‘Once Digital Gets Its Hands on Things, It Never Lets Go’; Media Executives Talk Transformation

“I think there’s an incredible future path for us to do what we do,” Industry Dive CEO Sean Griffey said today in an excellent discussion on digital transformation. “There’s still a place for good journalism in the world. And a place for us to leverage our role as connectors and make a lot of money for it.”

Listening intently to that discussion yesterday took me back to a Zoom call I had in May with Krystle Kopacz, CEO of Revmade. “The biggest challenge is, ‘How do you lead your company through a massive transformation when your work hours are not what you’re used to, you can’t connect in the office, and you can’t separate professional and personal problems?’” she told me.

Kopacz said she had been up early—probably around 5 am given her schedule with a 9-month-old daughter—thinking about her SIPA keynote in June. “Publishers can provide information and research, but what do they need from me? How can I help them navigate this? I work with brand clients. And they’re calling me saying, ‘We’re not doing trade shows, so how do I find qualified buyers?'”

Her first question, she said, is, “Have you thought about working with a publisher?” But  “publishers are up against a lot in this new environment. What they need to do is to align their products better with marketing pain points. ‘How do I call up some of the clients’ pain points? How do I create a lead gen replacement package?’

“This is where your media sales team can play the biggest role, helping clients understand and being relevant to your target audience,” Kopacz continued. “They’re also wondering, ‘How do I navigate this?’ So there’s some advice-giving that needs to happen.”

From a business standpoint, as Griffey said, good things can come of this. The other SIPA 2020 keynote, Don Harkey, told the story of his 75 year-old mother-in-law teaching piano lessons on Skype now. “If you would have told me that at Christmas time, I would’ve said no way. But she’s doing it and liking it and said she will be offering it to her students in the future. It’s things like that that are fundamentally changing.”

What [Customer] Problems Are We Solving Day-to-Day?”

Harkey’s mother-in-law had figured out a way to solve her audience’s pain points. It’s kind of the same for some members. In the discussion yesterday, Elizabeth Green, CEO of Brief Media, said that their “transformation started in 2013 [when] we realized that if we wanted to connect with our audience, we needed to provide information they needed every day. We acquired a workflow product that’s now the fastest growing part of our business.”

Their foundation is still their database, she said, but “our media product gets us to the table. It has built this broader audience for us [so we can] go deeper [with the] workflow product. Some days I wake up and wish I was a big company, but then I’m glad we’re small,” Green added with a smile.

Green said they actually had their best year ever in 2020—their niche is the veterinary field—partly because they had thought about transformation well before the pandemic. “What problems are we solving day-to-day for our audience?” Green asked. “As an organization, we had to change our structure from a media organization to one that is product focused. That allowed us to get much greater cross-collaboration with our teams, because they’re now focused on product and not departments. We also are able to make decisions much faster.”

Industry Dive’s Griffey added that over the last 12 months, he has seen “upticks in brand advertising and other different [digital] components. People had relied on events to do these things. They used events to get executives on panels and as keynotes. And now we see [the resurgence of] brand. Will that go away when events come back? It’s kind of a [reminder] that once digital gets its hands on things, it never lets go. We got tailwinds because we didn’t have events. Marketers come to us looking to use digital in ways that wouldn’t be expected.”

“How does the lack of live events across the industry affect us?” Kopacz asked back on that May morning. “What does that do to lead generation efforts? And how are you refilling that pipeline? Publishers still have a key role to play between buyers and sellers. There are many ways you can mimic what live events do.”

For now, that journey continues.

Whether Attracting New Members, Engaging Current Ones or Amplifying Voices, Podcasts Mean Business

“Authenticity is in great demand, especially now when people are craving straight talk and a break from their Zoom meetings. A podcast is like delivering a personalized TED Talk or conversation straight to someone’s earbuds and can help you become a voice of experience that literally speaks to your customers. Are you ready to be that voice?”
Elizabeth Shea writing in Forbes

Podcasts mean business. They attract new members, engage current ones, bring sponsorships, convey thought leadership, amplify diverse voices, give your own staff more exposure, and may even win you an EXCEL Award!

(After all, it is awards season. Golden Globe and SAG nominations came out this week, and the early-bird deadline for EXCEL Award nominations is next Friday! Nominate here today! You worked hard in 2020! Get recognized for it by your peers.)

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies checks a few of those above boxes. They won a 2020 EXCEL Award for their Insurance Uncovered Podcast, and, in their latest episode, Charles Chamness, president and CEO, interviews Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) about what to expect from the new administration. Catherine Imus, their VP of public affairs, is the very able host for the podcast.

And you can become pretty good pretty fast. Chitra Sethi, executive editor, media, for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, attended an excellent session at the 2018 AM&P conference on podcasts by Blake Althen of Human Factor. She then helped to create ASME TechCast and presented on her 12-episode experience at the 2019 AM&P Conference. Now they’re a 2020 Gold EXCEL Award winner—for Engineering the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, spotlighting the engineers who made the 1969 moon landing happen.

One reason podcasts continued to thrive in 2020 is that interviews were often done by phone and computer before the pandemic. So there wasn’t much need for transition. Some thought the lack of commuting would hurt audience, but listening during other activities—exercising, house chores, car rides, weekend errands—made up for it. Almost 70% of people who listen to podcasts do so on their mobile phones.

In a recent Sidebar survey, only 50% of the respondents said that their association is doing a podcast. Could it be right for your association this year? (Or if you have one, could you add another?) Here are some questions to help your answer:

What are your goals? Do you have data on what audience you are trying to reach? Are you trying to demonstrate thought leadership in your field or industry? Do you want to promote other money-making activities you do? Do you want to give sponsors another avenue to use, especially with in-person events on hiatus? These may also determine the type of guests and format you have. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘What is our mission? Why do we want to do this?'” said Sethi. They also created an attractive logo and chose a segmented format over solo and interview “And what’s in a name?” she asked. “Everything. It took us weeks to pick a name. We had Geek Speak and Mechanically Speaking. Once we picked ASME TechCast we had our designer create the logo. We launched with a pilot episode on diversity in the industry” featuring an interview with a woman engineer.

Do you have time? “You might feel compelled to cut corners and take the webcasts or videos you’ve already posted on your YouTube channels and turn them into audio broadcasts, but that doesn’t gain you as much value…” Shea said. “If you’re going to do a podcast, do a podcast.” Also never underestimate the time editing may take, the need for pre-interviews with guests, and just the extra time overall. This might also affect the length you choose. ASME realized after recording a few episodes that a long podcast was not in their cards—or 8-hour workday. “We did like a 45-minute interview that we had to cut down to 12 minutes,” Sethi said. “We did not have the time for that going forward so decided to try to keep the recordings short.” Now the podcasts average about 10-12 minutes with this winning one just a quote or two over 10 minutes.

Are sponsorships out there? Monetizing podcasts might not be as important for associations as it is for B2B publishers, but that could change if event sponsorships continue to be slow. However, Shea says monetization might not be easy, so it might be better to go into podcasts with the idea of raising “your thought leadership profile” and perhaps sponsors could join later. But you know your niche best. Are you getting webinars sponsored? Is there perhaps a vendor hole from the lack of in-person events that a podcast could fill?

Could you use more audience engagement? When COVID-19 began, MedLearn Media invited more healthcare professionals to their Monitor Mondays podcast to share and tell their stories of what they have been experiencing and seeing each week, said executive director Angela Kornegor. “The response on the new format was astonishing. Our live attendance to our podcasts increased by 50% which not only gave us great insight and feedback into what our customers were looking for and craving, but gave us intel on topics we could produce webcast topics around.”

What format is best? Deep dives seem to be the format of the moment now, averaging about 25 minutes. But a little less time-intensive would be a free-for-all—almost all discussion with little narrative and editing. Or something short like Spidell’s under-five-minutes California Minute. “Podcasting is not for direct response or lead gen,” wrote Mitch Joel in Six Pixels of Separation. “It’s about social proof and showing competence in the market.”

Who will be your host? I’ve heard shows with all combinations of hosts, and they do set the tone for the content to come. Maybe you have someone or two on staff who would be good—more female and diverse voices are definitely needed!—and the added exposure would benefit them. Do you know a good storyteller on staff, someone who shines on Zoom?

Does your sourcing need more diversity? Do people already come to mind as guests? Perhaps you can address a lack of diversity in your coverage. Source a podcast very much like you’d source a magazine or digital feature story. Who can speak eloquently and who represents the issue best? Look for new voices.

Lastly, do you like to have fun, Shea asks? “One of our clients who runs a successful podcast once remarked that it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done, but she also said it’s the most fun.” The importance of fun cannot be lessened these days. We’re working more hours, the holidays are over, it’s winter—whatever we add should have at least a tinge of fun attached.

While Hybrid Events Are the Clear Destination, Doing Them Well Will Take More Thought

“What makes for a great hybrid event is really finding a kind of the core idea of the multi-screen experience.”
John Capano, SVP of Impact XM

If pivot was the events word for 2020, then hybrid will hopefully be the word for 2021. An overwhelming 78% of those surveyed by Pathable plan to host events with both in-person and virtual components, if in-person gatherings are allowed. What’s more, just 17% of those surveyed planned to host in-person-only events when that’s permitted. But staging a good hybrid event will take some creativity and thought.

I listened to a good podcast from EventBuzz this week between Capano and host Savannah McIntosh of PurplePass. (I love that they include the transcript!) Of course, the tendency of late has been to say that we’ll all be doing hybrid events soon, when in-person events are allowed to take place again.

But Capano contends that hybrid cannot simply mean having your regular in-person conference, and then live-videoing it for folks who can’t attend. A lot of thought has to go into what works for an event that is designed both for in-person and on-screen attendees.

Here are some thoughts from Capano and others who are thinking about the return of in-person events:

Augment the live aspect. “It’s really how do you build an event that’s engaging across all areas, and really leveraging technology in such a way to augment the live aspect,” Capano said. “And so when we talk to our clients a lot, they talk a lot about virtual reality, we actually talked a lot about augmented reality because this idea of hybrid really is augmented reality. It’s let’s take a live event and let’s lay on a digital layer in an augmented way and have everyone have a connected engaging experience.”

Virtual can boost in-person. “It used to be almost everybody you talked to felt like, ‘Well, I don’t want to do a strong virtual event because it’ll cannibalize my [audience],’” said Capano. “And people have now realized that having a great virtual part of your live event is the best way to increase your attendees at your next [in-person] event. [See FOMO.] It becomes the kind of the marketing engine that scalability is the marketing that drives your future attendees.” Adds Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association: “One half will see the event virtually. They will see how safe it is and want to come in-person next year.”

Virtual is still about knowing your audience. “What’s the purpose of your meeting and what are you trying to achieve?” Capano asked. “Then design the technology to fit that. Once that’s done, just ideate the heck and brainstorm the heck for ways to get people more engaged, like shorter content, snackable content, ways for them to interact, ways for them to not only interact with, say, the speakers or the acts, but also other people at the event, adding in gamification to kind of make it fun and interesting and a little bit competitive.

Pack a surprise. “Add in some ‘Easter eggs,’ because that’s something again, that we try to do [to keep virtual people engaged],” Capano said. “What are the cute, little surprise, delight moments, those things are all very possible in the virtual world, you just have to put thought against them, because they’re a little different than they would be like exactly what you might do in a live setting.”

Here are a few ideas from an article in Trade Show News Network this week:

Decisions will need to be made quickly. Virtual events pioneer Pathable predicts that 38% of decision-makers will choose between hybrid, virtual or in-person for their events within the first quarter of the year. Furthermore, about 40% of planners say they will settle on a platform to host their events by March.

Virtual must stay in the conversation. “INVNT Co-founder and CEO Kristina McCoobery is optimistic that brands will return to in-person events, albeit smaller than past levels. But of note is that 2020 opened the door to reaching larger numbers of attendees through virtual events—a fact that won’t be lost on savvy groups. ‘Virtual attendees mustn’t be treated as an afterthought, and their experiences need to be carefully curated in the same way they are for an in-person audience,’ she said.”

Look for more customization. “How do you get attendees to engage more at events? Start by adjusting your event rather than expecting your guests to change their behavior organically, said David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events. ‘By better understanding our event guests, we can design more personalized experiences for their event journey,’ he said. ‘Most importantly, we need to let design dictate event structure and content rather than simply cutting and pasting from previous live event agendas.’”

Get creative with offerings and pricing. McCoobery believes that “we’ll start to see more and more monetized interactive competitions followed by exclusive content offerings to unlock, immersive activities that allow audience members to create their own avatars and explore a space or live gig with others, and tiered payment plans, including VIP packages.” That is a mouthful!

Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

Get Dressed, Adjust Routines to Your Vibes and Stay Connected, CEOs Advise

Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

During an October 2019 SIPA webinar on managing remote workers, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, said that the most relevant stat was that 90% of remote workers said they’re more productive. “We hear this a lot at AI,” she said. At that time, many of us might have raised our eyebrows. Now, we’re all (tired) believers. But is it sustainable?

“Many also advocate for experimenting with small adjustments to your routines to hit your most productive period in the day,” Diana Shi wrote in a Fast Company article titled 9 CEOs Share Their Best Tips for Successful Remote Work

That sentence struck a chord for me. At around 7 am this morning, I read work emails written around 10 pm last night. And I’m sure that colleagues look at my 7:05 am emails the same way I look at their late-night emails—when I’m either asleep or on the verge—and we make similar exclamations. We all have different times and vibes to get our best work done, and working remotely encourages that.

Looking back now, it was prescient of SIPA to conduct that October 2019 webinar with Farley and Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media. They gave an excellent blueprint of what to do and not do managing remote workers. Let’s mix some of their advice with some from the CEOs that Shi featured in her article for an updated guide.

Invest in relationships. “Find creative ways to still informally connect with your teams, to build and strengthen relationships,’ said Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread. He also advises to share praise. “Remember to recognize and show appreciation of your team.”

Engaging in meetings is very important. In October 2019, Fink was concerned that remote workers would receive audio and video feeds from conference room meetings. “We’ve installed some large screens in conference rooms. There’s a marked difference in how that person participates. And how the people feel; it feels like that person was in the meeting room. It really does make a significant difference.” Today, engagement in meetings remains important. I’ve read that we lose a lot by multitasking during meetings. A recent study found that “those who focused on nonverbal communication cues from their colleagues or said they tried harder to listen attentively were less likely to see any change in the quality of their work relationships.”

Make time for one-on-one voice calls, without video. “There’s a lot of video fatigue, so be conscious whether all parties want to use it,” says Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business. “With family, do take advantage of all the benefits of video, especially with those whom you haven’t seen for a while. If they don’t know how to, get them set up.”

Ask for feedback. I think this one still applies. “Is this working for you?” Farley asked. “What are the pain points? Are you lonely? Do you feel disenfranchised? Is the work getting done? Relationships work because they’re built on trust. We talk about it on a regular basis, to have regular touch-in points is critical. Things don’t just happen. Clear the decks and course correct to get those situations working.” She also said to “over-communicate.” Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, agreed and said that’s also incumbent on the manager. “Communicate. Schedule time for more all-hands, team stand-ups, one-on-ones, and skip-levels.”

Check on their technology. Pre-pandemic, 77% of remote workers were between ages 25-44. But now it’s everyone. Money-Media was quick to order “kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc.,” Fink said. “Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”

Pretend you’re going to the office. “In this virtual world, maintaining some of the habits that helped me think and feel my best when I was going into the office has been really important to me,” said Joel Flory, CEO of VSCO, such as getting up early to exercise. Any guess what Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway—a subscription fashion service—recommends doing? Get dressed nice every day, of course. “Getting ready in the morning helps signal my body and brain that productivity is my priority.” I’ve read that some people even ride around for a half hour and then come home to give the commuting feel. I’ve kept my Friday tradition of driving to Heidelberg Bakery in the morning.

‘You Can Plan for the Unplanned’; Processes and Audience Outreach Give Industry Dive a Content Blueprint to Follow


Back in late October, we asked readers if they had finished their 2021 editorial calendar. While 67% responded, “Yes, though we have left some room for flexibility,” 33% checked, “No, things are just too fluid.”

Having an editorial calendar is well and good until a pandemic hits,” said Robin Re in a webinar this week titled Why You Need to Operate Like a Newsroom in 2021. She is the VP of marketing for Industry Dive, a B2B publisher that in this time of shrinking editorial staffs in many places, has been consistently adding to its reporting staff. They now have more than 80 reporters working on 23 newsletters in 20 verticals.

While the webinar was geared to marketers—the idea being that the way the Industry Dive newsroom gets to know its audience is a worthy blueprint for marketing—it also gave us an inside look at a growing and successful publisher and the insights of its editor-in-chief, Davide Savenije. The five keys that Re and fellow presenter Lieu Pham, Industry Dive’s VP global head of strategy, offered came straight from Savenije as did a few mantras along the way.

When it comes to editorial calendars and other publishing issues that can be put in flux by outside conditions, Re emphasized the need for processes. “What’s your process for dealing with unexpected things in real time?” she asked. “What format can we use to get information out and then update? Pushes? Articles? Interviews? Podcasts? What are the next developments that can then spawn from this? People want to consume quick insight and analysis. By coming out quickly, we give ourselves time to develop the deep-dive story.”

Pham added that in today’s market, brands need a plan for all types of events, kind of a marketing version of a SWAT team. Know how production will be accelerated and where you can take shortcuts to get content out fast. Ensure everyone understands their roles. “You can plan for the unplanned,” she said.

“When we talk about having a newsroom mindset, it’s not just about serving our audience,” said Pham. “It’s about having a plan in place for keeping your audience in the know and helping them plan as much as possible for the future. In other words, it’s about being ready for anything. The world turns in ways that no one can predict. Know who you are, who you serve, and plan for everything: the known, anticipated and unknown.”

While Industry Dive has grown, Pham was quick to point out when asked that smaller editorial departments actually have distinct advantages. “You can be more nimble, act like a startup,” she said. “You can really experiment and refine your approach. Just set up really solid processes than can scale… You may not be able to compete on breaking news, but you can provide more thoughtful follow-up and analysis.”

Having processes in place and being ready to pivot are part of number 3 for Industry Dive: Stay Agile. Let’s go through the other four:

Know your audience.

“We have an entire team dedicated to audience,” Re said. “Who is our target reader? What’s keeping them up at night? [Questions like these] allow our reporters to jump on the headlines and events that our readers actually care about. The audience doesn’t stay static, and neither do our efforts to understand them.”

She said that midway through 2020, they surveyed their readers and found that a quarter believed that their job had significantly changed during the pandemic. “That meant our reporters needed to pivot to stories of transition, increased responsibility, workplace alternatives and continuity solutions,” Re said.

Pham recommended these activities for your publications department: Customer interviews – up to five customers per audience segment. Stakeholder interviews, especially those who are customer facing. Who at your association deals directly with your audience?) Social listening. Don’t go crazy with this, Pham advised. Focus on the key threads to help develop the story angle. Keyword research. “That’s critical to establish authority or own a key conversation.” Analytics. What topics are resonating? Alerts. Competitor mentions, industry trends.

This as an ongoing process, Pham said. “So stay attentive, monitor and listen to make sure you’re investing in the right topics.”

Choose your coverage, keeping your goals, brand promise and audience in mind.

“Focus on what will impact [your audience’s] lives today, tomorrow and 10 years from now,” Re said. ”A story should also correlate back to a trend that says something larger about the target reader’s profession. Our reporters take a backroads view of what will change in the next 10 years and then tell the day-to-day stories that help readers get there.”

She said that choosing what not to cover can be just as important. Every story idea at Industry Dive must go through a series of questions all mostly related to the value the story has for the audience. She quoted Savenije: “You can’t be an expert on everything, so be an expert on the most important things.”

“What topics do you want to be known for that you have expertise and authority to own?” Pham asked. Make sure those topics make sense for your business. “Check out the competition; what are they doing well or failing at? Remember, you’re competing with everyone who has content. That’s not just traditional competitors anymore.

“Be really intentional,” Pham advised, whether that’s “meeting a gap in the market or simply creating high-quality journalistic content. In a world where content is highly commoditized, investing in quality could be all you need to take the lead.

Prioritize substance over clickbait.

“Readers trust us to take a deeper analysis beyond any other business publications,” Re said. “So we need to provide depth.” They discovered that 82% of their audience feel that quality of analysis is something they look for in a news source. So their headlines are active, informative, succinct and engaging, but don’t oversell. “Your teaser text should drive the headline,” she said. “Also try to be economical with words. And compel the reader to take action.” Create a curiosity gap that leaves the reader wondering.

Pham wants to see a diverse range of experts, inside and outside of your organization, leveraged, and for you not to make format assumptions. Narrow your coverage, she advised and double down on the why’s—thought leadership, big ideas—and hows—resources, templates, guidance and how-tos.

Listen. Measure. Learn.

“We want to build a relationship [with the audience] based on trust and credibility,” Re said. So page views are nice but they’re too soft a measurement tool. They prefer time spent on page, engagement rate and shares. “We use content that engages our target reader as fuel for our next story. Why waste time on a topic that the audience has shown little interest in in the past?

“We’ve built out dashboards that help show our newsroom the engagement behavior of our most valued targeted readers. Which stories are they reading? Which ones are they sharing? That tells where we go next?”

“It’s really good practice to adopt an evolutionary approach to content,” said Pham. “We constantly monitor performance and… the topics not working, and double down on the topics that are performing well. It’s a form of content Darwinism; it’s literally survival of the content fittest.”

The webinar can be watched in full here. There is also an accompanying free report titled 2020 Audience Insights for B2B Marketing in the Year of Disruption that you can read here.