What B2B Can Learn from the Zell Saga
Those are the two polarized reactions I always get when I broach the subject of the diminutive bedeviled one from Chicagoland to my journo friends. Well actually, truth be told, the consensus is about 99.9% weighted with the former opinion rather than the latter.
I had the fortune – or misfortune many would say – to cover Zell’s media foray in my recent book Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks, which was published by Penguin USA’s Portfolio imprint in December 2009. Instead of a slam job on Zell, I purposely took a more balanced approach to the biography, recounting his days as a real estate mogul and addressing the successes and failures of his 40-year business career.
Darker Tone. The task was made all the more complex when he put his Tribune Co., one of America’s most respected media organizations (and owner of revered newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times), into Chapter 11 bankruptcy only weeks before my manuscript was due. Suddenly the book took on a different tone.
As with so many business people, Zell thought he knew media. After all, it was just another industry to conquer. And to a certain extent, he’s right, it is a business. But it is also known as the “Fourth Estate” for a reason, and as the proud holder of a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and someone who has worked all sides of the media landscape over the past 25+ years, I understand the personalities and complexities of this often insular environment.
One of the undeniable facts about the B2B world is that, like Tribune, most of today’s B2B businesses are saddled with debt. Many have also gone through so-called “pre-packaged” bankruptcies and come out with tidier balance sheets, though still debt laden. New and savvier management teams are now in place.
More Work, Less Pay. Cost cutting had been the order of the day, and as ad sales continue to limp along, just as in the world of daily newspapers, reinvesting in media properties is challenged. Raise your hand if you know someone in B2B publishing, or media in general for that matter, who is doing more work for less pay than two years ago. I thought so.
However, one might legitimately argue that Zell could have fared much better in a B2B world. Thanks to B2B’s built-in connection to loyal niche audiences, he probably would have avoided the constant questioning of journalists’ “worth.”
Instead, he javelined himself smack into a brick wall. Newspaper journalists, in particular, were and still are loathe to introspection and perhaps most of all, change, especially when it is driven by billionaire investor types. Zell’s newly installed cast of merry characters – excuse me, managers – at Tribune were colorful to say the least, but they were also viewed as outsiders, people who didn’t “understand” or “get” the media world.
Hate him or hate him, Zell was just named as the 60th richest American by Forbes magazine. So from a wealth standpoint, he’s obviously right more often than he is wrong when it comes to his business acumen. But he also took down one of America’s great media brands, throwing it into bankruptcy after less than a year of ownership.
Hard Lessons. Obviously, judging the economics of the newspaper business is a dicey gambit. At least Zell is right when he believes that media in general have to change the way they do business. No longer can we all afford to think of ourselves as insulated from the realities of simple economics. That has been an especially hard lesson to learn in the recent financial crisis, as we’ve seen so many of our brethren thrust out of work and cherished titles shuttered.
The situation has spawned something else though – a spirit of much needed re-invention. For example, the web has become not only a much more important part of our own lives, but also the lives of our customers. That has built-in B2B advantages written all over it.
Zell believed that print would never die, but it would have to morph and change in lockstep with the viewing habits of its customers or it would indeed go the way of the Dodo.
At least that’s one point where he got it absolutely right.
By Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson is publisher of The CPA Technology Advisor, a B2B property serving the nation’s public accountants. He has more than 25 years of experience in communications and marketing, including several stints as editor and publisher for a variety of B2B media. Most recently he ran the custom publishing division at American Airlines.
3 Ways to Make Outside Contributors Shine
Whether the author is a company executive with high-level knowledge or a field professional with a firsthand understanding of the issues that keep our readers up at night, contributed content is the lifeblood of any b-to-b brand. But as essential as outside contributors are, they can present their share of challenges, as well.
Outside contributors have knowledge we can’t possibly possess about the industries we cover – but they also lack an understanding of the ins and outs of a newsroom. As journalists, we can’t expect contributors to know exactly what we do any more than we know exactly what they do. We do, however, have a responsibility to them and to our readers.
Here, then, are three best practices for working with outside contributors.
1. Be as clear as possible with expectations up front. We have a thorough document outlining the submission guidelines for our particular publication, which includes a mission statement, readership, deadlines, and pointers on style and voice. But outside contributors are busy with their day jobs, and while it’s ideal that they review and follow our three-page submission guidelines, it helps to cut to the chase. For us, the most important aspects of any contributed content are that it be nonpromotional and discuss the “how” just as much as the “what and why.” I make sure to emphasize that in the email where I accept the pitch, and attach the submission guidelines for their review.
2. Fact check, fact check, fact check. Never assume that your author has the facts straight just because of who they are. Cross-check every number, date, name, and fact. While you’re at it, run a plagiarism check. Often, plagiarism from an outside contributor isn’t a purposeful attempt at deception as much as it is a lack of understanding about what is and isn’t OK to quote at length. Recently, while fact-checking some figures in a story, I ran a block of text through Google to try to find a particular news story cited in the contributed article. That block of text came back – as having been pulled directly from a U.S. Patent application, along with about 600 additional words that appeared in the contributed story. It always pays to check – and check again.
3. Be flexible. Industry experts have so much to offer, so don’t stop at “no” after asking for a 1,500 word how-to article. If they’re too busy, find out if you can contact them later in the year, when the topic may come up again. Look at other formats – maybe they don’t have time to run an article, but they have 15 minutes for a phone call that will result in an informative Q&A. Maybe they can write a brief blog post. Be creative, and look for ways to leverage their knowledge in your publication.
When handled well, an outside contributor can be a rich source of content for your publication over time. They can offer referrals to other contributors, and keep you informed on industry angles you might not pick up in the midst of your own day-to-day tasks. Extra time spent with a contributor on the front end can pay off handsomely in time saved in the long run.
What about your own best practices? What have you found has helped you work better with industry contributors and get the content you need? Share them here in your comments.
By Christina Pellett
Christina Pellett is the editor of the Agent's Sales Journal, a business-to-business publication for life and health insurance agents. Follow her on Twitter at @cpellett.
Free ASBPE-Led Web Video Editing Seminar
A Step-by-Step Walk-Through for B2B Editors
WHEN: Wed., Sept. 29, 2010, 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. (Coffee, juice and pastries provided.)
WHERE: First Third Bldg., 600 Superior Blvd., Cleveland: 1st Floor Conference Room.
Readers of business publications are increasingly demanding Web video from publishers as those publishers design ever-more-sophisticated online presentations to complement their traditional print coverage. Yet a superior translation of material to an online video format isnt easy.
For one thing, not all subjects are appropriate for Web video treatment. For another, even if an in-house Web video is a good approach, getting up to speed to produce it requires investments in time, staff energy, and start-up costs — although perhaps not as much as commonly thought.
Veteran B2B editors, with storytelling skills already honed in print media, though, now are finding ways to extend their editorial skills into video editing without unreasonable penalties. It takes patience, and a willingness to experiment and make mistakes, and the experiences of those who have successfully gone before can be a big help.
In this half-day workshop, REALTOR magazine Senior Editor Robert Freedman will host a discussion of the types of coverage that lends itself to Web video, will demonstrate camera and staging basics, and will provide a detailed walk-through of the technical aspects of video production. Hell concentrate on these editing basics:
- Transferring video from your camera to the editing platform
- Editing video to create a sequence
- Adding transitions
- Underscoring with music
- Providing voiceovers
- Enhancing badly shot or lighted footage
- Exporting to a playable file
- Uploading to hosting sites
9-9:45 a.m. When to use Web video: an editorial discussion
10-10:30 a.m. Camera and staging basics
10:45-12:15 Editing basics
About the Seminar Leader: Robert Freedman is a 25-year veteran B2B editor who today produces more than 40 Web videos a year for REALTOR magazine (circulation 1.2 million). In the editing portion of the workshop, Freedman will provide a step-by-step demonstration using the industry standard video editing software, Final Cut Express for Mac. Suggestions for other editing platforms, including for PCs, will be included.
Sponsor: The ASBPE (American Society of Business Publication Editors) Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization. Penton and Questex were selected as webinar recipients in fulfillment of an incentive pledge connected with last November's ASBPE-Northwestern Medill School Survey on Digital Skills & Strategies. It will be available for free download on the ASBPE.org website.
How to Register: Contact Vicki Burt, Cleveland ASBPE Chapter President, at email@example.com or at 216-706-3743; fax 216-706-3711.
LinkedIn Groups Help Blog Posts Soar
I couldn’t have done it without LinkedIn Groups, the interest and affinity groups that you can join on the popular networking site. I shared my CFA credential post on three CFA-related LinkedIn Groups, where it generated conversations and clicks.
Here are the lessons I learned:
1. Sharing your blog posts on LinkedIn Groups can boost visits to your blog. Four hundred “shares” is above-average traffic for my blog.
2. A blog post targeted to hot spots of a few LinkedIn Groups can generate more traffic than a less-targeted post shared with many LinkedIn Groups. My popular post addressed ethics and fiduciary duty – topics that CFA charterholders care a lot about. I suspect that I couldn’t have generated another 400 “shares” by distributing my post to the rest of my 47 LinkedIn Groups.
3. You may wonder how to pick LinkedIn groups for sharing. Don't share every blog post you write in every one of your groups. If you blog frequently, you'll alienate group members who'll tag you as a relentless self-promoter. Instead, focus on sharing into groups with members likely to be interested in your topic.
4. Another tip: Solicit feedback from members of the group on your post. Asking “Do you agree?” and then responding to comments shows that you're not posting purely to generate page views. Plus, you may learn something from your exchange.
If LinkedIn Groups have generated good results for you, I’d enjoy hearing your success story.
Susan B. Weiner, CFA, leads a highly praised teleclass, “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Teleclass for Financial Advisors.” She writes and edits articles, white papers, investment commentary, web pages, and other communications for leading investment and wealth management firms as well as financial trade publications.
20-Factor Test Shows How Well You Fulfill B2B Editing's Key Mission
What is the key mission of today’s B2B editors? Obviously, the current emphasis on digital editing expertise is overwhelming. We are caught up in the excitement of delivering content to our readership in a host of new formats. And the web has facilitated our ability to be timely, as evidenced by our reliance on social media potential and increased frequency of e-newsletter delivery.
But in the course of putting finishing touches on an ASBPE editorial performance webinar presentation, I became aware of a consistent cautionary note expressed by my sources. That is … we are doing a great job quantitatively; however, this achievement is dimmed by an accompanying qualitative shortfall.
In fact, several editors have expressed this concern during the past year. There’s not enough time to engage in thorough research. Squeezed travel budgets have put a damper on our ability to expand our industry knowledge via productive field trips. There’s no time to adequately train new recruits so that they become star performers quickly.
All this mulling reminded me of a workshop I conducted periodically for new editors who joined the B2B organization where I spent 13 of my 21 years as editorial VP. The session – “Becoming Someone in Your Industry” – used a 15-factor self-scoring profile to emphasize techniques designed to enhance one’s authoritative visibility within the industry served.
The original profile was totally focused on print. I’ve updated it slightly to reflect digital considerations and invite you to check out your current performance in terms of delivering top-quality content while simultaneously maintaining high personal visibility. I’ve increased the number of factors considered from 15 to 20. Rate yourself on a Yes/No basis. Award five points for every Yes, zero points for every No. If you have a “No” overload, consider how you might turn each negative into a positive.
‘BECOMING SOMEONE …’ SELF-SCORING EDITORIAL PROFILE
Field trips include reader visits rather than just show coverage. SCORE: _____
I write a feature article in every issue. SCORE: _____
I write at least one high-enterprise e-news article per week. SCORE: _____
I am conversant with every new industry trend. SCORE: _____
My blogs reflect insider commentary rather than just blurb thinking. SCORE: _____
Whenever possible, my blog is presented in video format. SCORE: _____
I respond regularly to important blogs posted by industry experts. SCORE: _____
I have no problem writing a statistically-oriented article. SCORE: _____
I generate a constant stream of personalized correspondence. SCORE: _____
It’s not all e-mail; I keep in touch with key players via phone. SCORE: _____
I have no problem making a speech and am in demand as a speaker. SCORE: _____
I get involved in association affairs and volunteer for committees. SCORE: _____
I constantly suggest publicity angles to our promotion department. SCORE: _____
I wield a mighty tennis racket, golf club for whatever else it takes. SCORE: _____
I know my reporting is 100% accurate. SCORE: _____
I regularly exchange business cards with important show attendees. SCORE: _____
I keep abreast of what other departments do. SCORE: _____
I read competitive magazines constantly. SCORE: _____
I always match strengths/weaknesses of our e-news vs. competitors. SCORE: _____
I look like “someone” when I go into the field. SCORE: _____
How did you make out? As a scoring yardstick, you need at least 80 points to be considered an effective mission-sensitive person.
As an aside, I am a big believer in the value of self-scoring profiles. During my VP/editorial stint, other profiles used involved complaint-handling, personnel management, feature writing, trade show coverage, and editorial marketing. I will be making references to these other useful training tools in upcoming Twitter posts. Keep in touch via www.twitter.com/editorialtype.
Chicago ASBPE Chapter to Host Career Improvement Workshop October 1
Marketing Yourself (The Editor/Journalist as Entrepreneur)
Learn how to market yourself as a journalist during this full-day session featuring speakers who have built themselves into their own brands. Whether you are a staff writer/editor or freelancer, employed or unemployed, you are welcome to join us for a day of practical sessions for survival in the changing world of publishing.
When: Friday, Oct. 1, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Columbia College, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Room 401, Chicago
Cost: $10 for members; $20 for nonmembers
Plus: 3 raffle drawings, including one attendee chosen to win an iFlip camcorder
- 8:30-9 a.m. Registration and breakfast
- 9-9:45 a.m. Keynote Speaker Adrian Holovaty: Web developer, journalist and musician
- 10-10:45 a.m. Hot Skills to Maintain Your Marketability, featuring social media and job satisfaction gurus including Ryan Paugh and Shane Mac
- 11-11:45 a.m. Adapting to Multiple Platforms: Practical Tips on iPads, Social Media and More with Stephen Herner, Putman Media, and Matt Carmichael, Adage.com
- Noon-1:15 p.m. Lunch
- 1:15-2:15 p.m. Roundtable: Surviving a Volatile Marketplace
For questions about the event or the Chicago chapter contact Chapter President Erin Erickson or 630-625-1138.
Five Ways to Make Your B2B Blog a Must-Read
There are as many ways to write a B2B blog as there are market niches, micro-niches, and nano-micro-niches (you know, the people who live and die producing all-organic swine feed, or Muzak versions of Beatles tunes).
These people may not be even on the periphery of mainstream media’s sideview mirror, but they are, as my car’s mirror reminds me, closer to what really matters than they might appear. These are your people, your tribe, your merry band of fellow
1. Check out their cyberhood. You know they read your magazine, but do you know where they go when they jump into their favorite 2D haunts? What bloggers are already out there feeding their cravings for obscure industry tidbits? Are they LinkedIn? Facebook fans? Twittering their thumbs off at #yourB2Bspace? Not really into all this social webworking whatachamacallit?
Do some searches on the major social networking sites and talk to your more connected readers to find out. Then start paying attention to what’s happening there. What gets them all hot and bothered? What falls flat? What can you bring to their party that they’re not already getting elsewhere?
Then start interacting with their favorite blogs or LinkedIn groups or Facebook fan pages. Write blog posts that reference and add to those conversations. Retweet their advice. Meet them on their turf and they’ll be more likely to check out yours.
2. Let them feel the love. You do love your tribespeople, right? Their foibles, their obsessions, their quirks, the snack that keeps them going on tough days—everything about them is just fascinating, hopefully to you, but definitely to themselves.
They like nothing more than to see all those little insider things about themselves and their business reflected in your observations. But do it with love. I don’t know why, but many B2B bloggers like to get snarky about the way their tribespeople do the things they do. Celebrate their traditions, superstitions, eccentricities, along with their efficiencies, brilliance, and dedication.
A quick example. My people are meeting planners. That means they obsess over details. They are the ultimate control freaks. One of my most popular posts ever was “10 ways to tell your child will grow up to be a meeting planner.” I laid out a few options (ex., Has a PowerPoint presentation called "Ways to Organize Your Toy Chest") and let them run wild with it. Oh the fun we had…
3. Make bland your enemy. If you find yourself sounding even slightly like a press release, delete that post before it cross-contaminates your entire blog with paradigm shifts and walking talks. Be daring, be controversial, be silly, be someone who makes your boss slightly nervous—be anything but boring.
If you can’t think of anything interesting to write that day, go ahead and put in a pointer to another blogger whose post you wish you had written. Even if it’s the competition’s. Especially if it’s the competition’s. It’s OK not to be brilliant all the time, as long as your tribe knows that when your blog pops up in their RSS feeds, you’ll lead them to brilliance.
3a. Corollary to #3, but it has to be said. Be human. Don’t try to send down advice from the mountaintop—that’s annoying. Let your tribespeople know a little about what makes you tick, the aforementioned quirks, obsessions, foibles, snacks, et al, that you share with them. Depending on your niche, they might even be interested to know a little about the challenges you have writing about them, which, if you share, they might be able to actually help you out a bit with, too. I haven’t done it much yet, though I intend to now that I have a cool little Flip cam, but one fairly painless way to be human is to literally show your face via video posts.
4. Don’t be afraid to go off topic. Sometimes you’ll see an article or a YouTube video that, while it doesn’t really have anything to do with your market niche, would still be something your people would enjoy. Maybe you don’t want to go as far as LOLcats, but it’s OK to sneak outside your niche topic every now and then—I mean, is there anyone who doesn’t want to share a hug?
5. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something, or if you are wrong, or just make a bad call. It happens to all us humans at some point, and your tribespeople will understand. I remember shortly after I launched my blog in 2003, someone pointed out that face2face was a pretty stupid name for something that only exists online. Point taken. So I asked them to send in their ideas for a better name.
We had fun tossing possibilities around, but no one could come up with one that wasn’t already being used elsewhere. So face2face it remains, but it was something we all worked on together, so it’s OK. I guess that’s really the only bottom line advice I have to give once you boil it all down: Have fun with it, love your tribe and interact with them liberally. As long as we’re all in this together, it will be OK.
P.S. Keep your posts a lot shorter than this one! You don’t want to wear your poor readers out, do you?
By Sue Pelletier editor/blogger
Medical Meetings/Capsules and face2face blogs
Sometimes, Publishers Need to Give Content Away to Get
Although our target (Z Squared Media) as a media company is corporate marketers, I get the opportunity to talk with publishers on a consistent basis. There is one constant that I find with publishers, no matter the size or industry – They don’t like to share.
Let me explain. Publishers love to leverage content from editors to position as their own … that’s basically what publishers do. We leverage great content from multiple sources and sell against it (advertising or paid content). It’s been a great strategy for years, and should continue to be so. But if you asked publishers to promote content that is not theirs and does not reside in their print magazines or websites, you better put away the knives and torches.
But that’s exactly what publishers need to do more of.
Here’s the rationale. To excel, a publisher needs to be the industry expert. They do this through content. BUT, there are hundreds, if not thousands of experts in our industries that bang the industry drum through blogs, white papers, webinars and more. There is no possible way, in my opinion, that a publisher (or magazine) can position themselves as the industry expert without bringing those industry experts into consideration.
Let me give you an example. Our goal at Junta42, from the beginning, was to be the leading source of content marketing information on the planet. No matter how much great content in multiple formats we produced, there was always someone, somewhere producing great content marketing information as well. So, we decided to create the Junta42 Top Content Marketing Blogs.
The idea of the Junta42 Top 42 was to develop a list of the top content producers in our industry (content marketing) and keep it updated. We developed a rationale for judging, and every quarter we release a new list. We started with 81 blogs three years ago, and now have almost 400 blogs that we review. As you’ll see, we promote the best blogs in the industry and link out to those blogs. Yes, we actually send people away from our site, with no strings attached.
Why would any publisher in their right mind do that?
Since launching the list, that web page has been our most popular, with over 20,000 unique visitors to that page alone. The list also gets over 1,000 inbound links directly to that page. It has single handedly been responsible for the majority of our enewsletter and RSS signups, as well as signups to our matching service (our main revenue driver). Simply put, it’s a traffic magnet and core to our business model. It also positions us as the experts in the content marketing industry by highlighting the best content in the industry (even though it’s not ours).
You might say, “Joe, this has been done for years with directories” and you would be right. Except that directories are direct revenue generators. Our top blog list is definitely indirect. We give this information away freely.
Yes, this strategy drives business for us, but it also has driven opportunity. Junta42 now has relationships with the majority of the top industry bloggers simply because of the list. They love the fact that we promote them, and they always take our calls or open our emails.
My advice is this … if your goal is to be the industry expert, you’ll need help from freelancers, bloggers, associations and more. By helping the other content producers in your industry, you can solve a lot of your own web problems as well as reach your own goals.
Joe Pulizzi is CEO of Z Squared Media, LLC, LLC, whose brands include Junta42, the Content Marketing Institute and SocialTract. Joe also speaks around the world about content marketing and sometimes promotes his book, Get Content Get Customers , called THE handbook for content marketing. You can reach Joe at joe[at]junta42.com.