The integration game

Contract publishing’s future lies in the fusion of magazines and online opportunities, to create a package that enables two-way communication with established and new customers

Six months ago, the contract publishing sector was buzzing with the possibilities and prospects that the Internet would provide. Publishers were talking about exciting, but secret, projects with clients that would see the integration of magazines and online projects.

The talk was of customer communities linked into magazines and online sites which would push forward the levels of customer care and contact. It was not only the possibilities of e-commerce; it was also the increased levels and quality of communication that clients could have with their customer base.

Everyone said “talk to us in six months’ and we’ll be able to tell you all”. And so we have. And with the exception of one or two, the word on the street about integration is “talk to us in six months’ time”.

Many of the so-called integrated projects are still secret, prompting some to say they don’t exist at all. Those projects which do involve the development of websites, and can be talked about, can’t really be held up as examples of the kind of integration that was being dreamed of six months ago.

Having said that, it is probably not contract publishers that are at fault. Publishers certainly have the skills – content provision being the main one – the technology and the will to push customer communication as far as it will go. Clients, on the other hand, unless they are in the business of new media, tend not to know exactly what they want – that is, not yet.

But, more to the point, maybe integration is something that is neither desired nor possible. What contract publishers were, and still are, excited about, is that the Internet provides them with the opportunity to expand into new territory through their ability to provide good quality content.

The more clients who scout around for the right website consultants, the more they realise that contract publishers are the only group that can provide them with the most important element of any site – content. Whether or not this is linked to a print publication is not relevant.

It is what chairman of TPD Julian Treasure calls being media neutral. “I don’t care what media are thrown at us. We understand customers, have the communications team and provide the content.”

Within the contract publishing sector, Treasure stands out as one who has embraced the possibilities of technology and the Internet. Diplomatically, in the industry he is known as an “early adopter”; otherwise he is known as “techno mad”.

TPD has, since 1994, been flying the new media flag and probably as a result has gathered around it most of the clients that are seriously into new technology. One example of this is ONdigital, for whom TPD has been producing its TV guide since late 1998. It later picked up the ONdigital website business, and has now been appointed to provide the content for ONnet.

ONnet enables ONdigital customers who have the relevant box plugged into the back of their TV set and phone line access to the Web via their TV.

TDP ONdigital account director Toby Smeeton says: “TPD is responsible for creating the unique content for the ONnet portal. We generate the original content; we manage the content process; and we manage the third-party relationships.” These third-party relationships are the commercial deals ONnet has signed up to in order to provide offers to ONnet users.

Smeeton says: “This is not about magazines, portals or websites – it’s about providing great content.”

The ONnet deal is a good one for TPD, particularly as listing magazines for digital TV companies are obsolescent.

It is for this reason that BSkyB completely revamped its magazine, published by Redwood. BSkyB customer marketing director Ian Shepherd says: “Sky’s rationale for having a customer magazine has changed over the past 12 months. It was persuaded in the early days to publish listings because that was the only way to do it. Since it went digital, that need has gone away. It is impractical to have listings for hundreds of channels when there are other ways of finding out what is going on – namely on-screen.”

But the magazine Skyview, now renamed Sky, has a customer base of 4.5 million with whom BSkyB wouldn’t want to lose touch. For BSkyB this is where the integration came in – making the magazine a core part of a customer relationship strategy. Shepherd says: “In the digital future, if you want to keep the churn rate low, you must stop customers getting to the point of leaving.”

BSkyB was happy with the service it provided; what it needed to do was build an emotional link with its customers. The magazine was relaunched in May. It is no longer a listing magazine but contains more news and interviews connected with programming. The critical element, however, is the introduction of a rewards scheme; these are offers themed around Sky programmes. So, for example, if National Geographic does a programme about sharks, Sky offers readers an opportunity to win a holiday swimming with sharks.

According to Shepherd, this scheme has led to more than 1.3 million entries to the scheme in the first six months of its launch. Entry to schemes can be done either through the magazine or through Open, the interactive service on Sky Digital. Clearly, the increased data picked up from this reward scheme contributes to BSkyB’s knowledge of its customer base.

At Citrus Publishing, 16 out of its 18 clients are now involved in online work. Whether or not these are examples of true integration, communications planning director Julian Downing says the magazines do drive traffic to the sites.

Commercial potential

Apart from creating increased revenue for publishers, online publishing, if done well, has enormous commercial potential for clients. Citrus has developed a website – Pethealthcare.co.uk – for Royal & Sun Alliance for whom Citrus also publishes a magazine. The 500-page site is guaranteed plenty of hits because of the subject matter, but it also offers pet insurance policies through Royal & Sun Alliance. According to Downing, the site was shifting policies even during the initial testing phase.

This site is clearly an example of how the Internet can expand the horizons of both contract publishers and their clients. But is it an example of integration? Downing says the Royal & Sun Alliance magazine drives people to the site – but the site undoubtedly exists in its own right, as does the magazine.

However, Citrus is developing a system whereby readers of the magazine will be recognised as such when they go to the site.

Undoubtedly, more publishers are gearing themselves up for the new media age. Citrus has long run a seamless operation between new media and magazines. So the editor of Royal & Sun Alliance edits the magazine and the website. Premier Media Partners, which recently picked up the Sony work, is also restructuring in order to do away with a new media division and have the work integrated throughout the whole company.

At the end of the day, the level of integration that publishers aim for will always depend on the clients. On the one hand, publisher Mediamark claims that every new piece of business it picks up includes a magazine and a website; on the other, business development director at John Brown Publishing Andrew Hirsch is largely underwhelmed by new media and maintains that John Brown is good at producing high-quality magazines and not websites.

New media boost

TPD’s Treasure is right when he says that contract publishers have been given an enormous boost through interactive media to do what they already do, but to do it better. “The word publishing is no longer appropriate in this sector. We are all in the business of establishing a two-way communication on a personal level with our clients’ customers.”

Despite his love of technology and the Internet, Treasure does not believe that interactive abilities will spell the demise of magazines, saying: “I believe the paperless society will be here at the same time as paperless toilets.”

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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