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Any Questions – Peter Houston

Last week, Peter Houston presented InPublishing’s first ‘Top Tips Webinar’, entitled ‘How to balance publishing’s three-legged stool - Content, Audience, Revenue’. In the Q&A session that followed Peter’s presentation, we ran out of time before all the questions could be answered. Here, Peter provides a follow-up Q&A.

By Peter Houston

Q. Do you think social media can bring revenue to magazines and how?

A. Possibly not directly, although I do know of magazines that have charged advertisers money to send out sponsored tweets. I think social media is much better at helping publishers find and engage their audience, preparing the ground for revenue generation. The independent magazine scene is a great example of this, where very niche print magazines generate almost all their sales from social media. Social media can also be used to identify sub-markets, The Covered Bond Report’s Nordic newsletter is a great example of this.

Q. How is Content Marketing or Native Advertising different from traditional advertorial in print magazines?

A. On one level it isn’t – it’s just a new name for something publishers have done for years. The real difference is the endless range of content formats that can be used to deliver sponsored content digitally. From blogs to video, social media to games, anything is possible. I don’t think the fundamentals are any different though; it’s about using content to create a level of credibility and engagement for a commercial message that it’s difficult to achieve with display advertising alone.

Q. How do you balance standard content with "Sponsored content" or "content marketing" without confusing the end user?

A. Clear labelling, but it’s too easy for publishers to forget to identify content as being sponsored online. There are well established conventions we follow in print that make it easy for readers to identify advertorials, but these haven’t been established online yet. With the pressure on to find new revenue streams, some publishers are finding it convenient to ignore their responsibilities to the reader and cross the line between independent editorial and sponsored content. I think that’s pretty short-sighted.

Q. How would you find a sponsor for a digital mag?

A. If it’s a print extension, talk to your existing print advertisers and offer them the opportunity to work with you to develop their digital advertising alongside your digital magazine development. Pitch it as a partnership. If you’re starting from scratch, then it’s about finding someone that wants to reach your audience and whose commercial message matches with the tone of your content. Pretty much the same as finding a sponsor for anything really.

Q. In your experience, what is the biggest single barrier for traditional print publications creating an effective digital strategy?

A. People. You can invest in technology all you want, but if your people don’t use it, you’re going nowhere. And that can be managers that don’t accept the world is changing, it can be sales people terrified of cannibalising their existing revenue streams, or it can be editorial people that can’t conceive of anyone ever reading one of their exquisitely crafted stories anywhere but on the pages of a magazine. Getting people to see print and digital as complementary parts of the publishing process is the most important barrier to overcome.

Q. How do you stop print sales people 'giving' digital away?

A. I suppose there are bureaucratic solutions, making sure digital has a price and that sales people can’t input a digital order without setting a value. But really I think the trick is to get sales people to see the value of digital, to recognise the opportunity. You need to focus them on ways that they can use digital to grow their share of customer marketing spend, not on a discount spiral that’s going nowhere.

Q. Print sales people are not ready for digital because with digital, everything is measurable unlike traditional print which is harder to measure. How do we prepare for this new digital reality?

A. The first thing to say is there is as much uncertainty over digital audience measurement as there ever was over print. Yes everything is measurable, but what matters? As a sales person, your job is to find the things that the customer values in your offering. You might not have the highest traffic in the world, but you can talk about how much time your audience spends with your content or how often they share it. The measurements might be different, but the job’s the same – show the advertiser how you can effectively put their message in front of the people they want to reach.

Q. Who would you say is best placed to lead the modern day publishing company – the journo / writer, the sales person or the techie?

A. I don’t think it’s about roles as much as personalities. The writer or editor that has a vision for how cross-platform storytelling supports commercial opportunities; the sales person that understands the value of content in keeping audiences engaged in growing revenue; the techie that can see what the audience needs, these people are invaluable. Managers that can develop these attitudes in their staff, and foster collaboration between departments will be the best leaders.

Q. Traditional editorial are very resistant to digital, how do we change that mindset and train them to be efficient all round writers?

A. It’s about helping people see how digital can make them better at what they do. Digital removes space and time constraints and it opens up a dialogue with the audience that just isn’t possible in print. You can’t pretend that it’s not more work, but you can focus on the added value of the extra work and make sure workflows are made as efficient as possible.

Q. What is the best way to find the right platform for your customers? Is it as simple as a questionnaire?

A. I think it actually might be as simple as picking up the phone. Questionnaires, research of any kind, is really useful for giving you an aggregated overview of what your audience or advertisers think. But a ten minute conversation with an individual will get you behind the numbers and give some real context. Speak to a couple of dozen people and although it won’t be statistically relevant, you’ll have a solid understanding of your audience’s likes and dislikes.

If you would like to hear a recording of Peter’s webinar, then please click here. There was a slight problem with the recording which meant that, although the audio is perfect, the visual was not! Not sure why, but if you would like a copy of Peter’s PowerPoint presentation, which you can run in conjunction with the audio, please email me.

Our next Top Tips Webinar is on Tuesday 14 October at 2.30. It’s entitled ‘How to improve the discoverability of your digital magazine’ and will be presented by Rebekah Billingsley. Click here for more information and to register.