This interview was conducted by special correspondent Thomas Marcetti
One of the many lessons the pandemic has offered so far is that publishers, marketers, and really anyone who communicates with people outside your organization need to be nimble. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow.
On top of that, you’re not just competing with other similar sources of information. You’re competing in an increasingly crowded media space. At a time when your magazine is competing with Netflix, your e-blast competes with podcasts, your webinars compete with screen-free reading time, it’s more important than ever to know where and when to pivot to best reach your target audience.
To do so effectively requires—yes, you guessed it—data. There is not always going to be a pandemic to take away or complicate major communication channels, but there will always be a need to check your course to ensure you’re making the most of your content.
For a little more insight into the state of data in publishing, we sat down with Sebastian Mayeres, CEO and head of global sales for knk Software LP.
AMPLIFY: Big Data has been a hot topic for many years now, but some publishers are still hesitantly dipping their toes in. In your experience, how prevalent is this hesitation among publishers and why do you think they feel that way?
Mayeres: Of course, for the past two years, publishers have had other more basic problems to face, such as dealing with a workforce that became mostly remote, almost overnight. Many publishers struggled just to stay in place during this period. Now that we have adapted to the pandemic, I think publishers are beginning to think of data as a strategic asset again, [one] that is departmentally agnostic. In other words, it is not there just to feed operational legacy systems, as we noted above, but for data driven decision-making across the board and not just for top management.
AMPLIFY: What is the most common misconception publishers have about Big Data?
Mayeres. That [they] believe that Big Data is only relevant for top management. This is not true at all. With Big Data you are trying to get rid of decisions being made on a gut feeling, rather than the actual data. This is important for all levels of decision makers and not just for strategic long-term decisions.
Part of this problem is that publishers are generally underinvested in all their core operating systems. This leaves a big bridge to gap when attempting to move to more sophisticated solutions such as Big Data. Perhaps this was acceptable in an analog world, but it does not suffice at all in a digital world where there is rarely a point where content is final. The situation is fluid and publishers must adapt quickly. Traditionally, they are often organized around business functions such as marketing, sales, and production, for example. And the data that each department needs to address its own operational requirements has that insular nature we’ve talked about.
The problem is often made worse because many departments don’t work directly together, although they do share aspects of the same data. This can even result in some departments denying access to data that they regard as their own, based on the application in question. So there’s that question of how the publisher regards data—as an operational necessity, or as an opportunity to think big—and strategically.
AMPLIFY: What about legacy software?
Mayeres. Old legacy systems that were designed to address specific operational needs tend to isolate data into silos anyway. These silos are difficult to integrate into newer external systems that provide essential market views, and often are poorly supported because the skilled resources are no longer available. Loosely related legacy systems often accumulate in organizations that have no standard approach to technology and do not use a single technology platform. This is critical to a good outcome with Big Data.
So the unfortunate result is that publishers often have a lack of coordinated, unified data, where duplication abounds (often leading to turf wars and infighting over whose data is better), resulting in higher costs, poor productivity and very limited collaboration. It’s no wonder that management is frustrated with their inability to see the big picture!
AMPLIFY: Can you share an example of a particularly interesting or innovative way publishers are using data right now?
Mayeres: A good example is that of a well-known, on-line financial newsfeed that adapts its subscriber content using real-time data based on the viewer’s geographic location at the time the copy is being delivered. They actually shrink the feed to supply only geographically-relevant information that is much more likely to generate immediate interest and create a loyal long-term customer. The information is extremely valuable to the reader because it’s precise, timely and tailored to that particular reader’s interest on an ongoing basis. And a great use of AI and Big Data.
AMPLIFY: What sort of advancements, innovations or new trends do you see in the near future that excite or interest you?
Mayeres: The whole topic of AI in publishing is very exciting for us, and of course it’s made economically practical by the large computing resources that are provided by companies like Microsoft and their Azure cloud services. AI applications are available today, from the editorial processes all the way to the Audience Building, and Social Engagement systems and the back-end analyses in software products such as our own knk Publishing. They will only get better.