Secrets of successful commercial partnerships in specialist markets

Growing commercial revenues from online publishing has provided a conundrum for specialist media businesses – they don’t have the volume of inventory to be attractive to ad networks and the CPMs are derisory – and their small commercial teams often lack skills to sell across multiple platforms.  But at the Specialist Media Show conference last month, delegates heard from specialist media owners Duncan Tickell of Magicalia and Paul Hood, latterly of Emap and now at Mirror group, and gurus such as Chris Parsons of Q5 Partners, on how to create simple, clever campaigns that grow clients’ business with tips that can be applied to niche markets. Here’s the top 5 insights:

1. Don’t just sell space, help your client’s business grow

Advertising is there for a purpose – to provide leads, data, sampling and awareness for clients to help them grow their business.  Commercial teams who start with an understanding of the clients’ business and an insight into how their media channels can attract, inform, inspire and engage new customers are more likely to win a slice of the marketing budget.

2. Audience is meaningless; engagement is the key to profit

Reach is not everything – a small number of interested customers beats a million cynical passers-by any day.  This is great news for specialist media, who attract enthusiasts who are hungry for information and ready to purchase.  Other media commentators concur with the engagement vs reach shift – see my earlier article on a debate with Tim Brooks and Stevie Spring.

3. Every client wants a bespoke solution

This could be considered bad news, as it implies extra work, but it is also the way that a clever specialist media business can add editorial and marketing value which is difficult to replicate through ad networks.  If your tailored marketing solution works, then the client is likely to come back for more.

4. Be prepared to experiment and share the risk

Innovation is the way to engage audiences.  Bike Magic turned a tool for designing a custom bike from Trek into a competition for their readers.  Magicalia parenting sites used surveys to communicate surprising benefits of MAMs soothers.  And 3am used a jukebox tool for visitors to sample and buy tracks from Universal music. This doesn’t mean costly development: the Trek tool came from the client, and the providers of the jukebox tool accepted a revenue share deal.  The media owner may also have to agree a revenue share as part of the campaign, but this does mean objectives are aligned..

5. Reward innovative commercial teams

This approach to commercial partnerships requires different skills: understanding client’s business, insight into the user, creating innovative solutions, working well with editorial and marketing teams, impeccable execution and a longer-term time-frame.  So it is important to reward commercial teams who demonstrate these skills, rather than focussing simply on short-term revenue.

For more ideas, read my earlier articles on commercial partnerships and creative commercial campaigns.  I’d be interested to hear further examples of successful multi-platform campaigns in specialist media – just comment on this blog, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in to swap ideas and tips with 300 other specialist media owners.

Read other articles based on debates at the Specialist Media Show here:

Secrets of launching events from media brands

Beyond the paid content debate – how to build value from free content

How publishers can make digital media pay

Secrets of successful commercial partnerships in specialist markets

Bright future for specialist media: build audiences, develop many revenue streams

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop successful commercial partnerships please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.