Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Meeting recap: Customize for success

Increase revenues with custom publications
By Jody Shee

The best way to build your company’s business-to-business bottom line is to probe your advertisers for the messages they want to communicate to their audience and suggest and develop creative ways for them to do that.

Forward-thinking publishing companies have formed a custom communications or special projects department and added staff to manage the newsletters, inserts, guides, seminars, teleconferences, electronic products and whatnot.

“Do anything; go anywhere,” is the motto for the custom communications department at Advanstar Veterinary Healthcare Communications in Lenexa, Kan., says editor Sally Goldenbaum. She was one of two panelists at the recent Kansas City ASBPE chapter meeting “Increasing Profits with Custom Publications.”

Several years ago, Advanstar formed a special projects division, accomplishing eight custom projects the first year compared to the 90 projects it expects to complete by the end of this year. “The advertisers are looking for ways to spread their message beyond advertising. So that is our thrust,” Goldenbaum says.

Then and now
In the beginning custom projects amounted to guides, small newsletters, magazine inserts, multisponsored pieces and roundtable and symposium proceedings.

Advanstar has helped its advertisers expand into larger newsletters and educational pieces. The company is even handling advertising agency type projects like diecuts and product information sheets. Goldenbaum believes the future of custom publishing holds more teleconferences, meetings, interactive CDs, web-related projects and electronic magazines and newsletters.

She notes that one of the biggest unsolved challenges with custom projects is keeping educational pieces clean from sponsor hype. “Readers don’t want to read an ad, but something to educate,” she says, adding, “But advertisers want more of a say in what we do. … It’s getting harder and harder.”

Custom process
As you develop custom projects, you must crystallize the best ways to extract the potential, manage the workload, interact with the client and how much to charge.

Rather than hire extra sales staff, the Lenexa office of Vance Publishing encourages the regular sales staff through commissions to further look into the needs of their accounts, says DJ Bell, custom marketing manager.

In one example, an animal health advertiser was facing increased pressure from activists about the use of animal antibiotics. “They needed a message countering the misinformation being discussed,” Bell says.

In his contact with the customer, the sales rep uncovered the need, offered the company’s help and said she would get back with them. “In the past, we would have just said, ‘Run an ad,’ or worse, ‘Good luck with that.’ Instead we had the internal resources to develop a project and find a solution to the need,” Bell says.

The ultimate outcome: For the past five years, Vance has produced a quarterly “For the Record” newsletter, which is inserted in several of the magazines. “It’s all coordinated by our special projects/custom marketing group, but delivered to the client by the sales rep. We do not take the place of the rep,” Bell says.

To maintain editorial integrity, the company uses freelancers rather than staff to write the copy and often uses freelance graphic artists since the design staff is not large enough to handle it.
The custom project manager is responsible for scheduling and meeting deadlines, he says.

But there’s another way. Advanstar has two sales reps and several editors who serve as project managers dedicated to special projects, Goldenbaum says. The sales reps learn the projects and they know what the company can do. The editors do some of the writing and assign the rest to qualified experts. All of the project managers meet together to discuss cover art and review final pages.

To determine how much to charge for the projects, both Vance and Advanstar begin with the calculated hard costs. Then Advanstar uses a formula and multiplies by a figure determined by the sales staff and publisher to cover the time it takes to produce the project. “We don’t track our hours. Shorter pieces don’t cost that much, but if a meeting is attached, it costs more,” Goldenbaum says.

No uncertain terms
The Custom Publishing Council has a nice rambling definition of custom publishing. DJ Bell, custom marketing manager for the Vance Publishing in the Lenexa, Kan., office, offered a condensed definition at the Kansas City ASBPE workshop session “Increasing Profits with Custom Publications.”

“Custom publishing refers to the delivery of editorial content from a sponsoring company to a target audience. Whether delivered in print, electronically or as a live event, a custom media program provides valuable information that moves the perceptions and behavior of the audience in a desired direction.”

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