10 Actionable Takeaways From SIPA Annual 2017 Conference

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"[Publishers] know how to create a community and build loyalty," said Krystle Kopacz, CEO of Rev, during her stirring session, Moving from Publisher to Partner, at the SIPA Annual 2017 Conference in Washington, D.C.

An hour later at the final wrap-up to an amazing three days of information nourishment and networking, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, agreed and went further. "Build events around that community. Technology comes and goes. [But your community] will endure and trusts you. If you really do it right, the community will feel they own the events. And that never goes away because it belongs to them. That's the secret to a winning event. There's no reason everyone in this room can't have a successful conference."

Revenue streams and knowing your customers took center stage over the past three days, as almost 300 publishing peers shared their successes and strategies in numerous keynote talks, sessions and one-to-one conversations. Here are 10 actionable takeaways:

1. Create focus groups. At Atlantic Media, before introducing a new product to a market, Kopacz would convene a focus group of 8-10 clients. "We would bring in a catered lunch and present maybe eight of our ideas from our lab. 'Are they any good? Grade them on a single piece of paper from A to F.' Then we would follow up with anyone who is interested." Kopacz said that surprises would be customary—she recalled one idea that was well-vetted and thought out getting like a D, and then a simple "new social media strategy" getting an A." "Really?" she asked.

2. Spend valuable time with customers. Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine, said during that final wrap-up that during any product development process it's important to ask the question, "What problem does this solve?" She has returned to something they call a customer voice initiative where once a month she has a conversation with a customer for an hour one-on-one. "I had gotten away from that lately," she said. "You get further away from your customers" when you don't do that. "I also tell our people that you have to talk to at least 10 customers before an idea moves forward."

3. Use data to make your content more valuable to customers. "We look at data in real time," said Nikesh Desai, CEO of InvestingChannel, in Wednesday's keynote address. "If gold is up yesterday and down today then my message needs to change. Data should expand across the organization and help optimize your pricing and ROI. [But] it needs to be good. Bad data will lose 30% of your operating margin.

4. Keep your website customer-friendly. Building on that real-time theme, Terrie Goldstein, publisher of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, said during the workshop on selling that, "People want information when they want it. [Much of the time,] they need to know now. A law might be changing, a suit might be filed... If I can [go to] one concise place, not all over, you're doing me a favor."

5. Promote within your webinar, said Ryan Dohrn, founder/CEO, Brain Swell Media, during a very effective pre-conference workshop titled Selling Integrated Advertising and Sponsorship Packages. "You can sell it as a sponsorship. It can be a coffee break in the middle if integrated well. Or you can promote an event or the next issue of a publication." Dohrn was also the first of many at the conference to talk about the success of Ask the Expert features.

6. Use polls, contests and quizzes on your website. Newest SIPA Hall of Fame inductee Denise Elliott, senior VP and COO for Kiplinger, spoke at a roundtable about how important time-on-site is to advertisers vs. just clicks. "Advertisers want people to hit the site and stay on the site," she said. Polls, slide shows and quizzes have all performed well for Kiplinger. "Questions about social security always resonate with our audience [on a quiz]. Or when everyone was getting that flat $300 refund, people really wanted to know when to expect it." Donna Jefferson, publisher of Jefferson Communications, suggested running photo contests to increase engagement—pets always does well for them.

7. Try a progressive registration. For getting the most information you can, Lev Kaye, president of CredSpark, suggested at a roundtable building out a progressive registration for your quizzes or contests, where people are asked maybe four questions each time they take a quiz, instead of 16 all at once.

8. Repackage. Make it an editorial goal that after you run a good article, you do something else with it 10 times, said Dohrn. "White paper, online ebook, webinar, report, quiz, award entry, etc....

9. Take an existing product and give it new life. "We put on a two-day project management boot camp," said Greg Hart, director of marketing for PSMJ Resources, during a session on Building a Company-wide Culture of Innovation. "It went over budgeting, scheduling and other important areas" that were in their information arsenal. "It proved to be one of our most popular products! The market actually took it on themselves to be PMSJ-certified. We would get calls, 'How do I get PMSJ-certified?' "We had been looking for another recurring revenue product." Instead of doing the heavy lift of building something from scratch, Hart said building from something you have will often be the answer.

10. Don't underprice. Number one on Kopacz's list of common pitfalls is not charging enough. "In media we're so used to discounting, and then not accounting for all costs." She also said that ignoring program management is a huge pitfall. "Great customer service can overcome a lot" of negatives. She added to be careful not to disrupt yourself too much as you move forward. "The key is to be on the side of your client."

That's a good note to end on. 

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Ronn 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 a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…