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Strategy Cures Digital Headache - 7/20/2010 -

Taking time to develop a good strategy may be the best medicine for your digital headache.

By Emily Randisi

ASSOCIATION MEDIA & PUBLISHING'S "INTEGRATION OF PRINT AND ONLINE ROUNDTABLE” discussion—or perhaps support group is more accurate—was facilitated by Debra Stratton of Stratton Publishing & Marketing and included publishing professionals from a wide range of trade associations. As the roundtable discussion at the association's Annual Meeting in June got underway, common areas of frustration stemmed from budgetary cuts, formatting for mobile devices, and a general lack of digital strategy.

Roundtable participants agreed that their small staffs and recent cuts in production budgets are making the digital transition challenging and costly. In many cases, this means that publications can only put partial content online and often in a low-tech, unappealing format. Participants also say they have to deal with members asking for (or expecting) a decrease in dues once more content is moved online.

The roundtable participants were able to share several ideas to help ease each other's pain points. One suggestion for a more affordable integration is to use free videos, podcasts, and social media sites to promote specific content. The trick is not to try and do it all, but rather to find which medium works best for a publication's audience and keep it updated with interesting and relevant content.

Another idea for publications with tight budgets is to include ad sales online to expand revenue and provide additional options. However, many advertisers now want editorial-based "partnership” opportunities in addition to their ads, which is proving to be an unwelcomed, time-consuming task for editors.

With new mobile devices coming out so frequently, editors are concerned about how their publication's formatting will appear on iPhones, BlackBerrys and iPads. In fact, a representative from a realtor association said that mobile applications are essential for their publication because realtors spend most of their time in their cars or out of the office with clients.

There are plenty of options for these services, but most custom solutions tend to be on the expensive side. One roundtable attendee suggested buying a packaged solution instead of creating a custom application for your magazine. These packages tend to make the print-to-online process easy and fast. The downside is you have to pay per issue, and you lose some customization and formatting control.

After hearing from nearly everyone at the roundtable, one contributor commented that most of the challenges discussed were directly linked to the absence of a digital strategy. The group agreed that involving the association's president, editors, writers, marketing crew, and anyone else involved in the integration process is crucial to building an effective digital strategy. Inconsistencies often arise in chosen content and delegation of duties when key players are absent during the initial planning stages.

Additional tips from the roundtable included:

  • Research first. When the appropriate research is done prior to the digital integration, publishers can add content based on what their members want, need, and will actually use. Research will always be less costly than dedicating the time it takes to keep up a blog that no one reads or buying mobile apps for an iPhone that no one uses.
  • Have a trial period. Implementing a trial period where publications experiment with certain social media sites is a great way to see what works.
  • Do what makes sense for you. Don't start a Twitter account just to say you have one. Make sure it is something your readers are familiar with and will enjoy using.

Although not every question was answered or every problem solved, the topics discussed at the roundtable proved that publications with different audiences, budgets, and topics are all experiencing growing pains as the industry moves toward the digital medium. Taking time to develop a good strategy may be the best medicine for your digital headache, and if nothing else, remember you are not alone in your struggle.

Emily Randisi is marketing associate at Bates Creative Group. Follow her on LinkedIn and  Twitter @ERandisi. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this portion of the Annual Meeting for those who were unable to attend.


 

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