Tim Weller is the group chief executive of Incisive Media and talks to us about his successful approach to B2B publishing.
Can you explain your ‘in person, in print and online’ strategy? How will this morph over time?
To be frank, going back thirteen years when I started the company, we developed this strategy by accident.
Our strategy, simply, was to connect people who were selling products with people who were buying them. When we started the business back in 1995 with Investment Week, we developed very strong relationships very quickly with asset management groups who were targeting intermediaries. We needed to generate revenue, so we started to think about how we could put those asset managers in front of their clients.
We did that through the print product and we then started the events business where we took fund management groups round the country to meet their clients. We then selected the top 15 intermediaries in the UK and flew them out to New York with six fund management groups who talked about the US market. So there was a much closer tie.
We then launched online back in 1995, which to be frank was a bit of brochureware. The user experience was shocking but you had to do something. We managed to monetise online by creating other bits of brochureware for some of our clients. We had sponsor money from sponsors that would tenant their brand online. It wasn’t particularly dynamic but we managed to make some money from it.
The history of that model has evolved to a point where what we do is publish narrow and deep. If you do that, you can get much closer to the communities you serve. You are delivering really, really focused content to those communities. It doesn’t matter how you deliver it. The type of content you deliver differs to the platform you deliver it on.
How the model is now extending is we are now trying to create a fourth pillar to the business, which is to generate reader or annuity revenues from the markets and communities we serve – whether they are buyers or sellers. We are creating business intelligence and data products that one hopes will sit in the workflow and people will pay premium prices for. You connect the market together. You don’t just serve the market, you become part of the market.
Can you give some examples?
We’re very good at this in the legal market, with some of our litigation support data products. Where people need to find an expert witness, for example, we have audio or video which we pump down the wire and people can see how an expert witness delivers his case. We charge a subscription for that as opposed to it being a free-to-air property. It takes it on a step.
We also do the same in our private equity community, where in the unquote brand, we have a print product of deals done in the week. With Private Equity Insight, we also have a business that has a history of all deals done in the last 20 years and it sits on someone’s desktop. It can be manipulated to extract the data they want. We charge a £15,000 subscription to that product.
So it’s horses for courses – there is no one model, there are bucketloads of them. The trick is to use the model that works in any given vertical, and to be adaptable.
What role will print play in the future? Do you see print supporting and marketing online rather than the other way round?
I’m a big believer in print, because we still have print growth. If you publish narrow and deep and your print property is very focused and covering off a niche in a particular vertical industry, then you stand a very good chance of surviving. If your print product is quite horizontal, you might be under a bit of pressure.
When I launched Investment Week in 1995, it just carved into a small part of the readership of its two main competitors – Financial Advisor and Money Marketing. Both had controlled circulations that were three times larger than that of Investment Week. But it carved into the key bit that really mattered. We segmented that market and delivered content for that group.
If you publish narrow, print will survive. If you have big, horizontal-facing weekly print properties that rely on recruitment revenue, your models have to change. There is absolutely no question that print recruitment is under continued pressure. There is that disruption.
There’s the old argument - print is used for the job browser, whereas online is used for the job seeker. But I have one property that we acquired last year as part of the VNU Business that when I started my career was doing nearly £16m in recruitment revenues. It’s not even doing £1m in recruitment in print. Computing and Computer Weekly have seen a significant migration of recruitment revenues online.
What I do believe needs to happen and is beginning to happen is weekly, community led trade newspapers need to change the way they deliver their content.
We’re aggressively making sure our editors see this approach. If a news story happens the day after publication, historically the editor or news editor would hold onto that story till the next publication date. We have a duty to the visitors to our website to deliver that news as it happens. The way things are evolving is that news is delivered in real time. The user, with user generated content, can comment on that story. We then might publish the story in more detail in the print property that week. Print properties need to evolve to become more analytical and more discursive – to review what has happened, rather than just to deliver news in a weekly form.
I think The Economist didn’t need the evolution of online distribution to do what it does. It is a great, weekly, news property that is very analytical and opinionated. What our community newspapers need to do is get to that level for each of their industries.
It looks like the value of advertising in print is still much higher than online, so as advertising moves online will this erode the business? How will you compensate for that? Through lead generation? Higher CPMs?
We haven’t seen a print advertising decline. Recruitment has declined but overall, we are still seeing print revenue growth.
The difficulty with print is it is so difficult to measure. But it does a job and has done for years and years, in terms of promoting brands and products. It is fair to say that if you are just looking at a straight tenancy on a web page, you are not going to the same price as you would for a page in print.
But the advertising models have evolved. Now, we do take an approach where we will charge people on performance, whether it’s CPC or CPM. More importantly, we provide qualified leads and we have built our own lead generation engine this year.
We have thought leadership content in a given vertical - webinars or whitepapers - where people can access it for free but have to give us their details. Those details are then passed to the people that have produced the whitepaper. We charge, say, £50 per lead. Per response, it is an extraordinarily profitable enterprise for us and extremely profitable for the guy that is paying for the lead, because it is qualified.
We have taken the lead generation business in the IT space from zero to £1.5m in revenue. It’s still a small proportion of display revenues but it’s about 10% of our online revenue in that particular vertical. It’s about taking old fashioned approaches and looking at ways you can develop them for the new world.
What elements of best practice do you see coming into B2B publishing online – user interfaces, search functionality and so on?
From my experience, there are a couple of things. They go back to whether you lease, buy or build your technologies. When we started, we were of the view that we had to build everything ourselves, which was a different view to a lot of our peers. But if you lease these ASP solutions, you help yourself.
On other bits of best practice; when we bought VNU, they had done a deal with Autonomy and we now have that intelligent agent sweeping through our CMS. It’s an incredibly dynamic CMS and our short term objective is to transition our businesses onto the vnunet CMS, which is on its eighth iteration. That allows us to push dynamic content to our visitors, gain intelligence on them and monetise the visitor more efficiently.
We have pushed across the business a model called ‘The Power of Seven’. We want to find seven ways we can make money on each page. The first thing we need is participation – voting, tagging and comment. The second is the ad model – advertising or partnership revenue. We then look at content types – pushing audio, video and text to people. Then there’s search, lead gen, data collection and the big thing we do on each page is optimise it – getting it up the rankings.
It’s easier said than done. We have some horrifyingly backward bits of brochureware still in our business but we are spending our money where we know the money is. The key thing is to experiment. You mustn’t be frightened of having a go and you mustn’t be frightened of eating yourself. Sometimes people just don’t do things because they think it will cannibalise what they do. But it often protects what they do.
What are your thoughts on vertical search?
We are actually looking at a really interesting vertical search engine in the recruitment market at the moment. [We are looking at] acquiring a big stake in one because they have done a great job. I think their model is the model. If I was a job board charging per job listing, I would be frightened of Google coming round and offering every job for free. So we are looking at vertical search, although we are not quite sure how we will monetise it.
I can’t say who it is but hopefully in the next month it will come through, subject to board approval. If we don’t succeed with this particular business, we will probably go off and find a partner to build our own.
What do you think Web 2.0’s significance is for B2B publishing online?
I think Web 2.0 is about engagement and interaction. As an example, we are monetising our sites through a lot of rich media products and a lot of engaging content. In the investment space, every Thursday at 11am we hold a live audiocast online where 500 people can listen into the debate and interact with the editor.
It’s like a webinar but more interactive because the audience can pose questions live and those questions get filtered by the editor. They can dig deep into the performance of the fund manager that is speaking and where that fund manager might invest his money, what sort of assets he is investing in.
We are able to track who is coming in and listening, monitor the types of questions they are asking, we can have the speakers rated and then embed the content into the website and push the content out. The commercial model is very simple – the speakers pay to speak but the editor still controls the content. It’s a thought leadership-type ad. We are generating quite a significant amount of money through that one product.