This article originally appeared as a two part series for Folio Magazine’s new Web site launch.
For many, the New Year is about new beginnings, but if you’re running a media business, it’s about solving the problem of how to build upon what’s already in place. For us, it’s a time for budgeting and planning for growth – financial, audience, traffic and engagement – as well as setting fresh expectations for the team.
For me, it’s also a time of worry. What are the major risk factors affecting my business? What opportunities do I not want to overlook?
The media industry in 2015 continues to be in a state of rapid change and evolution. Media consumption behaviors continue to shift from print to online to mobile. As a digital-only B2B media company, we’re lucky enough to be in the right place, but there are plenty of meaty challenges to grapple with. Here’s what’s keeping me up at night as we kick off 2015 and how we’re approaching each challenge.
1. Responding to nontraditional competitors and programmatic buying
As publishers, our competitive landscape has rapidly expanded over the past 10 years. From Google to Facebook to SEO and beyond, advertisers have more options than ever for investing their marketing dollars. Plus, more companies are adopting the “brand as publisher” mentality, investing in improved capabilities for in-house content creation, web design, and marketing automation – limiting their reliance on agencies and publishers alike.
Additionally, programmatic buying is becoming more prevalent in digital media, accounting for $10 billion in US display ad spend in 2014; it’s projected to account for 50 percent of spend by 2017 according to eMarketer. This trend presents a major threat to advertising spend for publishers and requires us to consider to what degree we should participate.
At Praetorian, we’re exploring DMPs and DSPs, and investing in our audience segmentation and demographic data capabilities so we can maximize monetization of unsold inventory, but also so we can be smarter and better engage larger advertisers directly with premium inventory. More broadly, we’re assessing how we, as a publisher, can better compete, and how we expand our product line and rev our value proposition to capture a growing share of spend in light of what promises to be an increasingly competitive media environment moving forward.
2. Adjusting to an increasingly mobile audience
Every publisher is grappling with how best to capitalize on the growth in mobile traffic, as well as mitigate the negative impact on ad revenue. In a given month, more than 50 percent of our traffic might come from mobile. That number seems likely to grow in 2015.
Addressing the mobile trend isn’t as simple as blowing up your site and converting it to a responsive WordPress-style blog. We’ve seen publishers react hastily and overhaul their sites abruptly, introducing a dramatically different user and advertiser experience. This has, in some cases, led to significant traffic drops and audience erosion.
Our approach has been more measured. We’ve been careful with our redesigns, striving to make necessary upgrades while preserving a familiar user experience and avoid negatively impacting desktop use cases such as product research that are often most valuable to our advertisers. It’s an iterative approach that has been more gradual, but has allowed us to monitor impact from smaller changes and collect user feedback. Early returns have been positive, and 2015 will be a year of continued analysis and experimentation.
Solving the mobile problem carries with it significant rewards, but it’s a delicate balancing act to optimize for one user experience without negatively impacting others.
3. Growing recurring revenue
There’s nothing worse than coming off of a strong year of revenue growth and having to start the New Year at zero, re-pitching last year’s clients and trying not just to match but exceed last year’s performance.
In publishing, one-time revenue and annual planning are a reality we all face, but as publishers, how can we move our advertisers towards recurring programs that deliver consistent results and renew automatically? What data, technology or subscription products can we offer our advertisers or our audience that leverage our content capabilities and industry expertise to address pain points or unmet needs?
For me, it means always looking for and being open to ways – whether via acquisitions or in-house projects – to expand the scope of our business model. We actively track our percentage of revenue that is recurring and are constantly investing in developing that segment, from enhancing our current advertising products and developing premium user subscriptions to launching new businesses, such as online training and grant assistance for vendors.
4. Bracing for Facebook changes
There is a state of general unease among publishers around Facebook’s changes of the past year. It’s no secret that Facebook is more tightly restricting organic distribution of posts, and pushing page operators to supplement with paid promotion.
The impact of reduced organic reach has been felt more squarely by marketers thus far, but there’s apprehension about whether the changes will start to impact publishers more meaningfully. For us, Facebook is a key organic referrer of traffic to our sites, as well as an important channel for promotion of various initiatives.
As a result, we’ve implemented tight controls over page operations and content to stay on the right side of policy changes, like the recent announcement about the limiting of “promotional” posts in users’ news feeds. We’ve expanded and closely evaluated our paid Facebook advertising program, supplementing organic results and gauging what a further expanded program would cost. We’re also continuing to invest in bolstering our alternative channels, from email to other social media.
5. Better leveraging editorial expertise
Like many publishers, one of our core competencies is our ability to create high-quality editorial content. But as we’ve expanded our business model beyond media and into other products and services, we haven’t always maximized the established skills and processes of our editorial team to guide content creation and product development. Fundamentally, the principles that drive good content creation are universal regardless of the format – whether articles, videos, custom content or online training courses.
However, it’s too easy for content creation to happen in silos and to miss opportunities to leverage our editors’ skills and established processes to improve content quality and limit duplication of effort. One of our goals in 2015 is to tear down the walls between our content-producing teams and improve cross-functional collaboration. Similar to the challenge many publishers faced getting print journalists to adapt to digital, we’re trying to effect a shift in mindset and encourage a broader understanding of digital content and the expanding opportunities to monetize it.
6. Motivating my team and creating a growth mindset
A successful year – like many of us had in 2014 – inevitably requires a lot of team energy and focus, which often can lead to a flat start to the following year. To maintain momentum as we start the New Year, it’s critical to gauge the mindset of the team and find ways to maintain and grow that reservoir of energy and excitement.
I ask myself a series of questions. Is my team reinvigorated or are they tired coming off of a year when we stretched to grow the business almost 20 percent? Are they aligned with objectives for 2015? Do they have their sales targets and are they tracking to hit January numbers? Does the company have a distinct and evolved mission for the year, and has that been messaged effectively to all teams? Is there a growth mindset in place?
It is increasingly important to keep employees engaged, growing professionally and motivated to thrive, so it’s critical to come out of the gate fast, build off of the prior year’s success and use the New Year to reset expectations. We conduct a companywide kick off during the first two weeks of the year to announce a company growth target and make sure everyone has their sales targets and goals as soon as possible. We’ve also had success with an annual “company challenge” that identifies a year-end target metric for each team and motivates them to work both individually and collectively to hit it, with a set of prizes at year end if those goals are met or exceeded.
Ultimately, worries are part of the game in the rapidly evolving landscape of digital media. But addressed properly, they can be the fuel to propel improvement in key areas – particularly if you approach each New Year with eyes wide open, ask hard questions and anticipate what challenges and opportunities the year is likely to present.