IDG Communications faced the print media crisis almost a decade before it hit other publishers. Because we are a technology media company, our print advertising peaked in 1999, at the end of the Internet bubble, when the shakeout among tech companies took many of our advertisers with it. At that point, we became a Web-centric media company, organizing our business around sales driven by online content. Our full embrace of the Web involved both our business-to- business (B2B) titles such as CIO and consumer properties such as GamePro and PC World. Print publication became part of our overall strategy. We now publish in 92 countries, with 450 Web sites and 300 print magazines linked to those Web sites, and produce about 750 events per year.
The best example of IDG’s transformation is our lead generation program, which on many of our B2B Web sites in the U.S. brings in nearly half of our digital revenue. As we began to move content to the Web, we saw that our audiences of professionals considering purchases of highly sophisticated technologies appreciated targeted content. They wanted to talk to vendors and learn what other users had done, and they were willing to give us a great deal of information about themselves in exchange. So we put together editorial compilations — material that either had appeared in our magazines or was freshly created — that fit into specific subject areas, such as mobile technology, and created a storefront to try to sell these to readers. At first, we charged as much as US$195 for each compilation, but it wasn’t long before a sponsor approached us with the idea of giving away these packages in exchange for qualified leads.
This gave us a fantastic opportunity to introduce sponsors to readers via content. And it has become a very substantial business for us. Because the readers are highly motivated and have told us they want to receive information about particular product categories, they are ideal as leads for sales generation programs — field marketing, promotions, and loyalty campaigns. This in turn allows us to tap additional sales and marketing budgets instead of just relying on mainstream advertising budgets. We now have a database of about 5 million registered users that either control purchasing decisions directly or influence the buy available for this kind of highly targeted marketing. Over time, we have expanded the ways we attract these readers: from editorial compilations to robust white-paper libraries to Webcast programs and virtual events — anything with a registration component. We’ve also developed custom content for marketers building out their own digital media, developing lead generation campaigns that combine the best of our respective content and media assets to inspire action from their target audience.
We incorporate database tools that help us watch the behavior of registered members of our communities over time, to ensure that the leads we provide are highly qualified. We sell them on a cost-per-lead basis to the sponsor, which then hands them to salespeople who try to turn that lead into a sale. The reason this lead generation program has worked so well is that it’s an excellent exchange: By filtering that kind of information to professionals and consumers, we offer them a very valuable service. And sponsors love it because they gain a one-to-one relationship with a highly valued lead.
More recently, we have developed a social media business called IDG Amplify, which is essentially a way for sponsors to create hosted conversations — for example, a poll on their site that says, “Do you wish you could run more than two apps on your phone at the same time?” The answers to these questions get posted on Facebook or on Twitter or on one of IDG’s magazine sites, such as Macworld.com. Such polls open up conversations among registered users, who can then share information on the topic with one another — all the while promoting the sponsor. We have also launched a vertical advertising network through which we place ads on third-party sites that we have vetted. This enables marketers who work with us to target about 150 sites with 40 million unique visitors, and we can extend our lead generation programs to these sites as well.
The quality of the content we produce is, of course, critical to making sure that readers are motivated to link up with sponsors. But we also gain an increasingly sophisticated handle on the key topics and trends that drive audience engagement, because the analytics on our sites constantly tell us what users are reading the most. That’s the wonderful thing about the Web. Unlike print, you don’t have to guess what works. You can see where readers are spending time, and what they are looking for. Then you can fill that need.