‘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.


Exclusivity, ‘Wow,’ and Valuing Products Are Keys to Price Hikes and Upsells

Elizabeth Green (pictured), CEO of Brief Media—a leading publisher in the veterinary medicine field—once delivered a dynamic keynote at BIMS titled Disrupting Goliath: Tales of a Small Cap Media Innovator. “I’ve spent my entire tenure as a publisher watching Goliath,” she said. What she learned helped her to build one of the top brands in the field.




“Adapt and choose an unconventional strategy, and the tables flip,” Green told us, meaning David can come out ahead. During tough economic times around 2010, she raised the cost of print ads 20%. The strategy worked. Their print advertising dollars went up 40% the next year. “We went to see our clients to explain why,” she said. “The key was the exclusivity and valuing of our products. If you value them, [your customers] will value them.”


Seeing customers now and print ads have certainly waned, but raising prices—at times—and focusing on upsells should not. Here are five examples:


Ask with confidence. “Renewal time is also a great time to upsell or raise prices,” Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, said on his SIPA webinar last month. “If you have a great product and people are engaging with it, you really need to raise the price. If you can’t do that, you have a content or product problem.”


Offer add-ons. Coleman Report publisher Bob Coleman once told me about one of his upsell opportunities—where a customer could purchase a data report for $95 or access to the whole database for a little more. I said, “Wow,” which was just what he wanted to hear. “There are two parts to my philosophy of the upsell: The wow factor—someone telling me that it’s a good deal—and if it doesn’t cost me anything extra. Also, with webinars, Joseph Coleman would reach out to attendees to confirm and try to upsell with transcripts and unlimited access. They get about 20% conversions.


Build on something that suits the times we’re in. Knowing the state we’re in, Netflix recently announced that it would be raising prices for its monthly subscriptions in the U.S. A standard plan will go from $13 to $14 per month, while its premium tiers will go from $16 to $18. Greg Peters, Netflix COO and chief product officer, said that as the company invests more into both content and tech developments, they’ll “occasionally go back and ask [customers] to pay a little bit more to keep that virtuous cycle of investment and value creation going.”


Make it easy. In a webinar a few years ago, Adam Goldstein, publisher of Business Management Daily, spoke about their webinar upsells. After signing up for one, customers are offered an upsell to a season pass. On their website you see this language: “Save 90% on a complete year of training webinars. If you bought all our webinars offered for the year individually, you’d pay $39,400. What gets even more expensive (and dangerous) is when labor law mistakes you could’ve prevented end up in court. But for just $1,599, you can access all our webinars and get your team the HR training they need to be compliant with the law.”


Entice with content and gentle urging. “We use our own content to promote upsells,” said Joe May, marketing director at Pro Farmer. Snippets of grain reports and online videos might bring audience in. A free download might lead to a $29 report. And the report might lead to a trial membership for Pro Farmer. This way they can catalogue people over time—if they signed up for two free trials, Pro Farmer will ask, why don’t you give us a shot?


How Brief Media Combines Business Success with Doing Good

Don’t focus on the frills, advised VR Ferose, SVP and head of SAP Engineering Academy, in a recent article in Forbes titled 5 Radical Ideas to Re-Imagine Conferences. “When a conference is all about free T-shirts, stickers and lots of giveaways, be a little skeptical. While a bit of nudging is always helpful, overdoing it can be counter-productive. Remember all those lanyards, plastic covers for IDs, plastic bottles, and other swags we got from various events over many years?”
Especially in these environmentally conscious times, turning your attention to a community project can attract more people or give them something more tangible to remember. “Audiences have an innate want to be a part of something,” said Nina Gomez, head of operations, Singapore, CWT Meetings & Events. “They don’t want be on the sidelines anymore, they want to be a part of something bigger.”
In all types of media—B2B, consumer, association—publishers are increasingly embracing the wider corporate trend of social purpose and standing for something bigger than just the business objectives.
In Connectiv’s latest podcastElizabeth Green, CEO of Tulsa-based Brief Media, which serves the veterinary industry, shared how investing in the success and well-being of others, from mentoring local entrepreneurs to traveling the world to eradicate disease with the Mission Rabies project, is also translating into business success, including partnerships and employee satisfaction and retention.
“At Brief, we are emphatic about placing the right people in the right jobs,” Green told my colleague Matt Kinsman. “We do an extensive amount of personality profiling, including looking at motivating factors. My personal number one motivating factor is altruism. That is also a predominant factor company-wide (followed by hedonism—we do like to have fun) but altruism is really what motivates the majority of people that work at Brief Media.”
In 2015, Brief Media teamed with Mission Rabies, which is working to eliminate the disease by 2030. “The fact is that somewhere between 50,000 and 100,00 people a year die from rabies in Africa and India alone,” says Green. “One hundred children die each day around the world from rabies. I was horrified by that. You hear about HIV, you hear about Ebola, but I had no idea so many people die each year from rabies.”
As part of the initiative, Brief sends volunteers on two missions per year, including one to Uganda earlier in 2019 and one to Goa, India in October, which Green herself took part in. Her group vaccinated 7,000 dogs in 10 days, including 4,000 strays that they had to catch.
The human mortality rate from rabies in Goa is now zero. “The beauty of this program is that we get to use our veterinary knowledge to save lives and do it more effectively and efficiently than using the human rabies vaccine because it can break the disease cycle,” says Green.
Not lost on Green or Brief Media is the necessity of business success to fund altruism. Three years ago, the company was 90% print-driven; today, Brief sees 45% of its revenue from digital media and audience data, 30% from Plumbs Veterinary Drug, a subscription data product, and about 25% from print advertising and marketing services.
“We’ve heard for years that content is king and all of a sudden we [as an industry] believe data is king,” says Green. “We have a different philosophy here —we believe data has content. What has made Plumbs Veterinary Drug so successful is the content—it’s credible and reliable and in a format that people can easily access. For those of us who have grown up in media, it’s refreshing to know that content is still king, even in a data platform.”
Listen to the full interview and subscribe to the Connectiv BizMedia podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Deezer,  Spotify and SoundCloud.