President’s Letter: It’s all about brand at Symposium

Photo: Warren HerschBy Warren Hersch
ASBPE President

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, when publishing gurus (or, closer to home, our own publishers and editorial directors) aren’t urging us to latch onto the latest social media or tech craze.

We all need to make our copy SEO-friendly and communicate with our readers via Twitter, online forums and blogs, we’re told, lest our trade magazines and newsletters become dinosaurs without a following.

Put service journalism into practice

Amid all the prognosticating, it’s easy to lose sight of how our B2B publications became the respected industry voices they are today: by practicing outstanding service journalism and investing in core assets that strengthen the brand. That lesson was brought home to the assembled attendees at last month’s ASBPE 2009 Digital Symposium.

A theme of the gathering was that B2B writers and editors can, where appropriate, leverage social media, search, and data aggregation tools to better engage readers in issues important to their respective fields. But they also stressed that such tools will only be effective if they serve the needs of one’s audience and a publication’s brand objectives.

Hinda Chalew of Staffing Industry Analysts, one of three presenters on the B2B social communities panel, said that editors at her firm’s three B2B pubs make extensive use of blogs, virtual events, surveys, and online social journalism tools. But the editors don’t use Facebook, My Space, or other Web communities. The reason: Most of the publications’ readers, decision-makers who supply and buy temporary staffing, don’t frequent these sites.

Knowledgeable writers provide substantive content

InfoWorld editor-in-chief Eric Knorr, a speaker on the panel about organizing print and online editorial teams, said his information technology magazine went through an “identity crisis” in April 2007 when it became an online-only publication. That wrenching change forced the magazine to reexamine, and ultimately give greater prominence to, the core assets that underpin the publication’s brand loyalty: InfoWorld’s top writers and bloggers, most of whom work (or have worked) in IT.

For Jim Sulecki, director of emedia, Meister Media, a publisher of specialty magazines for agricultural professionals, the use of online media has done wonders to generate Web traffic. Fresh Air Forum, a “cluster” community for professionals in ornamental horticulture, boasts nearly 700 members, the largest of the publisher’s online forums. Yet, Sulecki said such communities won’t realize their full potential until they’re integrated with the publisher’s brand sites: Cotton Grower, Crop Life, Precision Ag, and 14 other publications that serve agricultural professionals. (ASBPE members: See story in ASBPE member newsletter, November/December 2009, page 7 – 556K PDF.)

Edit for the busy reader: Clarity over cleverness

Few B2B editors have enjoyed as much success in leveraging social media and other Web tools as Technologizer editor Harry McCracken, the symposium’s kick-off speaker (see story on page 3 of the November/December member newsletter – 556K PDF). Since July 2008, McCracken’s online following rocketed from zero to 500,000 subscribers, thanks in part to his mastery of social media tools and certain “new essentials” (such as the ability to work in real time) the online world requires.

But McCracken emphasized that other, old writing essentials are also key to building and maintaining a superior brand. Among them: Emphasizing clarity over cleverness; pushing takeaways to the top; practicing the best service journalism you know how; and making content so good that people want to tell the world about it.

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