In any media company, you have to do a lot of unfamiliar things these days: Conduct more in-house R&D, hire some young engineers and turn them loose, take courses, go to tech meetings, and develop strategic partnerships with technology firms. And reinvent yourself fast. I like to quote David Lloyd George, the English prime minister in the 1920s, who said, “The most dangerous thing in the world is to try to leap a chasm in two jumps.”
It was relatively easy for IDG because we’re an independent, private firm, and have been for 47 years. Many publishers and media companies were acquired by larger public companies or private equity firms. The financial groups got into media because it looked like a safe place to invest. Then the downturn came, and the business fundamentally changed and companies were burdened with this layer of financial obligation. Many have restructured since then, but their debt still constrains them.
Even at IDG, we had to let go of a lot of old practices. There’s danger in doing that, but also immense opportunity. Ironically, in letting go, a company becomes more capable.
S+B: For example?
CARRIGAN: We used to be very orderly with our magazine brands, with separate advertising rate bases and newsstand distribution for each title. But that’s not the way users experience media anymore. People consume media from so many different sources that you have to let go of the individual title as an organizing principle. We had to organize ourselves differently, removing internal barriers. An editor or publisher might now work on a project that serves several different titles at once, or where most of the content is coming from places besides IDG.
Another major example of letting go for us was the rise of online ad exchanges and real-time bidding technology [an automated way of managing online advertising transactions]. This came from outside the publishing industry, but rather than seeing it as a threat, we partnered with one of those firms, learned about the technology, and then created our own startup ad network, the IDG TechNetwork. Now we’re a category leader in this field ourselves, directly connected to our traditional reader base.
We also had to let go of the way we qualified our customers’ names for controlled circulation [in which specialized audiences receive sponsored publications free of charge, and the magazine must certify that recipients fit the criteria]. We have a much wider purchase funnel now: We draw in potential users from social media, Twitter, search, online conversations, the mobile Internet, and content syndication with different media companies. Most of those people leave without registering, but a percentage of them download an app, subscribe to an e-newsletter, read a white paper, or sign up for one of our more than 750 events each year. Or they may even subscribe to a print magazine. With each new step, they move further down the marketing funnel as qualified leads. We spend a lot less effort qualifying them, but ironically, they are much better as sales prospects for IDG’s marketing clients, because they have taken all these steps to receive information or attend an event.
S+B: They’ve qualified themselves.
CARRIGAN: That’s exactly right. We don’t even use the term controlled circulation when talking about this kind of online lead generation, because it works so differently from the old form of qualifying people in print. For example, once you’re qualified with one IDG title online, you’re qualified with all of them. If you registered with Network World and then go to Computerworld, we recognize you. We’ll say, in effect, “How are you doing?” and send you relevant material and offers.