In this interview, we discuss digital marketing and content strategies with Peter Houston, Editor at Large for TheMediaBriefing.com and Founder of Flipping Pages, a digital media consultancy for publishers.
First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you help publishers? Since you are based in the U.K., our customers in Europe may be familiar with you but not our customers in the U.S.
PH: TheMediaBriefing is about five years old now. The business started just as the name suggests, as a way of giving publishers quick information and analysis on where the market was going. We wanted to add in a layer of commentary and opinion, and that really came at the same time as the conference side of the business. Now, TheMediaBriefing keeps media executives up to date two ways. The first is a website and daily newsletter in which our reporters and contributors comment on the state of the media – where it’s going, what’s changing, what’s new, giving their opinions and analysis.
And then the other part of that is our conferences, particularly the Digital Media Strategies conferences, one in London, just last week, and the other in New York, I guess in September. The idea there is not just to talk about what’s going on, but get people together and let them talk to each other.
And then you are also the founder of Flipping Pages, it looks like it’s a consultancy for publishers to help them integrate their digital marketing strategies across platforms.
PH: Yeah. So, I started that ten years ago as a blog. I was working full time at that point, but I started the ‘Flipping Pages Blog’ blog just because I hated turning-page technology so much. At the time it was all Flash and turning-page was the only way, other than a website, it was the only way you could do digital publishing.
I could see massive potential for the technology, but I thought the implementation was just awful, so I started the blog basically to vent on what I didn’t like about it and to talk up I thought was good about it. And the blog did reasonably well and people got interested.
You help lots of publishers build their digital presence. What do you see are the typical downfalls in building integrated digital content and amplification strategies?
PH: I think the biggest downfall is the same in any business. It’s when people forget reality, the common sense. Or I guess they just forget the rules they already know.
So magazine publishing is particularly my interest, but in any kind of publishing, there’s some fundamental rules. I studied journalism in the States, way back in — I don’t know — 1992 or something and the professor taught me about the three-legged stool. The idea that any publishing business relies on content, readers, and revenue.
If you’ve got a stool that’s made up of those three legs, then you’re balanced and you pay attention to the balance. But if you don’t pay attention to one of those legs and if you’ve got crappy content, or if you don’t pay attention to your readers, or don’t focus on what your readers’ needs are, or you don’t make any money, then you’re screwed.
I don’t think that’s any different in digital than it was in print. People get confused by the technology – I think one of the biggest downfalls is just not remembering what it is we do for a living.
Following up on the downfalls, what are 3-4 best practices you recommend for your clients to build a robust digital audience?
PH: The best practice in any publishing organization has got to be to pay attention to those three legs of the stool. That’s the fundamentals. Whether it’s your content meeting your readers’ needs, whether it’s being careful with your readers and making sure to take care of them, or whether it’s chasing the revenue, those things are always important.
More and more the reliance on the development of a niche or a niche position is pretty important. There’s so much generic content out there, that the only way to really differentiate, to survive and be able to charge money for content and justify advertising revenue, is if you can really hold down an audience and serve them really well.
Consumer publishers have probably got quite a lot to learn from B2B publishers there. B2B publishers have always been really, really good at serving a niche. They’ve always been really good at figuring out what the audience really cares about. Consumer publishers, I think a lot of times, have just thrown stuff at the wall to see what would stick and I think they’re having to change that.
Part of that’s about branding. Part of that’s about content. The problem is just about identifying the audience and really focusing in.
Once you’ve got a niche, think really hard about your distribution. This is more important now than ever before because of the platforms that people can use. If you’re producing content and you stick it on a website, or if you’re producing content and it’s only in print, then you’re going to have a tough job. So it’s about social media. It’s about figuring out different formats, whether that’s audio, or video, whether that’s going on Instagram with images, or Pinterest, or whatever. You need to make sure your distribution strategy sits well with the audience, with your revenue and with your advertisers.
The last thing in terms of best practices is to have a business model for each of your different content formats.
One thing you said was to target the social media platforms. And combined with just the digital media trends that you’re seeing in 2017, how do you think the social media, the digital amplification strategies should change for publishers in 2017?
PH: I think the big one is that publishers can’t just worry about scale any more. Up until very recently, all people cared about was scale. We just finished this report on creating content strategies in Europe. And I think it was really interesting to see how some of the publishers were looking at social scale as a platform for developing subscription revenues. We saw a report not long ago about earnings from Facebook Instant Articles – the earnings are just not as good as people wanted them to be.
The notion that we should be able to make enough from advertising, or just from subscriptions, that we shouldn’t have to get involved in all this other stuff is not true anymore. The whole point of the social distribution is it’s a jumping-off point for a portfolio approach to revenue ideas.
TheMediaBriefing just published their State of the Media Industry for 2017. What are some digital media trends that you expect to see with digital content in 2017?
PH: The big one for me was email. When we ran the survey for the State of the Media report, email scored really quite low on the list of priorities. But if you look at all the issues that people are dealing with in the industry, email scores really, really high. Whether it’s 2017, whether it’s 2018, email will have this kind of resurgence and people will get much more serious about it.
Thank you so much for sharing just what you’ve seen in the industry and advice that you have to publishers to keep on track and build their audience and revenue. Are there any other last, or any other final words that you think that we haven’t covered that you would like to share?
PH: I think events are gonna get bigger. I think audio is gonna get bigger. Actually, ironically, if Facebook starts running audio or starts doing music, then they’ll probably go nuts with it. We’ve just done this paid-content report, so I think subscriptions are a big deal. And interestingly, I think people think about subscriptions as separate from advertising but I don’t think they have to be. If you get the advertising right and make it not intrusive in a subscriber environment, then your targeting is phenomenal.
Peter, thank you so much. This was a ton of information to take in and so helpful for our publishers who are deciding their content strategy for 2017.
Peter Houston is Editor-at-Large for TheMediaBriefing, a London-based conference producer and publisher of themediabriefing.com, a website covering developing media strategies. Peter is in charge of TheMediaBriefings’ content strategy; from helping set the focus for regular market analysis to building out our industry reports programme. He also owns Flipping Pages Media, providing consulting and training for media and marketing businesses making the transition from legacy print to multi-platform publishing.