Monthly Archives: March 2010

SIPA Website Conversion Secrets from the Experts workshop – Monday April 19th, London

I wanted to give a quick plug for a Specialised Information Publishers Association (SIPA) event that I will be hosting in London on Monday April 19th.

This half-day workshop is designed to give publishers a range of practical tips on how to get their websites to convert better – whether that be registrations, subscriptions or e-commerce. We’ve got a great line up including:

  • Graham MacFadyen of the Financial Times, who will explain how the FT maintains its astonishing conversion rate for trialists. You’ll get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at how their marketers transition occasional readers to registered readers, and then paid subscribers
  • Karl Blanks, co-founder of Conversion Rate Experts, will explain the specific strategies you can implement straight away to increase profit from your website visitors, and show the power of video in converting visitors to customers
  • Daniel Rowles at Art Review and Graham Ruddick from NEC Group on the key stats you need to monitor on your analytics reports to segment your customers and improve your conversion rates
  • Simon Nixon and Jason Buck at Econsultancy how to design your website with your user in mind to increase conversion and ROI
  • Jon Bentley of Incisive Media will explain the methods Incisive are using to successfully up sell and cross-sell their website customers
  • Angus Phillipson from WORKSsitebuilder will draw all the strands of the morning together, using practical case studies from his experience as both a publisher and a supplier

For a full programme and biographies of our knowledgeable speakers, click here.

Companies sending delegates include the following: BNA International * Business Monitor International * CityWire Holdings * CRU Group * Electric Word plc * Euromoney Institutional Investor * Global Water Intelligence * Guardian News & Media * Incisive Media * LexisNexis * Melcrum Publishing * Newsquest Specialist Media * Report Buyer

We only have 8 places left, so if you want to come please e-mail Karen Hindle as soon as possible.

The workshop will take place on Monday 19 April between 09.30 and 13.00, followed by a complimentary networking lunch.

The venue is the Novotel London Tower Bridge, Pepys Street, London EC3N 2NR. Price for SIPA members: £147 + VAT; non-members £247 + VAT.

Book your place today – call Karen on 020 8288 7415, or email:

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Ashley Friedlein of eConsultancy talks about the Times plans for paywalls

Really great interview with Ashley Friedlein on the Times / Sunday Times plans for paywall implementation.

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7 strategic questions business media leaders should be asking

Over the last few weeks a major swathe of the quoted business media companies have been reporting their results. While I have covered some of them on this blog I have not done so from the perspective of a financial analyst. Instead, I find it fascinating to see the leadership teams of these companies present their strategy for their businesses.

Individually these results presentations tell a lot about how an individual business is shaping up. What are the threats to their traditional markets? How are they making the transition to a digital future? How strong is the management team? etc. What gets more interesting though is when you aggregate these presentations and try to distil some key themes from them.

So here I would like to pull out 7 key questions that I believe business media companies should be asking themselves if they are to prepare themselves for the years ahead.

1) What business am I in?

Before any company starts down this road it is probably worth reviewing your company’s mission statements, goals and values.  The media landscape has changed radically in the past 5 years. It will change radically again in the next 5 but there should be some key underlying themes that remain true and consistent. Try to document in real language what your business is and, please, don’t just sit there waiting for things to return to the past *cough, recruitment revenue, Centaur results presentation*

2) What does my company do really well?

It’s all well and good to have many spokes to your wheel and a multi-platform strategy is sensible. However, underneath that each company should be able to easily identify their key strengths. What do you do better than your competitors? What is your key advantage as an organisation? Shouldn’t you be spending a lot more time trying to build on those strengths and add complementary offerings around those particular skills rather than worrying about areas where you are weaker?

3) In which markets do we own brands with ‘last-man standing’ advantage?

In the UBM results presentation David Levin spoke about the business media industry being ‘over-published’ in many key verticals. He was specifically talking about print products but we all know that strong media brands don’t work with only one channel. In which media markets do you have real strength? Where do you own real brands rather than just products? Concentrate on those and get out of the markets where you don’t – sell them quickly (there are still plenty of buyers..), close them or accept that you are running them for short-term cash.

4) What is our emerging markets strategy?

Healthy business media properties rely on underlying growth in the markets they serve. Geographically it is clear that the major growth in the world economy is likely to come from the developing rather than the developed world. What is your company doing to benefit from these markets? What operations or partnerships do you have in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and other growth economies?

5) What are we doing to move up the value chain of information in our chosen markets?

In all but the most specialist markets, news is becoming commoditised. Businesses that in the past have relied on charging for news are rapidly finding that their business models no longer work. If you want to stay in these market sectors what are you doing to move your content and services up the value chain? Where are you able to add data and analysis to your content mix? What about the development of workflow solutions and software products? It’s not easy and is no quick fix but a drive towards higher value and renewable revenue streams should obviously be a goal for all business media companies.

6) Is my business structured for the past or the future?

In the UBM presentation it was interesting to hear Levin talk about a significant re-engineering of management teams in the past year. Whilst modern media businesses clearly still need a lot of the skill sets they always have – content development,  relationship building and talent management – increasingly technology is playing a much bigger role. Do you have the right people in place? Are there bottle-necks in your structures? Are there people in charge of business units who are responsible for making decisions on areas in which they have little experience?

7) Can I explain my company strategy clearly, simply and believably?

A couple of the CEO’s who presented their results recently gave me very little confidence in their company’s future strategy. While you don’t have to be a great presenter to run a great business; you do have to be able to give confidence to your customers, investors and staff that you have a plan about where you are going and why.  After the recent turmoil in many media markets I’m not convinced that some companies have made up their minds.

Here are 7 questions.

Any others that you’d like to contribute? Please put in the comments below.

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United Business Media results – an emerging markets exhibition company

Today it was the turn of United Business Media (UBM) to release their results. I was expecting UBM to have been hit harder than most during the downturn – given their exposure to the events industry and tech magazine publishing in the US.

However, their overall numbers came in a lot better than analysts had expected and their share price received a significant bounce this morning as a result.

UBM’s CEO, David Levin gave a very confident and strong presentation this morning. He spoke a lot of sense explaining the nature of the business that he was trying to build and saying that the world had changed. He wanted analysts to stop looking to the past and instead to concentrate on where UBM was going.

A few highlights of his presentation for me were:

  • UBM’s biggest activity is in the events field but they are a very different business from Informa, who also released their numbers this week. Whereas Informa is largely a conferences business UBM is clearly exhibition led. It is important to understand the difference between the two. Large exhibitions businesses generally have significantly higher margins than conferences and benefit from greater forward visibility of earnings from stand re-bookings.
  • In spite of the global downturn UBM have been very actively developing their events portfolio in emerging markets. In 2009 the company generated 20% of group profits from activities in China and China was their largest single market. They have successfully made the jump that a lot of media businesses have tried to do away from declining, and more crowded, markets.
  • David pointed out client spend on stand bookings for exhibitions had been ‘rock solid’ during the past year. This made up c. 80% of their events revenues. The remaining 20% – sponsorship and attendee revenue – had been hit much harder. He showed some strong figures to back up these arguments although I do wonder about how successful their re-booking was in 2009 during the height of the market turmoil. Maybe there is more to come out here?
  • For their print publishing operations – the old core of UBM – David was very clear that many of their B2B markets were over-published. UBM had closed 31 titles over the past 12 months, seen revenues contract dramatically and cut a lot of costs. Whilst he argued that there was still a place for print in the mix David said that we would rapidly move to a situation of ‘the last man standing’ in individual verticals. Unless you were a leader, or strong number two in a market with good dynamics you were unlikely to prosper.
  • It was clear that there had been a significant overhaul of the divisional leadership at UBM. They explained that in the past they had a lot of media people making decisions on technology developments and inferred that they hadn’t been qualified to do so. Their emphasis over the past 18 months had been to bring in more people from a technology and web background to aid their evolution.

Overall, these were clearly a good set of results. UBM had managed to clear up some long-running tax issues, highlight the success of their acquisition policy, expand their operations in high growth markets and largely move away from the past. They are clearly prioritising  further opportunities in the exhibitions space and explained that this market was highly fragmented and ripe for further consolidation.

It will also be interesting to see what the lead player in the market – Reed Exhibitions – decides to do.

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Informa results reviewed positively

Another day, another results presentation. I aim to cover as many of these as I can on this blog and then post a review of overall sentiment sometime towards the end of this month.

Today it was the turn of Informa – who bill themselves as ‘global business information specialists‘. It’s an interesting group having grown following a merger of Lloyd’s List Publishing and IBC Conferences. Since then the company has been very acquisitive with Taylor & Francis, IIR and Datamonitor joining the stable alongside various smaller acquisitions.

Informa has scale:-

  • £1.2bn of revenues
  • an operating profit of £146m
  • 8,500 employees
  • 2,500 individual products spanning academic, professional and commercial markets
  • offices around the world
  • and they host around 8,000 conferences and training courses annually

as such Informa is a good barometer for the business media industry. So what do their results tell us?

On the surface their results seem fairly similar to all the media companies that have released results recently – tough markets, falling revenues, extensive cost savings, growing business in emerging economies, well positioned for the recovery etc… but it is only when you dig a little deeper (and listen to the company webcast) that you get the full flavour for what is going on.

Informa is a company with a good spread of activities and should have been better prepared than most as we entered the downturn. The thorn in their side has been that (along with many of the larger business media companies) it took on a lot of debt at an inopportune time – in their case for the acquisition of Datamonitor at the relative peak of the market. As such, there have been concerns over the past 18 months about covenant headroom and this has clearly placed pressure on the business.

That pressure now seems to have been relieved. Debt has been reduced by nearly £470m in the year and Adam Walker – the CFO – joked that it was lovely not to be talking about covenants this year.

On the business side Peter Rigby – CEO – stated that he felt the business was now ‘bumbling along the bottom’ in revenue terms. Informa had taken a lot of costs out of the group to protect margins in the downturn. They had cut around 2,500 of their smaller events and training courses and that had also led to significant head-count reductions. The remaining events portfolio had held up reasonably well, largely due to the performance of their largest conferences and exhibitions.

Peter pointed out that Informa’s top 200 events generate 28% of their events revenue but contribute 55% of the profits. As a result of cutting out the smaller events and associated variable costs the margins of their events business had been kept at 15% for the year. This was the cyclical area of Informa’s business that can change very rapidly when business confidence returns and corporate training / event attendance budgets are released.

Other highlights of the presentation were:

  • A star performance from the academic information side of the business – driven by a lot of new journal launches, better inventory management of their book stocks and an increasing use of ‘print on demand’ services.
  • Strong renewal rates on subscription information products – which are increasingly served online and delivered on a site licence basis
  • The investment in core products like Lloyd’s List – which had seen profits rise by 400% year-on-year and had launched a new Lloyd’s List Intelligence Service
  • The further integration of Datamonitor – taking advantage of the Informa global network of offices and a reduction in the cost base
  • Currency benefits from having US$ revenues significantly ahead of US$ costs

All in all a good set of results, delivered with confidence by the management team. Informa has a nice mix of businesses that give it both the stability of a strong subscription base and the ability, through their events portfolio, to rapidly take advantage of an upturn to grow profits.

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