INTERVIEW 

Driving change

Both the automotive industry and the media sector have changed dramatically in recent years and continue to evolve at a fast pace. This is the challenge facing Gavin Miller, the new managing director of Ultima Media, a UK based publisher providing news and insight to the global automotive industry, writes Ciar Byrne.

By Ciar Byrne

Driving change
Gavin Miller: “For me, it’s all about the audience.”

Ultima was taken over in 2017 by the German publisher Süddeutsche Verlag, who wanted to acquire a business with a global footprint in the automotive space. Miller who joined as commercial director in early 2018 and was promoted to MD in the autumn of last year, has been busy remodelling the publisher’s existing brands as four platforms focused on different areas of the automotive industry: manufacturing, logistics, design and IT; with a range of channels and products within each of these.

Miller explains: “Our business has historically been very much product driven, whether it’s a magazine, a website, or specific events that we put on around the world. The transition that we’ve been shaping is turning our products into platforms.”

He adds: “We’ve got all the challenges of a traditional publisher transitioning to become a data, insight and intelligence business and at the same time, as a B2B operator in the automotive space, we’re also challenged by the things that are going on around global regulation, trade tariff wars, Brexit, diesel emissions, and declining car sales in China.”

But it is not all doom and gloom. Miller says: “The great thing about the automotive world is what’s happening in terms of electronic vehicles, design software and car manufacturers becoming software companies.”

The transition that we’ve been shaping is turning our products into platforms.

Strategic goals

Ultima’s response is to “evolve its offering”. Miller insists: “This is not about throwing everything out, this is about building on the success which the business has built over many years, but there is also a need to address our changing world, retain the what and the why but change the how.”

The changes he has in mind include diversifying revenue models, putting data at the heart of the business, investing in new websites and a new CRM (customer relationship management) platform which will provide a single customer view, and asking how they can serve their audience with insights and intelligence which they will be prepared to pay for.

He came into a company which had built up a business model over the last 25 years that was conference-led underpinned by B2B magazines servicing the automotive industry. Now the gap which he has identified is providing data, insight and intelligence which will help their audience to grow their own business.

Miller says: “We are going to invest in insight and intelligence to support our editorial teams to dig a little deeper in terms of what’s happening in the market, be it electric vehicles, pricing, logistics, materials, UX, technology or looking at specific global markets.” This includes recruiting a small team of business analysts to help interpret data.

He also plans to use Ultima’s conferences to feed content back onto its platforms. “One of the things we’ve done in the last twelve months in logistics is introduce what we call Ideas Labs into all of our events. For an afternoon, the delegates participate in an Ideas Lab on a subject matter such as electric vehicles, batteries, or outbound logistics. We host that, we then take that content and curate it, shape it and share it back to them post conference.”

Ultima plans to evolve its events offering by looking at new markets, re-shaping the format and introducing new streams over the next two to three years. Miller says: “Our conferences have been particularly successful in providing the automotive market with ways to connect, generate new business, leverage peer to peer networking and garner insight and intelligence to share across any number of our channels. Our plan is to build on the successful formula but re-imagine the format.”

Currently, Ultima runs different subscription and distribution models depending on the market, what Miller calls “a blended model”. For example, the Car Design News website is based on a subscription model with the ability to pay to access ringfenced content online as well as to subscribe to the print Interior Motives magazine. “On that platform, we’re looking at how we serve more insightful data that the audience will be prepared to pay for,” says Miller. In contrast, Automotive Logistics is a free audited distributed magazine, coming out four times a year, which readers have to register for. Miller says: “Our strategy going forward is a hybrid blended model of registration, access, metered and paid-for, not going straight to paid-for, but a blend. In order to do that, the question is, ‘Is our content valuable enough for someone to buy it?’ That is why I’m transitioning the business more towards data, insight, intelligence.”

There is a need to address our changing world, retain the what and the why but change the how.

Content marketing

As traditional print revenues decline, alternative sources of income such as creating customised content for clients has become increasingly important to Ultima. With this in mind, Miller, who used to run Archant Media’s content marketing agency, Dialogue, has created the new Autoworks content division, to provide high quality content to clients, who are increasingly becoming publishers in their own right.

“Our customers are producing a fantastic amount of content, generating followers, with the purpose of growing their business through lead generation and brand awareness. My view is, because we are a publisher operating in the market and producing our own content, there’s a gap in the market for us to work with B2B clients in the automotive space to help them to create content,” says Miller.

Although he brought in a new head of content solutions six months ago, Autoworks is not a standalone division, but rather draws on Ultima’s existing talent and expertise across the business whether it’s designers, editorial, sales or events. “The design team produce custom publishing already for some clients, so Autoworks is there to formalise it, but also to amplify it and go direct to businesses,” says Miller, adding: “It’s trying to get acceptance of the role of content marketing in B2B publishing, which in my view, is a must and is here to stay, but at the same time recognising that you’ve got to do it really well. It can’t bastardise your own objective production of content to the audience. It has to fit in and has to be done really well.” He believes that diversifying revenues in this way is essential for the future of B2B publishers such as Ultima, not just in terms of content marketing, but also paid-for insight intelligence.

The question is, ‘Is our content valuable enough for someone to buy it?’

Global markets

While Ultima is based in the UK, both the industry it covers and the audience it serves are global. Miller admits that Brexit and issues affecting the car industry in Europe have been tough. “It affects our business. Uncertainty brings uncertainty in investment. But actually, there’s still a lot to talk about in the industry, there’s still a need and requirement for a business like ours to serve the market with data, insight and intelligence in print, online and at conferences, that helps them grow their business.”

He adds that Ultima has to some extent “de-risked” by working across the four platforms of logistics, IT, manufacturing and design, and by being a global player. “We don’t put on that many events and conferences in the UK. We’ve got a footprint in South America, North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, so we de-risk our business by going to those markets and engaging with those audiences.”

Ultima’s events model is to hold conferences around the world, but organise and staff them from the UK, which keeps the overheads down. Miller says: “We lift off from the UK and go into a market, so for example, we’re off to Atlanta for a conference next week and we’ll take the UK team out there.” The company also translates its newsletters into different languages for various markets, with the three key languages being Portuguese, Russian and Mandarin.

Miller says, “There are so many more opportunities in China and the Middle East around accessing that audience and serving them with valuable content. Two years ago, we were in Russia, we might go back and do a round table there. We’re looking at the idea of an event in Africa next year. Part of our plan is around research and development, where are the gaps in the market, where should we go, how do we engage with that audience and how can each platform make that happen?”

I’m trying to get acceptance of the role of content marketing in B2B publishing, which in my view, is a must.

Skilling up

Developing his team to adapt to the rapidly changing media environment is a key focus for Miller this year. “One of the challenges for us is around skills and capabilities. We are investing in training and development. Whether it’s the sales teams in terms of how they go to market, the editorial teams around the new websites and their role, or marketing through data and a new CRM system, we’ll be in a better place to target our audience more effectively, more imaginatively.”

What advice would Miller give to other B2B publishers drawing from his own experience?

“For me, it’s about being really clear about what your single-minded proposition is. What’s the vision, what’s the ambition, what’s the plan? Go for a transition rather than a radical quick turnaround, but at the same time, invest in your teams to help them get there. For me, it’s all about the audience. We are constantly challenged by declining revenues in traditional routes and the need to replace those and build new ones that meet audience expectations.”

He adds: “I love the space in which we operate. There’s no day that’s the same. We work in two sectors, one’s the media sector, the other is the automotive sector and both are changing rapidly, so half the battle is keeping up.”

For me, it’s about being really clear about what your single-minded proposition is.