‘Listening Precedes Telling’; Education Week’s Empathy, Outreach Offer Revenue Lessons

Facing the heavy loss of advertising dollars, Education Week used the surveys they had launched early in the pandemic to pivot their products and also show their advertisers where customer needs had shifted. “You really want to ask your customers what they need, how best you can support them… and how [you] can be a partner to them,” Jeson Jackson (pictured), marketing and customer experience manager for Education Week, told us.

“The biggest hit that we took that [looked] to be long lasting was from our advertisers,” Jackson said during our BIMS event in December. There was just so much uncertainty about what schools were going to do, what they would need.”

Advertisers worried about their print visibility, and everyone worried about the impact on revenue. “As a partner to our advertisers, we wanted to help support them in the same way that we supported ourselves, and that was by listening to our customers to find out what they needed,” Jackson said. “Much of the survey data that we collected”—early on in the pandemic Education Week launched twice-monthly surveys to all areas of their audience—“we made available to our survey partners. We created sponsored survey products and had advertisers add questions.”

For Education Week, the goal was to take away some of that uncertainty. “That not only helped us generate good will with our advertisers but helped them see that schools were going to be more reliant on product and service providers than ever. That helped us with our advertisers in the tech space but also with those that provide social and emotional learning, and emotional support for teachers. It opened up budget lines that allowed them to continue advertising with us and help us retain revenue moving forward.”

Many of the solutions I hear from publishers result from asking customers questions and focusing intently on the answers. Education Week calls it “listening precedes telling.” It’s one of their four marketing principles, along with leading with your mission, attracting—not driving—customers and focusing on credibility and clarity.

Jackson started his talk by saying that their biggest goal during the pandemic has been to be both “relevant in content and empathetic in tone.” I heard that again this morning from Lev Kaye, founder and CEO of CredSpark. He even got a bit fired up when that subject came up in our conversation.

“The number one piece of advice we give our clients is to find ways to be relevant to individuals,” he told me. “That’s what everyone craves. They’re not starved for content, they’re starved for relevant content. Ask questions, learn about your audience. Then you can decide, does this person get a phone call because there’s a [specially suited] package or should this person be targeted in another way?

“You’re asking questions to be able to get towards relevance with an individual. That’s the basis of the relationship [you want to build]. That way you know you’re going to provide value for them. And the reason to do this is because Google and Facebook are not going to do this. That’s the beauty. That’s what B2B media can do. You have more meaning to your audience.”

Of course, this is not new, but it certainly has become even more valuable during the last year—when we’re not getting any in-person feedback, and people are pretty open to be communicated with in a substantive way.

“For us, customer intelligence became the new currency internally,” Robin Crumby, co-founder and managing director, Kademy—and formerly the head of Melcrum—told us at a session in 2019. “So every team meeting would start with an insight from a customer conversation, and people learned very quickly that if they really weren’t having regular contact with customers, they really weren’t having say in those meetings.

“What we found was the higher the price point, the deeper the level of engagement that is required. [For a] $30,000 product, sometime the customer can’t articulate the need or what a product should look like. So we try to understand some of the challenges that they’re facing, trying to understand their individual pain points and how can we pinpoint our individual products and services to address those. It went beyond listening to co-creating the solutions.”

The difference now is the need for the empathetic tone. “We’ve been framing the conversation that we’re not necessarily here in this moment to make a sale, or to convert to some sort of product but to support you,” Jackson said. “And to do that we had to listen to their needs… because we really didn’t know what our readers needed most. We had some assumptions, but you really want to ask your customers what they need, how best you can support them… and how we can be a partner to them and supply what they needed. So some of that led to us reframing some existing products and getting that out to them, and some led to new products.”

Brittany Carter, president of Columbia Books & Information Services, once told me about a small company they acquired and with it an HR Guide that they published every year. “Does this even apply anymore,” she asked? The author assured her yes, and they published it.

“We didn’t sell a single copy,” Carter said, and she soon found out that the last one didn’t either. But because of the lack of transparency—and customer outreach—nobody knew, not even the author. “I said right there, ‘We will rearrange this.’ You don’t think any of this can happen, but if no one is thinking about the end user and what the customer is telling you, then it can happen.”


‘You Can’t Rely on Too Few Products’: SIPA 2020 Speakers Offer Crisis Path

“Two months ago, we asked, ‘Where do we go from here?'” said Caysey Welton, content director, Folio:, Access Intelligence. “The pandemic will have long-lasting impact. It will be important to have conversations with your audience. Those who have diverse portfolios, have managed cash well, have good digital DNA and are nimble and creative with product offerings will do well. You can’t rely on too few products. Legacy products will go on but we should probably lessen our dependence on them. Look at your data.”
One common theme during SIPA 2020 this week was the increased need for products. “Continue realigning your product portfolio with the client input that you get,” suggested Krystle Kopacz, CEO of Revmade. Because many publishers relied on events, the need for products and the revenue they can bring is crucial now. As Welton said, data could be the new buzzword.
Elizabeth Petersen of Simplify Compliance stressed the need for a diverse revenue stream. “We would like to get as much subscription revenue in now as we can. Try taking products that may be subscription in nature and bundle them to get a higher priced product.”
Here are more highlights from SIPA 2020. The two days of exceptional content are now available for purchase on demand here.
Experiment. “It’s important that the team is much more open to experimenting now,” said Diane Schwartz, CEO, Ragan Communications. “There should be a voracious appetite for trial and error, and being open to producing products that may not have a long life span. We put out a Crisis Communication plan back in March that’s been very popular. We’ll make that a subscription product. We’ve also gone to more daily subscriptions where we can repackage and monetize.”
Check your data. “[Data] value is in the eye of the beholder,” said Michael Marrale, CEO, M Science, in an informative Alternative Data 101 session with Meg Hargreaves, COO, Industry Dive. “You’ll find value in surprising places. Typically, we’ve partnered with companies that don’t fully realize the value of their data. They can be surprised” when told their data has value and content licensing potential. “Don’t think that size of the company is the main factor. It’s really about the data. You can have relatively small revenue but big data capabilities.”
Find hidden gems. “Look to see if there is someone in your organization who is being underutilized,” said Kopacz. “Maybe a younger person who is bored and wants to learn and do something new. Also look for sales people now on an independent basis. They may be good ones who are jobless and looking for something.”
Stand out. “Your [LinkedIn] brand has to be unique; you have to find the key differentiator that makes you different from your competitor,” said Steve Kearns, marketing leader, social media, LinkedIn. “That’s the foundation from where you start.” Michelle Peña, senior editor, Business Management Daily, urged people to “cultivate relationships” on LinkedIn. “When they comment on your post, take a moment to respond to them. It will show that you’re an energized member of the community.”
Be realistic. “Tailor your virtual event execution to the customer service and technological skills you have available, not what you wish you had,” said Matthew Cibellis, director of programming, live & virtual events, Education Week. He added that Zoom works best when content is linear and there are no concurrent sessions. Companies have been having success breaking out in small discussion groups.
Train and share. “We focus on training sales reps who aren’t used to selling [things like virtual events],” said Chris Ferrell, CEO of Endeavor Media. “We have 17 on the calendar so far, and we’re launching more to fill gaps in the market. Webinars are also up dramatically for us… We believe in sharing successes. You’ll hear enough about all the bad stuff.”
Seek clarity. “The offer is the distillation of your message,” said Jeson Jackson, audience development manager for Education Week. “Make sure you’re asking the customer to do what you want them to do… Listen to your customers. By listening we can [act accordingly] rather than assume. You want to uncover what your customers want, which may be less intuitive than you think. You want well informed customers making well informed decisions. Your company’s future is secured by innovation not persuasion. And clarity alone should be the only persuasion you need.”

‘Echoes for the Long Term’: Day Two of SIPA 2020 Offers Ideas to Last

“People don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be communicated with.” As I look over my notes for the again-excellent SIPA 2020 Day 2 sessions, that quote from Jeson Jackson, audience development manager, Education Week, stands out. Because even though so much of what we are doing now is in response to the pandemic, there will be a carry over of successful ideas and methods.
And that will be one of them. If a theater I like simply asks me to buy a 2021 subscription, I might hesitate. But if they communicate with me and engage me in a conversation between four or five of their diverse actors and directors for next year, I’m probably in.

Day 2 keynote speaker, Krystle Kopacz, CEO of Revmade, talked about “echoes for the long term” that she is hearing now. “Overall what I’m seeing is we’re heading to some type of reordering. How can we be more important to buyers so we’re not cut off? In my mind we should think like this all the time. We talk about products but not outcomes… We shy away from the end result.”

Again, just another day in (SIPA’s virtual) paradise produced a litany of strategies and ideas.And you can get them all on demand here. The 41st annual SIPAwards were also given out. See those winners here.
Kopacz gave five sales tips:
1. Executives should make it a priority to talk to 10 advertisers a month. It’s not about selling, it’s about listening
2. Start doing audience poll surveys at least two times a year. How hopeful are they, what are their pain points and budgets? It will keep you relevant.
3. Convene weekly sales and product team meetings. What are sales hearing? How should the product team respond? Do we need a new price point?
4. Continue realigning your product portfolio with the client input that you get. You’re not selling a webinar but a sales funnel.
5. Make sure your sales team has what they need to meet those pain points and make more sales. Get new products into sales team hands.
Education Week’s Jackson spoke more to the marketing bent. “The offer is the distillation of your message. Make sure you’re asking the customer to do what you want them to do,” he emphasized. How often have we read an email, agree with what it is saying and move on because it isn’t specific in what action we should take? Where’s the big red button?
Listen to your customers, Jackson urged. “By listening we can [act accordingly] rather than assume. You want to uncover what your customers want, which may be less intuitive than you think.” He said that attractiveness is amplified by relevance, importance and urgency.
“You want well informed customers making well informed decisions. Your company’s future is secured by innovation not persuasion. And clarity alone should be the only persuasion you need… Your unique benefit is how you transform your customers. What problems did you solve for them? Be specific. Value propositions need to establish your unique value.
“Take some time and make sure your value prop is still relevant to the moment,” Jackson said
Later in the afternoon, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, amplified some of these themes, speaking about learning the pain points of your customers.
In the case of virtual events, she said to make sure that both your clients and your sales team are comfortable with the platform you use. “My biggest advice is to send the sales team to somebody else’s event on that platform where they can get comfortable [enough to sell it well]. Because if they’re not comfortable…”
Farley added that sales may also need to have conversations with one of your brand leaders or editors because as packages become more integrated and bundled—that was a common theme today—they may know best what a client needs.
“We’re also seeing a pushback on pricing,” she said. “There had been, at least back in March, a sense that virtual should be cheaper. But people are starting to appreciate the value of what we bring [virtually]. It still has the value of live, and [brings] the experience to connect buyers and sellers. The connections that you’re bringing aren’t all of a sudden cheaper. And the same amount of time that goes into [putting together] live events goes into virtual events. We have to make sure we don’t give deep discounts.”
Joining Farley, Tom Gale, CEO of Gale Media, spoke about a live Zoom call that they hosted where 500 people signed up. Remember how this article began? People want to be communicated with. “Engagement with community,” Gale said. “We’ve gotten intelligence for what our customers are looking for [from that].”
As I said yesterday, these are only snippets from two days of really sharp and exceptional content. I will report some more but even better, you can also get it all on demand here to review at any time.
Much thanks to BeaconLive and ePublishing for being sponsors for SIPA 2020!