Tag Archives: SIPA

My top 10 highlights from SIPA Washington

Specialized Information Publishers Association logoThis week I was really pleased to attend the recent Specialized Information Publishers Association annual conference in Washington. Many of the sessions could be blog posts on their own but I don’t really have time to write them all up so, instead I wanted to give a list of my top 10 takeaways.

  1. The icebreaker recruitment challenge. When hiring salespeople Richard Londesborough of Business Monitor explained the development of their assessment centres. Generally they try to screen the initial batch of candidates into a group of around 15 people who show promise. These candidates are then put through to a half day assessment centre where they are paired off with eachother. The pairs are set an icebreaker challenge of meeting eachother for 2 minutes and having to pitch back their partner to the group.
  2. Create a holiday. If you have a product line that needs a boost then Adam Goldstein of NIBM recommended that you declare an ‘official week’ and gave the example of HR Professionals Week that they had in Singapore but not in the US. You can then bundle a package of products, webinars and events into a week long period and offer time limited discounts. It gives extra emphasis to your marketing and a real opportunity to excite your customers and prospects.
  3. Don’t call virtual events ‘webinars’ if you want to charge. Torry Burdick of Mortgage Success Source talked about the success they were having with virtual events but recommended that the word ‘webinar’ had become too associated with sponsor led, free to attend events. To charge a registration fee she recommended coming up with another name.
  4. Delve into your site analytics to get new product ideas. Matt Bailey of SiteLogic gave a great presentation looking at the site analytics reports of a travel company to see what people were searching for. From this his client got a wide range of of ideas of existing reports that should be featured more prominently on their site and also new products to create.
  5. Look to syndicate other people’s content on your pages. David Schwartz of 2Market Information suggested that publishers look for other organisations in their field who provide content but don’t necessarily think of themselves as publishers. He highlighted consultancy firms, lawyers & academics as rich seams of content. His company approached these firms and re-packaged / co-branded content to sell – generally at premium rates and on a 50/50 split.
  6. Apply ‘good enough’ technology & publish fast. In a great presentation Kevin Delaney from the Wall St Journal talked about the importance of speed-to-market for news providers in a web-first operation. The WSJ set up a speedy@wsj e-mail address for reporters to file to and gave their journalists simple Kodak Z18 video cameras to record stories on. He highlighted the success of the WSJ Now edition on the iPad which auto updates in the style of the paper every 30 minutes.
  7. Change what you call your journalists. Another tip from Richard Londesborough at Business Monitor. As the company had developed its online information services all of the editors had been re-named analysts. Richard said that this gave a higher perceived value to their content and also encouraged customers to contact the company for consulting level services.
  8. Make sure your mobile products are suitable for an Android platform. James McQuivey of Forrester Research suggested that Android would be the dominant smart-phone mobile platform by 2011.
  9. Your audience development team should evolve to take on an analyst role. Sean Griffey of FierceMarkets gave a great case study of how online metrics formed the bedrock of his company. Their audience development team circulated the best performing headlines of the week around their team. All editors were targeted and bonused on key metrics like open rates for their newsletters and internal teams competed each week by product.
  10. Don’t assume the old product pyramid still applies. Publishing models traditionally look at their audience in a pyramid with prospects being taken on a journey from casual to registered user, paid customer and then consulting client. David Foster of BVR said that because of well-optimised sites they were seeing more and more clients coming straight in at the top level. He recommended that you highlight your premium services prominantly.

All in all it was a great conference. Huge credit goes to Andy McLaughlin & Matt Salt for their work in putting together such an engaging programme.

If you’re interested in seeing more of what SIPA events offer please remember that the SIPA UK Congress takes place in London on 12th & 13th of July. I recommend anyone in the European specialist information industry makes a point of coming along.



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4 great events coming up for media folk

Apologies for the brief hiatus on blog posting, I have been incredibly busy with a range of projects over the past couple of months.

Normal schedule will be resumed shortly but in the meantime I wanted to highlight some great media events that are planned for the coming weeks.

  1. The Frontline Club will be hosting an event tomorrow evening (May 19th at 7 p.m.) covering “Will Apple save the news business? Apps, iPads, paywalls and how to make money from news“. It features Gurtej Sandhu, the digital director of The Times who will discuss News International’s upcoming launch of its paid for online services. Should be fascinating. I’ve only been along to one event at the Frontline (in Paddington, West london) but they are starting to put on some great events under the able direction of Patrick Smith.
  2. Incisive Media’s E-Publishing Innovation Forum takes place next week (May 25-26) in London. This event was launched by my old division of the company and is in its 3rd year.  They’ve got a great line up of speakers and I am particularly looking forward to hearing Simon Waldman talk about his upcoming book Creative Disruption.
  3. In early June I will be heading over to Washington for the Specialised Information Publishers Association (SIPA) conference. Always an inspiring meeting and nice to catch up with my U.S. colleagues in the association.

and finally I wanted to flag up the SIPA UK Congress (opens a PDF) on the 12-13 July in London. This is probably my favourite event of the year and features some amazing speakers, roundtables, discussion forums and the SIPA awards presentation.

I plan to write up coverage of some of these events on this blog and will also post updates on Twitter.

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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: uksipa@btconnect.com.

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Highlights from SIPA’s Online Marketing and Publishing Summit last week

Last Thursday the Specialised Information Publishers Association held a one day event in London. I have been involved with this association in various guises for nearly 15 years but can honestly say this was one of my favourite meetings during that time. Well done to Louise White and Karen Hindle for organising & many thanks to all our speakers.

For those who couldn’t make it I wanted to highlight some of the key things I took from the day:

David Cushman‘s keynote “A New Era for Specialist Media” – David has posted his presentation online so you can read it for yourself. However, the main angle I took from this was that in a networked world new media models need to be developed to take advantage of peer-to-peer communication. Specialist and niche media owners were best placed to do this by creating ‘social objects’ around their content that tracked the downstream journey of conversations and any eventual purchase. No-one really had an idea how this would be done (!) but it started the conversation off nicely which I always believe is the sign of a great keynote.

Julian Turner then spoke about “Traffic and Jam on the Digital Highway – The real experience of online migration” – Julian gave an overview of his experience building Electric Word (a specialist B2B & B2C media company). Julian’s presentation started off by discussing how one of the big problems with an evolving media world was the words that were used. He referenced this great interview with Chris Anderson for Spiegel magazine and pointed to the way that terms like content and advertising were changing in a digital media world. Neil Thackray has already provided a good write-up of some of the themes covered.

From this point the conference split into round table format. Feedback from previous SIPA events has always shown these to be the most popular and I agree. The only problem with tracks of round tables is that you cannot attend them all. These are the ones I did attend:

Dominic Jacquesson (Ink on Dead Trees) and Ed Coburn (Harvard Health Publishing) hosted a session on “Digital Publishing: E-Readers, iPhone Apps and Beyond“. In reality we spent most of the time testing out different models of e-readers and assessing the likely winners in the e-reader / tablet / expanded iPhone style smart phone battles. The general conclusions the group came to was that e-readers had a place in specialist publishing. The inevitable move would be away from proprietary operating systems (like Amazon’s Kindle) and into an open source environment and they were well suited for academic textbooks and some form of networking to share notes. However, the big problem our group highlighted was the difficulty of delivering video and other forms of multi-media content. This is why the consensus was that we would see further technology advances and media convergence around smart phones and tablet computers.

After lunch Louise White (Incisive Media) and Vicky Priest (Emap Inform) ran through a couple of case studies on “Transitioning Products from Print to Online“. Both of our hosts were very open about the problems facing print products and shared some frightening graphs on readership and renewal rates for subscriptions. They then described projects within their companies to turn things around. Incisive Media’s project involved taking a range of newsletters and a controlled circulation magazine, bundling them up online and re-packaging the resulting portal as a site licence product. Louise highlighted some of the changes internally that this had driven and encouraged the attendees to think ‘beyond publisher’s own brands’. She said that in the past online efforts at the company had very much focused on taking a print brand and translating that content to a website format. This was the problem. Incisive’s focus was now on building new online subscription offerings – that were increasingly workflow or tool based – and offering them on a one-to-many rather than a one-to-one basis.

Vicky then gave a similar case study of the evolving Broadcast magazine subscription offering. In research the Emap Inform team had found that the a relatively neglected part of their content – the commissioning database – was highly valued by their readers. The problem was that this had never really been built as an interactive product and the information was presented by the magazine website at the wrong time of week. Vicky highlighted a process of reader panels undertaken with the editors that had led to the creation of a new service and a decision to offer this database exclusively to subscribers when the subscription pay wall was reintroduced online. The initial results had been positive but we had a long debate about whether Emap would have been better off launching this as a new and standalone product.

The final session I attended was the smallest of the round tables but was one of the most interesting. We looked at some case studies from SIPA publishing award winners to discuss what had led to the success of various projects within member firms.

First up was Emma Rogers (Electric Word) who discussed the launch of a new and best-selling text-book series for schools. Emma highlighted a new piece of educational policy that was being introduced covering Primary Assemblies for SEAL. Emma explained how an original concept had been brought to market very rapidly with a conference and fast follow-up on a range of books. These had gone on to become record sellers within the Electric Word portfolio and one of the key points Emma made was about how to benchmark and spot the winners in your business at an early stage and push resources at them.

Emma was followed by Andy Williams (Informa Pharma) who described a campaign to capitalise on the interest in swine flu to drive trials and customers to the company’s ScripNews service. Andy highlighted how his team had pulled together a range of content from a variety of internal and external sources to create a ‘swine flu portal’. The team had created mash-ups of data presented on Google maps to geographically represent the spread of outbreaks and showed how, if you are quick, a specialist publisher could utilise a wide range of new media tools to drive a new audience to their sites.

At the wrap up for the day we discussed how specialist publishing was clearly at a tipping point. It was significant that a lot of the things that seemed to be holding back the development of the sector were due to legacy issues and often the need to protect an out-dated business model.

I suppose if I were to take away one thing from the day it was that specialist publishers are in the driving seat for the evolution of media markets. However, we must be brave. Wherever possible we must not be restricted by the language and models of the past.

[The Specialised Information Publishers Association (SIPA) is a US-based organisation that evolved from the old newsletter publishing businesses. Our members are generally grounded in the provision of paid for information services through a variety of channels. The UK branch of the association hosts a range of conferences, training courses and networking sessions. If your company is involved in this area and you would like further details on membership then please visit http://sipaonline.com/sipauk]


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Developing mobile apps, monetising social media, models for paid content, e-readers… and more



If you work in specialist consumer or business media markets I am sure you have a list of new ideas that you think might present good opportunities for the development of your business.

I’d be happy to wager that at least one of the following topics was on that list:

  • How can I build up a community around my brands and where’s the payback for my time?
  • What extra information should I be collecting from my readers – and what should I then do with that data?
  • Can I develop mobile applications for some of my products?
  • What part of my marketing process can I automate – including setting up a series of trigger e-mails?
  • If e-Readers gain mainstream acceptance does this open up a new distribution channel for my content?
  • As I develop new content offerings what is the best model to pursue in a digital world – free, freemium or paid?
Paid digital content

Paid digital content

The problem is that a lot of these areas work around technological change and the business models are just evolving.

But if you have one day free on November 19th and can get to London then I have a solution.

The Specialist Information Publishers Association’s next Online Publishing and Marketing Summit takes a different format to most media events. Alongside some great formal presentations there is a twin track programme of roundtable discussions led by media industry leaders.

The programme features speakers from both the UK & the US including representatives from: Incisive Media, Electric Word, Euromoney, Ink on Dead Trees, eConsultancy, Brando Social, Silverpop, Canonbury Publishing, Harvard Health, Emap Inform, Melcrum Publishing, Qube Media and Informa Pharma. The day will be hosted by my ex-coleague and all round good egg, Louise White.

Mobile apps

Mobile apps

If you’re a SIPA member you can register at a discount rate of £270 if you do so before the end of October. It’s £350 for non-members (but ask about how to join and benefit from the member rates).

Numbers will be limited to ensure that the roundtable sessions are manageable.

Full programme details can be found here. I hope you’ll be able to join us.

If you have any queries drop me a note in the comments section below (I am a SIPA board member) or contact Karen Hindle


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What’s the point of trade associations?

imagesDuring the course of my career in media I have been involved in the work of a variety of trade associations – as an attendee at events, speaker, committee and board member.

Generally my experiences have been positive ones and I have learned a lot and made some great connections as a result of my participation. However, I am constantly amazed at how old fashioned a lot of them are and also, how resistant they are to change.

This week I saw the news about the Chief Executive of the PPA leaving the trade body with immediate effect. I have heard of similar travails at ABM in the US. The large media trade associations are clearly struggling so it got me thinking about what their role should be and how they can grow in the future.

imagesHere are some of the key pillars that I believe media trade associations should be built around:

Championing the industry – the media industry is a huge sector, employing hundreds of thousands of people and contributing greatly to the wider economy. However, because it is so diverse it is often misunderstood and disjointed. A dominant trade association should define the scope of the industry, quantify and publicise its importance.

Lobbying – directly linked to ‘championing’ is the role of a trade association to lobby governments, commercial suppliers and regulatory bodies on behalf of its members. An industry that has no strong central voice is weaker and vulnerable to ill thought out pieces of legislation.

imagesBeing both welcoming and adaptable – I have dealt with some trade associations that feel as though they only cater for a section of the industry. Either through its membership dues structure, key activities, or the make up of the board they can sometimes feel only relevant to a narrow group of companies, or organisations of a certain size. This is a recipe for extinction. You must welcome the startups, the new business models, the multi-platform nature of the businesses you serve and not stick to the entrenched way of doing things.

Educating – at the heart of a successful association should be a learning programme. Setting best practice standards; training new entrants; providing formal qualifications; organising seminars and conferences; recognising excellence through awards etc.

imagesLeading – during a period of rapid structural change I look to a media association to be open and honest about what is happening. I’d like it to be able to act bravely, to be able to highlight the commercial challenges faced and not put out misleading statistics (sorry Tim) to paper over the cracks. I’d also like it to be at the forefront of experimenting with new technology – social networks, online video, personalisation etc.

Conversational – a large part of the value I have received from participation in trade associations has been nothing to do with committees or formal events. Instead it has come from talking to other people who work in the same industry that I do. Some of these are competitors but often they are not. The abiding principle should be that by being open you get more back than you give. An association that encourages conversation and sharing ahead of corporate posturing will always do well.

imagesCharitable – all industries go through periods of upturn and downturn. During the boom times associations should build up reserves and they should not be scared about drawing down these assets in harder times to support bursaries, fellowships and grants. At the recent SIPA conference in Washington regular attendees who were out of work or whose companies were in financial difficulty could apply for their registration fees to be waived. If they were successful there was an implicit understanding that they would support the association in other ways in the future. This has to be a win/win.

Career enhancing – throughout my career I can point to two jobs I have directly got as a result of contacts made through industry associations. At various stages I have heard about members having problems with poaching of staff as a result of contacts made at associations but let’s face it, there are now so many ways to contact employees at competitors. If they’re open to being wooed there’s very little you can do about it. An efficient recruitment site and introduction service should be at the heart of a trade association’s services.

imagesNon – bureaucratic – I was recently involved in a process to review the articles of association for a media trade body. It was enough to make your eyes bleed. I have also sat in committee meetings where there were so many proposers, seconders, yays and nays that I felt I should be wearing a frocked coat and wig. While I understand the need for rules – especially where member dues are involved – surely we can cut out a lot of this bull? Associations should be run like a modern business, with a flat hierarchy and a commitment not to waste your members time or money.

Open & visible – basic marketing here but I bet many of the readers of this blog have never heard of some of the associations I’ve linked to here (logos are clickable). Even if you have heard of them do you really understand the difference between them and the constituent communities they serve? Trade bodies need to make sure they do a much better job of marketing to both members and non-members.

One of the major problems I see is that trade associations are often run like sub-standard media companies. We accept a lot of the quirks because they regularly rely on volunteers or part-time staff. But for people working in the media and communications industry that’s not good enough. Trade associations have a huge role to play in the evolution and development of our industry. Their strength benefits us all.

Comments welcome.


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So, should we all give up and go home?

3525090847_2f001a60feIt is now a little over 8 months since I left Incisive Media. At some point in the future I will do a ‘reflections on a post-corporate world’ post, but for the time being I wanted to share some thoughts on what has happened to the media industry this year. I’d also like to discuss where we might be going & highlight some bright spots.

Looking back, I am still amazed that there was any debate about whether this media downturn was cyclical or structural. Patently it was both but companies that didn’t accept this early are undoubtedly the ones who are now panicking the most.

Having said that there are no easy answers here. No-one really knows how the business models are changing online. Even those organisations who waded straight in to structural change have struggled. I remember one commentator describing the process as being like ‘changing the tyres on a moving truck’ – a pretty apposite analogy.

Over the course of the last few months I have been in a lucky position to step back from the coal-face and observe. My work as a board member of SIPA and my tours round medialand in both the UK & US have allowed an interesting perspective. I have seen both the struggles and success stories first hand and, probably because I am not currently affiliated to any company, I think that I have had more open and honest discussions with media business leaders.

The tone of most of those conversations has been one of steely determination to get through it combined with underlying fear that they’re not sure how.

Whichever way you dress things up we’re going into unknown territory. The shift from an analogue to a digital world of content, collaboration and communication is gathering pace. The skill-sets required by media employees are ever changing and the power that many once formidable media brands had is on the wane.

So, should we sell up, give up, go and do something else?

Some would already seem to have chosen that option. Private equity players are suddenly less keen on the sector. Business Week was confirmed to be ‘on the block’ this week. There has even been talk about a sale price of $1 in spite of having nearly one million paid readers!

Reed Elsevier have made no secret about wanting to sell RBI and have now started selling bits off piecemeal & I am speaking to a lot of the media brokerage businesses about publishing assets that are in the pipeline. But, at the same time…

… I am still hearing very positive stories from a lot of publishers whose businesses, while affected by recession, are structurally sound and doing very nicely.

These are the businesses that, on my travels, everyone wants to pick my brains about and so I thought I would point to a few and try to categorise what has made them more robust:

  • Privately held niche business intelligence providershere I am talking about companies like Business Monitor and Euromonitor. These companies have always worked at the premium information end of the market, often on a subscription basis with renewable revenue streams. They generally are not affected by downturns in advertising spend or event travel. I admire greatly the operations of both of these companies and the entrepreneurs behind them. Their transition from print to online and electronic site licence deals have been transformational & was probably the reason that Informa shelled out such a huge amount of money for Datamonitor a couple of years ago.
  • Online-only membership sites – there are a few that spring to mind but the best ones I can highlight are eConsultancy & SEOMoz. Both of these sites operate in the digital marketing and tech space and practice what they preach, with a full understanding of what it takes to build a successful information business online. The concept of membership rather than subscription is one that I really like because it successfully builds in a lot of the community elements of niche publishing. Combined with this they are increasingly offering bespoke tools to help their members do their jobs better. The Racing Post has also launched a membership offering this week that I think is well crafted.
  • Magazines that really work their brand – here I would highlight Monocle magazine. A consumer lifestyle magazine that seems to be full of advertising, sponsored reports and has even started opening shops with branded merchandise. There was a recent write up from a fan of the magazine here. From my previous corporate life I would also point to Risk & MEED magazines as examples of business publications that has cleverly built a massive complementary business around their mother brand.
  • Data and work-flow publishers – I have written before about some of these developments in publishing but they are usually at the top end of publishing & put together by the behemoths of the media world.

These are just a few examples of media brands which are well positioned in the current economy. There are plenty of other niche and smaller players I have come across that are also growing nicely. It is undoubtedly a challenge but not all doom and gloom.

So, coming back to my original question, should those who currently work in the media all give up and go home?

Some probably should. If you work in an old school media business, and haven’t got the energy to reinvent yourself and your products on an almost continual basis, the next few years aren’t going to be much fun. You should probably look to go off and do something else instead.

If, however, you can learn some lessons from the examples I have listed above then the publishing and media world remains a great place in which to work & an environment which is full of opportunity. I’m looking forward to leaving home and getting back into the fray.

(Photo credit – Columbusneon)


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