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Delegates at this year's Publishing & Media Expo in London

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Summary:Delegates at this year's Publishing & Media Expo in London embraced data as the new revenue stream for publishers, while clearly identifying video as the key communication tool for targetting the young generation of digital consumers.
Delegates at this year's Publishing & Media Expo in London embraced data as the new revenue stream for publishers, while clearly identifying video as the key communication tool for targetting the young generation of digital consumers.

Print is no longer any media brand's primary activity was the overriding message from this year's Publishing & Media Expo in London. A publishing company's focus, it seems, now has to be marketing and promotion. This is very much the core competency that publishers need to embrace if they are to be assured of a long-term future.

In line with the rapidly changing priorities within the sector, UBM, the show's organiser, had relied, more than ever, on market feedback when it came to planning this year's event. In a bid to directly address the most compelling challenges facing media owners, it asked a number of the sector's leading figures to identify the key issues of the day. The fact that show's agenda had been defined by the industry itself was a powerful argument for attending. That's not to say that, in terms of focus, a number of concessions weren't made to those exhibitors paying handsomely for their stands at London's Olympia.

The world of publishing, of course, continues to evolve and, this year, the show aimed to feature both the new and more innovative approaches, while also maintaining a focus on the conventional platforms – including direct marketing, colour printers, mobile and digital solutions. In total, more than 100 specialist suppliers were displaying their wares at the show, accounting for roughly a third of the total floor space.

One of the new features of this year's Expo was its 'By Invitation Only' programme. This was the centrepiece of UBM's strategy of attracting an increased number of senior figures from the publishing industry, rather than just the digital and marketing contingent that has dominated previous events.

The inclusion of management figures from many leading media organisations, including The Economist, Dennis Publishing and the Telegraph, clearly helped fill the 2,000 seats of the Keynote Theatre. This year the seminar programme had been expanded into 40 individual sessions, covering topics as diverse as audience and data, production and design, and digital and multi-publishing.

One particularly frank presentation, courtesy of John Barnes, current Chairman of the AOP (Association of Online Publishers) and the Managing Director of Incisive Media (a UK-based B2B publisher, with considerable interests in Asia) drew a sell-out audience. His presentation addressed the need for publishers to focus their attentions on sustainable digital revenues.

Online advertising, he said, had moved on from simply being a banner ad in 1995, it had evolved through the dot.com boom and bust years, and had now entered a new period of consolidation. With significant online revenue likely, he predicted a new generation of digital millionaires.

Citing the experience of own company, he said its digital revenues had now overtaken its print revenues. He also acknowledged that the trend was now accelerating far faster than even they had ever envisaged.

Following many years of industry pundits predicting: "This will be the year of mobile" (a staple dating back at least 10 years, according to Barnes), he believes that time has now truly arrived. Over 90% of media engagement is now screen-based he said, leaving Incisive Media and other publishers facing a new reality where print now engages less than 10% of their target readers.

Addressing the issue, he said: "Substantial investment is required by those publishers keen to establish marketing and promotion as their core business. In particular, maximum revenues can only be secured by those companies willing to spend on properly mining their data. Data is the key.

"Knowing your readers – who and where they are, when they engage and how they engage and ultimately why they engage is paramount. Discovering the answers to these questions, will enable media companies to radically restructure their offer and drill down – more profitably – into their readership than they ever dreamt of just a few years ago."

Barnes's key theme was echoed by many of the other speakers and exhibitors at the event. Perhaps predictably, this was particularly true of the many data companies who had a presence throughout the Expo.

Overall, the abiding message was that media owners need to establish a new level of affinity with – and understanding of – their target audience. By understanding exactly who their readers are and how they engage, publishers can then tailor their communications appropriately, configuring them to both target devices and individual preferences.

Taking this to the ultimate iteration, Perry Malm, an Account Director with Adestra, an Oxford-based digital marketing consultancy, said: "The clear goals are multi-device and multi-channel attribution, together with a more loyal and engaged customer."

David Woolenberg, Senior Vice President of Global Sales for Digital Commerce at Digital River, a US-based e-commerce consultancy, went further. He said: "Size is not everything. Large audiences are less valuable than custom audiences, which typically command a higher value, particularly where that niche is centred on hard-to-reach and affluent sectors."

Addressing suggestions that this has always been the case, Ian Eckert, Managing Director of Abacus e-Media, a London-based web development agency, emphasised that things were now very different. He said: "Big data sits underneath – and underpins – the more sophisticated engagement that publishers now have with their customers, enabling them to activate entirely new sources of revenue."

Drilling down still further, Johanie Marcoux, Director of Content at PressReader, a Canadian digital newspaper distributor, said: "Rich-media [interactive] is opening up new worlds of opportunity. Advertisers can today reach out and market their goods in ways that their predecessors could never have conceived of.

"The days of the old adage about knowing that half of your marketing budget works, but not knowing which half, have long gone. Today's advertisers are an increasingly savvy crew – particularly e-commerce operators – who can identify the specific channels that yield response to a fraction of a decimal point.

"While major brands still value the broader benefits of corporate advertising, the ones that are now increasingly making the real money are the e-commerce operators. For all but the very largest, the traditional advertising model is now fundamentally broken."

Aside from the long-predicted death of conventional advertising, the growing importance of video as part of the publishing mix was another recurring theme at the Expo. Having had years of 'mobile is coming', the fact that the future now clearly belongs to video was a view that many of the exhibitors and speakers were very keen to convey.

As platforms change and mobile begins to account for the majority of screen-based connections, content providers are quickly adapting to this changing landscape. This has seen many of them developing entirely new offerings, in many cases offerings that are quite distinct from their previous output. In line with this, the growth of video and rich media consumption is actually providing substantial new opportunities for publishers.

This has seen a new generation of publishers emerge – entrepreneurial individuals who understand that their core responsibility is not producing good content, but rather selling that content. With these video-savvy, rich-media literate publishers on the rise, many believe it is now broadcasters who need to up their game.

National and international broadcasters are no longer the sole providers of video and live content. YouTube, Netflix and other niche operators have laid down a clear challenge to traditional broadcasters. For many at the Expo, the time is now right for publishers to get in on the act. Indeed, some clearly believed that publishers might have a deeper and more intimate engagement with their 'readers' than broadcasters do with their 'viewers'.

Once clear consequence of this heightened engagement is increased trust. In the digital age, people need to trust more than ever before. The plethora of online "sources" available has seen consumers keen to identify and buy into reliable and responsible digital brands.

In this regard, publishers are seen as having a distinct "in" with people in their twenties and above. The challenge now is to extend that trust to a younger demographic – tomorrow's adults. With the role of broadcaster and publisher becoming blurred and – potentially – ultimately disappearing, there is the likelihood of niche content providers emerging who will capture the attention of the younger generation. In order to counter this, publishers will have to be atypically flexible.

Providing a distinct call to action, Luke Bilton, Head of Content at UBM, said: "Be open to change. Segmenting and understanding your audience is what counts, whatever their age or profile.

"Content, more than ever in the digital age, is being framed, shaped, informed and directed by customer insight. Those publishers who invest time and money in getting to know what makes their customers tick – and find out just when they tick – can expect longer lasting and deeper revenue streams."
Publishing & Media Expo 2014 took place at London's Earls Court Exhibition Centre from 25-26 February 2014. The show ran concurrently with Technology for Marketing & Advertising, the Online Advertising & Affiliate Expo and the International Direct Marketing Expo. The four shows collectively offered the 11,000-plus delegates the chance to quiz more than 300 specialist suppliers from the worlds of publishing, advertising and marketing.

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