Friday, August 31, 2007

Reading for a long weekend

I, like a good portion of the country, am trying to finish off a few projects today so I can begin the long holiday weekend.
I won't be posting to this blog until sometime next week, unless something truly remarkable happens in the world of B2B.
But if you're the type who will spend this weekend reading on the computer rather than reading by the beach, allow me to share some of the blogs that I've recently added to my newsreader.

Longtime readers of this blog know I'm still in mourning over the closure of CMO Magazine. If you shared my love of that publication, you may want to follow the work of Rob O'Regan, founding Editor in Chief of CMO. Check out his blog, called Magnosticism.

I spent a good portion of this summer waging a battle against the use of annoying and unethical ads in the world of B2B publishing. Now Ryan Block, editor in chief of Engadget, one of my favorite online-only publications, has taken up the fight. You can read his open letter to the industry here, and check out the rest of his blog here.

Just last week I wrote at length about the rise of content marketing. And I get the feeling I'll be writing more about this subject soon. There are opportunities here for B2B. But there are challenges too. If you want to follow this trend, check out the Junta42 Blog.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Turning readers into publishers

Yesterday I blogged about the rise of "content marketing," in which retailers, manufacturers and others have dived into the world of publishing. This new form of editorial has some distinct advantages over traditional publishing -- primarily that content marketers aren't worried about making money from the content itself. Content isn't their business. Rather, content is an expense aimed at building their business.
Today I want to talk about the opportunity I see in content marketing for B2B publishers.

I'll ask that you bear with me. My thoughts on this issue aren't completely formed. So, as I often do, I'm blogging as a way of thinking.

Much of B2B publishing works on the controlled circulation model. Sure, we sell data. And of course, we charge people to attend our trade shows. But our content is free to our readers. Unlike our brothers and sisters in consumer magazines and newspapers, most of us in B2B don't have to worry about newsstand sales and subscription revenue.
We do, however, have to worry about advertising.
But imagine if we could find a way to make money without advertising or subscriptions.

Driving new business
Suppose you're the publisher of one of the dozens of trucking magazines in the B2B world. Your readers work at trucking companies; Your advertisers are companies that sell stuff to trucking companies -- tires and logistics software and rear-view mirrors.
Now suppose that your boss has told you he wants to see revenue growth this year of X percent. Traditionally, you have several options. You can raise ad rates, ask your existing advertisers to buy more ads, find new advertisers, or launch a new product and find advertisers for that.
But instead of looking at advertisers, what would happen if you looked at one of your readers.

Suppose one of your readers is Joe Schmoe, owner of Refrigerated Liquid Transport Corp., provider of climate-controlled, cross-country transport of dairy products. Joe's company is big. Joe is the king of milk movement. He has a 40% share of the U.S. market. And he has a marketing budget of hundreds of thousand dollars a year. But he doesn't spend any of that with you. He's a reader, not an advertiser. He doesn't need to get his brand in front of other trucking companies.
But he does need to get his message in front of dairy producers.
Joe advertises in dairy magazines. His ads run in B2B publications and Web sites such as "Dairy Cow Monthly" and "Chief Milk Officer."
Could you convince Joe that the way to get his message out was to become a content marketer? Could you help him become one?

It's not customary to do it that way
Most large B2B publishers have a custom publishing unit. In a nutshell, their job is to create content for advertisers. Most of the time this involves producing limited-run, print publications that go to a magazine's existing readers. Sometimes it involves creating a microsite or some other advertiser-driven Web product. But in essence, custom publishing is about creating a product for an advertiser.
But I'm talking about something different here. I'm not talking about turning Joe from a reader into an advertiser. I'm not even talking about turning Joe from a reader into a customer of your custom-publishing unit.
I'm talking about turning Joe from a reader into a real-life publisher.

Here's the pitch:
In exchange for X amount of money, (cash that he now spends on ads in magazines you don't own), you'll help Joe become a content marketer.
Joe becomes the publisher of "Milking the Market," an online news site about dairy futures and milk production. It's not about transport. Joe doesn't have to cover himself or his competitors. Rather, he's offering valuable information to his target audience for free. There are no ads on "Milking the Market," although each page is branded with Joe's Refrigerated Liquid Transport Corp. logo. There are no subscription fees. Rather, it is a purely editorial site that helps milk producers make money.
What you give Joe is expertise in online publishing (I don't think this idea would work well at all in print, where the expenses are much higher.)
In particular, you help Joe with:
a) hiring skilled journalists to produce aggregated content and "evergreen" how-to articles (daily news is too expensive, and he'd need a fulltime staff), and
b) using search-engine optimization to get his product in front of his target audience.

There are dozens of variations to this business model. Maybe you work as a consultant to Joe as he gets his content marketing site off the ground. Or perhaps you do all the work yourself, hiring freelancers as needed, and charging Joe a monthly fee. Maybe he buys back-end services from you (server space, access to a CMS, etc.), maybe not.

But however you do it, what you're doing is very different from what you have done in the past.
Because now you're working for a fee, not for ad dollars.
And your client isn't an advertiser, he's a publisher ... just like you.

(Note: It will be clear to many readers that the closest thing to content marketing in B2B is the world of association publishing. That market has been very lucrative for a number of specialized publishers who produce print magazines for trade associations. The associations serve as publishers and provide the subscriber list, but the work of writing, design, etc. is often done by an outside company with editorial expertise. A similar model has emerged online where companies such as SmartBrief, a former consulting client of mine, and rival U.S. News Custom Briefings, aggregate content for associations. But the core of those businesses remains advertising.)

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Meet the new boss, different from the old boss

Much of my time these days is spent working on a new B2B site for, now a unit of the New York Times. The site covers the online advertising industry. And I'd urge anyone who works online to take a look. Everyone in the industry -- including those of us on the editorial side -- would do well to understand the money part of the content game.
You can check out the site here.

We launched a few days ago, and things have been going well. We got some press coverage (here and here). And we're getting the sort of search-engine placement at which About excels.

But the thing that excites me most about the new site is that it's a chance to work on a product that is similar to -- although not exactly part of -- a growing trend in online content. And I expect many of you will also soon find yourselves part of this trend.
Allow me to explain.

The About Online Advertising site has two business purposes. First, just like any other commercial site, it exists to make money. We sell ads on the site to generate revenue. But far more interesting is the site's second purpose. About Online Advertising is aimed at entry-level media buyers -- the people who buy ad space for a living. By offering a guide to the industry for newcomers, About hopes to build awareness of its larger brand. In other words, the hope is that media buyers who become readers of About's Online Advertising site will some day become customers of About's hundreds of consumer-focused sites.

Here's why you should care
In the August issue of Folio magazine, Joe Pulizzi, chief content officer for Junta42, wrote a guest column called "Are Corporations the New Kings of Content?"
Joe is talking about the rise of "content marketing" -- in which manufacturers, retailers and others "are jumping with both feet into the province once deemed the sacred right of publishing houses."
Content marketing, as Joe points out, has its roots in custom publishing and branded content. But there is a notable, fundamental difference. When done correctly, "content marketing" involves the creation of exactly the sort of material that is the traditional domain of journalists, not public relations folks.
Or, as Joe puts it, content marketers have "have hired some of the best journalists around, looked for, found and paid for authoritative experts to inform their audiences, set editorial and graphic standards that surpass those of many publications. And, perhaps one of the most critical components, have launched stringent measurement analysis to both determine and improve the content they are sending out.
More importantly, many content marketers seem to have mastered some of the basics of Web publishing -- search-engine optimization, evergreen content and user communities.

Didn't we used to do that?

In another article in that same issue of Folio, Chuck Cordray, general manager of Hearst Magazine's digital media unit, talks about the difficult competitive environment his magazines face online. He mentions two of the kings of content marketing -- a retailer and a manufacturer that have morphed into publishers. "The Kraft foods site is a great site and The Home Depot has the number-one home improvement site,"Cordray said.
And he ain't kidding. Take a look at Kraft's product, and compare it with Good Housekeeping. Then look at any of the buyers guides on, and see if you can find anything better written, better designed or just plain better on Better Homes & Gardens.
In the world of consumer publishing, content marketers are proving again and again that they can create Web sites that are just as compelling as anything produced by editors from traditional publishing companies.
And of course the content marketers have a remarkable advantage over the rest of us -- they don't need to make a profit from their sites. A content marketer site isn't a profit center, it's a marketing expense. It exists to serve the larger brand.
In other words, although content marketers are content creators, they are not in the content business.
Want to see some other examples? Check out -- a content- and community-filled site aimed at promoting the WeightWatchers brand. The cooking and exercise material on the site is every bit as well done as what you'd find on the site of any traditional magazine.
Then take a look at Waterfront Media, which has more than a dozen sites in the exercise/health field -- each of them tied to a well-known brand such as the South Beach Diet or fitness guru Denise Austin.

It should be clear that content marketers have mastered the consumer space. And it would surprise me to no end if this part of the Web world doesn't continue to expand. There are jobs here, and opportunity, and I expect many of today's journalism students will find themselves working in this subset of the industry.

To read why I see opportunity in content marketing for B2B publishers, read Part II of this article.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Getting religion about being agnostic

Nothing excites me as much as learning that a B2B journalist has become re-excited about our profession.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to read a piece from the editor of Healthcare IT News, in which she talks about how the Web allowed her and the rest of the staff to reconnect with the joy of breaking daily news. "We started acting like daily journalists again – eager to be first and best with the story. The shift has done us good. I guess we’ve become “media agnostic.” But, it’s more than that. We picked up the pace. We read more, we called more CIOs and doctors, health insurers and policy makers, we wrote more, we understood better. We dug deeper."

I have tried -- and have often failed -- to convince my fellow B2B reporters and editors that the world of new media offers us a chance to reconnect with the reasons we first picked up a notebook.
And I'm going to take this opportunity to try one more time.
Journalism isn't a job. It is a calling. There are a thousand other professions that are more stable and more lucrative. This field will often break your heart. And being a journalist almost certainly means that you will always struggle financially.
But we got into this game because of who we are. We need this. We need to tell stories and break news. And we need to do it better and faster today than we did yesterday. That's who we are.

If you don't love this profession as you once did, it's not because the profession has changed. You have lost your love because you have lost your way.
But I promise you, the Web can you lead you back home.
Just ask the folks at Healthcare IT News.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Is turnaround fair play?

Two recent incidents in journalism have left me feeling both disturbed and pleased. In both cases, reporters acting in a less-than-professional manner found themselves on the receiving end of their own offensive practices.

First is the public outing and hazing of the NBC Dateline reporter who apparently declined press credentials at Defcon 15. Check out the video here. What you'll see is a bunch of Defcon attendees acting like Dateline reporters, chasing after her and saying "We only want to ask you a few questions" as she flees to her car. It is both scary and funny.

Second is what may be Facebook's first major journalism scandal. Slate recently published a story saying that Rudy Giuliani's daughter had joined a Facebook group of Barack Obama supporters. That story received enormous coverage in the rest of the press. But what many mainstream reporters have missed (or, perhaps, ignored) is that Guliani's daughter is a minor and that her Facebook page wasn't open to the public. She is not a public figure, and she did nothing to put herself into the spotlight. Rather, Slate simply violated the privacy of a minor. It's also worth noting that the reporter violated the terms of her own Facebook account by lifting material from Ms. Giuliani's page, and that the story and photo that Slate ran are misleading. Now the reporter's personal life -- including her email address and phone number -- are being spread around the Web by angry bloggers. Check out the details here.

As a journalist, I cannot help but be disturbed by the video image of an angry crowd following a reporter. Nor can I help but be disturbed by the implication that the way to respond to poor reporting is to harass the reporter.
But as a news consumer, I also cannot help but find these incidents in which reporters became the victims of their own worst practices -- entrapment, chasing people down the street with cameras, invading privacy, etc. -- as right and just.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Old and hip

I awoke this morning, feeling sore and cranky. And I realized that today is Aug. 7, which means it was 18 years ago today I was discharged from the Army.
The idea that so much time has passed since I was a young, highly motivated knucklehead with an M-16, always depresses me. It makes me feel old. And this morning I sat on the couch drinking coffee and feeling sorry for myself, when my wife, who is 15 years younger than I, asked me a question that changed my mood:
"You ever hear of a thing called Facebook?"

She has no interest in my work. And she doesn't read this blog. So of course she had never seen any of the things I've written about Facebook. But that's fine. Because today when she asked that question, I felt, for just a minute, younger and more hip than she.
And lord knows I needed that today.

Speaking of young and hip, if you're reading this post on my blog (rather than through an RSS feed), you'll see a new link on the right that says "Follow me on Twitter."
Twitter is a "micro-blogging" platform. And in my never-ending quest to remain digitally connected, I started using it last week.
I have quickly become addicted. I'm sure I'll write more about Twitter (as well as rival Pownce, which I just started using) soon.

And next August, when I'm yet another year further away from the young soldier I once was, I'm hoping that my wife will turn to me and ask "You ever hear of a thing called Twitter?"

To read the news story that brought Facebook to my wife's attention today, click here.
To read more about micro-blogging, click here.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Congratulations to the ASBPE winners

I didn't attend the ASBPE banquet last week (although I did attend one day of the convention), so I only learned the names of this year's award winners a few moments ago.

Congratulations to Public CIO and Builder, which won Magazine of the Year honors in their respective circulation categories. I also want to offer a special and heartfelt "well done" to CFO, CIO and PCWorld, which won the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for multiplatform journalism (PCWorld also won Web Site Publication of the Year.)

And speaking on behalf of the entire blogosphere, I offer my congratulations to Brian's Brain, which won for Best Overall B2B Blog.

You can see all the winners on ASBPE's Web site.

(Disclosure: I was a judge in this year's ASBPE competition.)

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Editor in ads; Ads in editorial

I attended the ASBPE conference here in New York yesterday, where the final session covered ethics in our industry. No one in the room seemed to have any problem in drawing the line between editorial and advertising. And the presence of such clarity about what is right and what is wrong left me feeling encouraged. Even more pleasing was that throughout the day people kept coming up to me, introducing themselves, and thanking me for the work I've done on ethics on this blog. So when I left the hotel last night, I was feeling positively gleeful.

Then I checked my email.

I opened a newsletter from Folio and read an article that reminded me that things aren't always what they should be in magazine publishing, and that many people in our industry do not make us proud.
Folio reported on a scandal in which the editor-in-chief of XXL Magazine appeared in an ad in his magazine.
Take a look here.

Clyde Smith at first broke the news about the inappropriate ad. And Folio quotes from comments I made that appear on Clyde's site.
But it's not just me, Clyde and the folks at Folio who question the actions of XXL's editor. Marlene Kahan, executive director of ASME, told Folio that "No person on an editorial staff should ever be involved in producing or participating in advertising."

I was pleased to see that ASME was willing to weigh in on this issue. XXL's editor-in-chief was wrong. And ASME had an obligation to say so.
However, I cannot hide my continued disappointment that ASME (and ABM) have failed to weigh in on the IntelliTXT scandal. As of today, we've been waiting three months for word from either group.
In other words, ABM and ASME have failed to do in three months what ASBPE managed to do in a day -- issue a statement saying that IntelliTXT ads violate our industry's ethics rules.

(Addendum: Regular readers of this blog, and most anyone who has heard me speak in recent months, know that I generally sing the praises of XXL -- or at least of its Web site. It was back in November that I first became aware of the work of Jason Brightman on You can read here how impressed I was. Jason recently left XXL to join IDG, a client of mine. )

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Can I have a hug?

Late last year I ended a brief experiment in running a blog called Wind Farm News, which covered the wind-power industry. The site is long gone, but bits of it have been preserved by the Way-Back Machine.

I found myself thinking about that site today when I read that Treehugger had been sold for somewhere between $10 million and $15 million.

Within days of launching Wind Farm News, I found myself obsessed with, the Digg-style "source for user-generated green news" owned by TreeHugger. On Hugg, users share stories they like with the Hugg community. And then other users can vote their approval by "hugging" that story. The most-hugged stories move to the top of the home page.

On those rare days when one of my pieces was posted to Hugg, I felt tremendous satisfaction. And when other users "hugged" my story, it was a remarkably affirming experience. Never before in my journalistic career had I got such a kick out of reader feedback. It felt light years away from the letters to the editor of my newspaper days. And getting hugged felt even better than the links and comments that mark feedback here on this blog. A "Hugg" felt like a "hug."
And I really liked getting them. More importantly, I really liked giving them to stories I enjoyed.

The sale of TreeHugger comes just two weeks after MediaBistro was sold for $23 million. And I suspect that much of the media world -- even the new-media world -- will be perplexed by the value attached to TreeHugger in the same way they were perplexed by the price of MediaBistro.
But I don't share the cynics' disbelief.
I think that TreeHugger and MediaBistro were both worthwhile investments and for the same reason -- community.

When I published Wind Farm News, I felt that I belonged to Hugg. And I engaged with content on that site in a way that I had never engaged before or since -- by sharing my affection for an article by "hugging" it. Hugg was my community in a way that LinkedIn never has been but that Facebook may be becoming -- the place where I am online.
I had similar experiences with MediaBistro, although not as intense. I've taken a course at its New York office. I've turned down an opportunity to teach there. I use the site on a regular basis to look for freelancers. In other words, MediaBistro is one of the places that I "network."

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I value such communities in a way that I cannot value the staples of the B2B world -- print products and trade shows.
Print is something that I read. A trade show is someplace I go. But a community is a place where I belong.
And I suspect that in 2007 when media bankers and the like try to determine the value of a B2B company, they will decide -- correctly -- to give higher multiples to companies that offer a place to be, rather than just a magazine to read or a conference to attend.

Rex also thinks the MediaBistro sale is a "big deal" for B2B.

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