benefits that can only be accessed by your biggest supporters. SIPA member Pro Farmer offers a Classic Membership, a Preferred Membership and a VIP Membership. VIP members get the “most comprehensive news, analysis and advice package available.”

- Looking at the comments, one season ticket holder points to how nice all the staff is at the game. That never hurts. And another writes that he is happy that giveaways are at all gates now. So those things do seem to matter.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

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