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‘A Deep Connection’; Publishers Using Podcasts to Bring in New Vibe, and People

Podcasts are nothing new by now, but media companies are using them in more creative ways. Vox poured resources into “Unexplainable” and will now build around it. Crain’s Detroit Business is giving their Small Business Spotlight podcast good visibility and a lead-in to premium content. And with Access Beauty, Questex has brought in a sponsor and new, diverse voices.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the maiden voyage of the Small Business Spotlight podcast. I’m Jason Davis, small and emerging business reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business. Thank you very much for listening. This podcast will run once a month alongside a feature with the same name.”

That February podcast featured Ja’Nye Hampton (pictured here in a photo by Nic Antaya), who “fashions herself a typical 22-year-old, but her schedule isn’t like most people her age. The owner of Detroit Flower Co. gets up at 5:30 a.m. and works until 8 p.m. at her new shop in northwest Detroit. When she gets home, she catches up on orders, messages and social media.”

This content works in many ways:

monetization – it links to a story on Hampton that’s just for premium members and a free,  sponsored Small Business Workshop series in May;

diversity – it spotlights a younger entrepreneur in an interesting field;

trendiness – it’s in a form that just keeps getting more popular. (Podcasts, did not, as some predicted, lose popularity without our commutes—quite the opposite has been true as we found more time to listen.)

Given that popularity, there’s been a growing trend to start new brands with a podcast and branch out from there. A recent Digiday story by Sara Guaglione highlighted Vox’s newest podcast, Unexplainable—just introduced last month.

“Vox Media’s strategy is to launch a podcast show, make it a hit and translate it into a sustainable revenue stream through brand sponsors and advertising, Liz Nelson, [VP of audio at Vox,] said. The company’s podcast sales pitch spans ads that could run during a podcast episode as well as alongside related articles on its site, such as’s science and health vertical for ‘Unexplainable’ advertisers.”

Advertisers for the five episodes of Unexplainable have included Comcast, Lenovo and Facebook. One of the advantages of Unexplainable—and Crain’s Small Business Podcast—is that it is not dependent on the news cycle. Another is that it is in the science realm, “by no means a saturated category in the podcast ecosystem,” said Hilary Ross, VP of podcast media at audio ad agency Veritone One.

Most importantly, both Crain’s Detroit and Vox are creating more good content. Vox came up with an idea, tested it in the fall, received positive feedback and then developed it further. Crain’s Detroit already had the Small Business section but needed more ways to connect. Small Business Spotlight will go “beyond typical profiles to offer insights and tips on issues common to emerging and mid-stage business,” wrote executive editor Kelly Root in a 2021 preview.

“Podcasts are interesting for publishers,” says Nic Newman, senior research associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Because they are much more likely to attract younger audiences, since they can be accessed conveniently through smartphones and they offer a diversity of perspectives and voices… The deep connection that many podcasts seem to create could be opening up opportunities for paid podcasts, alongside public-service and advertising-driven models.”

Here are two examples of what Newman mentions:

The deep connection” – The Telegraph in London offers podcast listeners subscription deals with trackable links. “We see podcasts as a way to bring journalism to life in new ways, often for a new audience a little younger than our print readers,” says Telegraph Podcast Editor Theodora Louloudis. “And for a growing number of people, our podcasts are their first involvement with the Telegraph brand.”

“A diversity of perspectives and voices”  Questex brand American Salon and Ulta Beauty launched a podcast called Access Beauty! Each episode features Ulta’s creative leaders, and sometimes a special guest, who will discuss all things beauty, from salon life to trends and products to what’s impacting the industry.” Guests are diverse and topics current—The Impact of Social Distancing on Stylists and Inclusive Beauty: A Conversation With David Lopez. This is also a great way to involve a sponsor and keep the content excellent.

Finally, I like NPR’s mantra to podcast advertisers: “Be heard where it matters.” “Media companies are uniquely positioned to capitalize on podcasts as they have everything a successful podcast requires: compelling stories and information, professional storytellers, and an audience at the ready,” said said INMA report author Paula Felps. “Where audiences flock, advertisers will follow.”

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Behind Questex’s New ‘Modern’ Information Model: Combining Content, Data and Events to Go to Market Faster

Editor’s Note: Join Paul Miller at our virtual Business Information & Media Summit on Dec. 2 for a look at The New Go-to-Market Strategy: How Questex Launches Products Faster, Better and More Profitably. Join the discussion as Paul shows how Questex aligned internal assets to create a more efficient structure and leverages data to drive the entire process. Register here. 

In June, Questex announced the creation of a “modern” information services model that leverages audience data to tie content and events closer together to create a year-round customer engagement framework.

And as publishers scramble to make up for lost event revenue amidst the pandemic, the new approach also gives Questex the ability to launch new products and go-to-market at accelerated rates (think virtual events being produced over the course of a few weeks, rather than a full year, as with a live event).

Questex debuted the new approach with its Fierce Life Sciences group, aligning the Fierce content business with ExL Events, a Questex division acquired in 2016 that produces events in similar markets such as life sciences, pharma and healthcare, but until recently had operated as a separate business from Fierce.

Tying events more closely to digital isn’t a new idea but one that hasn’t been well executed, according to Questex CEO Paul Miller [pictured]. “On a personal level, we’ve been talking about this for many years—how we combine different types of content and data and use learnings from that to bring together the community,” he adds. “We’ve almost gotten there a couple times in our past lives but not quite.”


Miller points to live events tacking on an online directory or virtual floor plan. “There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not a real translation. Those of us coming from a digital background say, we’ve got all this data on content consumption, wouldn’t it be great if we use that to pull together conference programs around what’s trending.”

The Immediate Payoff

The new approach paid dividends almost immediately as Questex shifted to virtual events, with Fierce and ExL coming together to produce the Virtual Clinical Trials Online on April 22-23. The virtual event attracted over 2,000 registrants with 50 percent generated by the FiercePharma content websites. The sponsors saw over 600 booth visits and there were 2,800 downloads of content providing strong sales leads for the vendors.

“For the first time, we had complete collaboration between ExL and the Fierce team based on content, speaker recruitment and reporting on what’s going on at the event,” says Miller. “We’re thinking, let’s do things differently. If something is really trending, let’s change our conference program and launch it quickly, taking a couple weeks to plan rather than a full year.”

Elsewhere, Fierce is working with Arizona State U to launch a new virtual event in July for the education tech marketplace called Remote that will focus on how institutions are adapting higher education in the coronavirus era. The event already has “many thousands of registrants and high-level sponsors,” according to Miller.

With 70 percent of its revenue coming from live events prior to the pandemic, Questex hasn’t avoided a major revenue revision or the significant lay-offs that came with it.

But the Fierce group is up 20 percent year-over-year and there’s early evidence that the model can pay-off across the entire organization, including Questex increasing the overall number of webinars it produces (up from 199 in all of 2019 to 347 through May 2020), while its American Spa business capitalized on the CBD craze by launching a CBD-focused virtual event over the space of just four weeks, securing a quarter of a million dollars in sponsorships.

A Second Attempt at Reinventing B2B?

In many ways, the new Fierce approach borrows from Questex’s first attempt at reinventing the B2B media model with The Beauty Experience, a content and marketing platform that the company launched last fall for its beauty industry vertical that upended the “search and click” way of scrolling through websites by enabling users to choose specific content tags that they want to follow, which then serves up relevant content.

The idea was that the data produced by the feed and follow approach would help program events, identify prospects for sponsors and create opportunities to serve users beyond the events itself. Unfortunately, the Beauty Experience Event, scheduled for March 7, was one of the first to be canceled due to COVD-19.

“Beauty is a pro-sumer market and we learned a lot of lessons from that community, says Miller. “Social is really important there and we were able to get very good in the social world, seeing which keywords work and using artificial intelligence to personalize the journey. Unfortunately, we were not able to see that come to full fruition due to the event cancellation and some market dynamics in the beauty sector.”

Getting There: Culture is the Biggest Obstacle

While Questex needed the right tech infrastructure to get the right data into the right hands, Miller says that getting beyond perceived cultural differences between Fierce and ExL was the biggest challenge.

“We were dealing with two different cultures that hadn’t been integrated and the team didn’t do a lot together,” says Miller. “Fierce thought it did this, ExL thought it did that. But did they really? The fact of the matter was, they needed to be doing stuff together.”

While COVID-19 has been the bane of B2B publishing, it has helped Questex pushed through some of the inertia that would have held up change in the past.

“In terms of collaboration and bringing these groups together, I have to say the COVID situation helped us do this more quickly than we normally would of,” says Miller.

Miller credits Questex’s ability to break down siloes and get groups working more closely together to its Centers of Excellence, in which experts across the company come together to produce best practices in a variety of areas including audience and database, content, customer experience, and product, with topics ranging from protecting customer privacy to identifying where the customer is in the buying cycle to hosting virtual events to which headlines work best and why.

“The first thing is you need to do it to make the decision on what you want your internal core competencies to be, which is easier said than done,” says Miller. “Usually, you’re saying collaboration gives you more of a competitive advantage than really deep product knowledge. We combine the two—the markets work with the Centers of Excellence by saying ‘Our audience wants this, our advertisers wants that’, and the Centers of Excellence say, ‘OK, we have that over here, which parts work for you and what do we have to create as new?’”

Having that expertise on hand has enabled Questex to move quickly. “Someone asked, how have you pivoted so quickly to virtual events?” says Miller. “We just did it, but in essence we didn’t just do it because we have six people on our team in our Centers of Excellence who were part of creating the first scalable virtual events about a decade ago.”

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PE Firm MidOcean Partners Offers Employee Support Fund to Portfolio Companies During COVID-19 Crisis

MidOcean Partners, which owns B2B media and information companies such as Questex and Hanley Wood|Meyers Research, has created an Employee Support Fund that offers financial assistance to employees of its portfolio companies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Support Fund—which is available to recently furloughed and laid off employees as well as current staffers—is intended to help with any one-time unforeseen hardships, including medical conditions and procedures not related to COVID-19 and caring for family members that are experiencing hardships.

“When the crisis hit, it affected each of our companies differently” says Jim Scarfone, MidOcean’s Chief Human Resource Officer. “Some are barely affected while others suddenly had no revenue coming in. Obviously, this is a time of hardship for a lot of people and we discussed internally, what else can MidOcean do?”

In addition to financial assistance, MidOcean will cover the cost for employees of portfolio companies to receive legal counsel for up to one month from another MidOcean holding, LegalShield, which provides affordable access to legal services and identify theft and monitoring and restoration services.

MidOcean hasn’t publicized the Employee Support Fund (I heard about it from a Connectiv member who is an executive at a MidOcean portfolio company) but it’s an outstanding gesture and reminder that we are all in this together.


Washington Post, Future, Questex to Headline 2020 Connectiv Executive Summit in New Orleans

Laissez bon temps rouler! The 2020 Connectiv Executive Summit returns to New Orleans May 13-15, and we’re proud to announce the full program. Focused on the theme of “Continuous Transformation,” CES will feature inspirational keynotes, actionable best practices and peer-to-peer discussions about what’s driving business today, from unscrambling your datapalooza to the rise of membership models to understanding the new economics of content.

Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, kicks off the event on May 13 with a keynote called No More One-Way Doors – How a Culture of Innovation Remade the Washington Post. When Jeff Bezos acquired the Washington Post in 2013, the brand was beset by challenges and flashy new competitors like Politico, staff departures and an old media model that was struggling to keep up. Today, the Post is a profitable powerhouse, boasting leading edge digital experiences, more than one million subscribers (and growing) and a new publishing platform business that observers say could be worth $100 million.

Gilbert will show how a culture of innovation brought The Post’s engineering, product, content, audience and sales teams together to not only produce one of the most successful turnarounds in media history, but position The Post for continuous evolution down the road.

Did you know that the average lifespan of a corporation has shrunk from 61 years in 1955 to 17 years in 2017? To survive and thrive, business leaders today must adopt startup attitudes that change not only how they go to market but how they think and operate internally day-to-day. We continue the Connectiv tradition of featuring speakers from outside the industry who both inform and entertain with Sean Ammirati, partner at Birchmere Ventures and co-founder and director of the Carnegie Mellon Corporate Startup Lab, talking about Corporate Entrepreneurship – Creating Startups Within Existing Companies.

Do you want to grow or do you want to just survive quarter to quarter? In 18 months as CEO, Paul Miller and his team have Questex growing again thanks to an engagement strategy that revolutionizes the relationship between audience, media and events. Hear how Miller and the team plan to take Questex from $100 million today to $300 million in the next few years in Embracing the Experience Economy – How Questex Returned to Growth Mode.

“If you’re in media today, you have to disrupt yourself.” Few information companies have undergone as rapid a transformation as Future has over the past five years, with complimentary acquisitions (including the $180 million purchase of TI Media in 2019) and a shift in focus resulting in half of the UK-based company’s revenue coming from the U.S. and digital media, e-commerce and events now driving the bulk of revenue. Chris Convey, head of Future’s B2B division, will show how the Future team created a modern media company, including the adoption of an internal structure that’s supercharged organic growth.

And that’s just the keynotes. The program is packed with opportunities to engage directly with top leaders in the market (including our new discussion groups dedicated to CEOs of companies owned by private equity) as well as 30-minute general sessions designed to inform, entertain and give you actionable takeaways to apply to your business.

“The Connectiv Executive Summit always broadens and challenges my strategic thinking as I get the opportunity to hear from and interact with our industries’ best and brightest,” says Bill Carter, president and CEO of ALM.

See the full program and register here.