Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wired Validates 5 of Our Trends

We're already seeing validation of some of our trends. The January issue of Wired ran two articles of note to our trends: cutting the cord and the gig economy.

About cord cutting, we said, "We expect some people not to cut the cord because it’s more complicated and not necessarily cheaper if you cut the cable cord." In an article called "Cord-Cutting Is Gonna Suck in 2016, But It'll Get Better," Wired identified the same problem we did: the cost of different subscriptions services, the complications of how to access it including of when you exceed your data limit means that cord-cutting isn't the solution you think it.

We also said the gig economy will generate coverage in 2016, and that "To pessimists, it means that people won’t have the safety net of company-provided healthcare and benefits." Also in the January issue (and not yet available online), is an article by Jessi Hempel called, "A New Deal: Gig-Economy Workers Need Protection. Now." Check out the article when it becomes online.

Actually, in his Letter from the Editor, Scott Dadich identified other trends that validated ours. Dadich feels that VR will go mainstream in 2016 while we think VR will still be much more of an early adopter tech next year. 

We agree with him (or he with us) that "AI comes to the everyday" (we said, "The rise of AI"). We both offered up concerns about unicorns, mostly that startups worth upwards of $1B will become on the verge of extinction -- okay, that's overstating things; it's just going to be much more difficult for them in 2016. 

And in "Autonomous driving gets serious," Dadich agrees with us that "we won't be handing over the steering wheel this year," and that a big issue is "talking about regulations" -- while we said the big issue isn't the tech or safety issues but "the insurance requirements."

So, judging by Wired, we're doing pretty well with our predictions.

Also, check out Fast Company's "Twenty Predictions for the Next 20 Years," by Robert Sarfian, which has a lot of interesting good trends.

Meanwhile, by the way, we expect a lot of IoT news coming from CES next week.

Here's to a happy New Year, and more tech validations.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Key Predictions for Trends in 2016, Part III

Here's our third set of trends that we expect to have an impact in 2016:
  1. The market for wearable tech and for IoT will continue to grow. Expect IoT-enabled tech to be a big story at CES.
  2. 3D printers will be popular in schools.  Getting students comfortable with 3D printers is a great for seeding the market, but don’t expect them in every home just yet.
  3. The importance of a college education will continue to generate media interest. The media will continue to look at whether a college education is worth the student debt loads as well as what kind of education we should provide our students. In an age of instant access to facts, memorizing certain facts may not be as helpful as actually understanding the underlying issues around history, science, literature, etc. and may not be indicators of future career success.
  4. Crowdfunding will lose buzz. With even Hollywood A-listers turning to crowdsourcing their projects, we expect the novelty of crowdfunding to fade, which will make it harder to raise money this way.
  5. eBook sales will plateau. After years of growing sales, eBooks’ momentum stalled in 2015. eBooks aren’t going away but they won’t totally replace traditional books, as some had feared or predicted. Increasingly, buyers may demand the ability to make a cross-platform book/eBook purchase, much as already happens with music purchased from Amazon, where you can the actual CD and direct download to your phone. 
  6. Drones may start falling back to earth. Like Icarus, drones may be flying too close to the sun – and airplanes -- but there problems go beyond that. While Amazon has unveiled a possible drone to help it make deliveries, consumer drones may be the cool gift that sits in a corner until they answer this question: What do you do with a drone after you’ve taken aerial photos of your house? 
  7. Will FinTech shake up traditional banking? Apps that support banking and financial services, like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and others, will generate a fair amount of business press coverage under headlines questioning whether FinTech will disintermediate traditional banks. FinTech will make inroads but won’t go broadly mainstream in 2016. That includes Bitcoin, about which there was much buzz in 2014 and almost nothing in 2015 except when some reporters thought they had uncovered the real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the apparent mysterious inventor of Bitcoin.
  8. China may live in interesting times.  There’s a lot going on that will get coverage here. Expect coverage about the environment, including Beijing’s epic pollution and a lot of coverage about its economy, including the impact of the Renminbi being named by the International Monetary Fund as a main world currency, rising wages and an aging workforce, all leading to a possibly slowing economy. And continuing from prior years, there will be a lot of coverage about intellectual property infringement and Beijing-sanction hacks against U.S. companies.
  9. The concern about cybersecurity, privacy, encryption and government surveillance is already changing. Due to the tragic events in Paris and San Bernardino, many will take a 180-degree turn on government surveillance, and demand the government to do more, not less. Expect more coverage about cybersecurity and privacy – especially as the EU enforces stricter data privacy rules (which will have an impact on cloud provides likes Amazon Web Services). Interestingly, despite the Vtech hack, which may have made children’s information available, we don’t expect much coverage about smart toys and privacy.
  10. A big issue with driverless cars won’t be the technology or safety record. It will be the insurance requirements and state laws. California recently said that driverless cars will need a steering wheel and a person who is certified to drive – even as Google has designed a driverless car without a steering wheel. (The reason: it will be the transition from driverless to driver when accidents could occur.) But auto insurance will see that premiums will go down as accidents decrease – and that will change one dynamic of driverless cars (perhaps not theft, however). 
Let us know if you agree or disagree.

Please note: We're going to take a break for Christmas and New Year's -- which isn't to say we won't be working, just not blogging.

Happy Holidays, and see you in 2016!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Key Predictions for Trends in 2016, Part II

While we sometimes look at cultural events, we will not discuss the impact of "The Force Awakens" since many have not seen the movie yet (or have not seen it a second time, yet) nor the presidential election.

Here are our second set of marketing and technology trends that we think will have an impact in 2016.

  1. Content management remains king. With traditional media’s downward trend and social media’s continued prominence, companies must continue to promote themselves as thought leaders through social media, blogs, videos, bylined articles, videos and more. And they must do so an ongoing basis to remain fresh and relevant.
  2. More will cut the cord in 2016. There will always be a reason to watch TV on a big screen but too many families watch TV on separate rooms on various devices. Cable isn’t something you need, even for sports – although in some cases you need to have a cable subscription to access programming on your device and you certainly need Internet access to be able to stream. So we expect some people not to cut the cord because it’s more complicated and not necessarily cheaper if you cut the cable cord. Too much good shows to watch.
  3. The importance of a college education will continue to generate media interest. The media will continue to look at whether a college education is worth the student debt loads as well as what kind of education we should provide our students. In an age of instant access to facts, memorizing certain facts may not be as helpful as actually understanding the underlying issues around history, science, literature, etc. and may not be indicators of future career success.
  4. The gig or on-demand economy will continue to grow. For optimists, the gig economy gives people the ability to work when they need to, where they want to, to take on new opportunities and experiences, and to be more entrepreneurial (like the guy who took shares in then-private Facebook to paint its offices and wound up with shares worth $200 million). To pessimists, it means that people won’t have the safety net of company-provided healthcare and benefits. We expect the debate about the gig economy to continue in 2016, as courts decide whether Uber drivers are employees, whether they can unionize, etc.
  5. Virtual Reality won’t go mainstream, yet. The New York Times’ new experiment with virtual reality as an immersive advertising platform – which included a free cardboard VR viewer for subscribers –was impressive, but its cardboard viewer hasn’t sent crowds to purchase more sophisticated and more expensive viewers. That said, others will follow the success (or failure) of what the Times calls “the future of news.” If it is the future, expect it to make reporters’ lives even more challenging because of the additional work it takes to film and edit immersive VR.
We will issue our next set of predictions tomorrow. But let us know what you think of today's trends.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2016 TrendReport -- Celebrating 15 Years of Trends

As we have for 15 years, we've compiled a list of trends to help our clients navigate the complex and ever-changing communications landscape and engage more effectively with traditional and social media and other influencers.

Here are the first set of trends for 2016:

  1. The media will have a good year. Some media outlets still haven’t figured out how to build a sustainable business model from paywalls, online ads, and native advertising (aka clickbait). But 2016 will be a good year financially with billions to be spent on political ads from the candidates and their Super PACs. Unfortunately, the good times won’t continue into 2017. Some interesting media startups, trying to bring back long-form, thoughtful coverage of news will get attention from other media sites, but will find it hard to build a sustainable business in an era that favors quick celebrity news.
  2. Drug pricing will get a lot of attention. Concern about out-of-control drug pricing began in 2015, when Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price of a 62-year-old drug from $13.50 a pill to $750. Drug pricing will continue generate outrage and ongoing media and political attention in 2016. The impact of more scrutiny and the possibility of new pricing regulations may make it more difficult for pharma companies, including virtual biotechs, to raise funds to invest in drug discovery. This may cause investors to sell, and may burst the biotech bubble that industry followers have been predicting.
  3. Tech turns into Towers of Babel. The concept behind the Internet of Things is that all devices will be networked-enabled and be able to communicate with each other to provide us with more convenience and data to help us make better decisions. The reality is that competing vendors and proprietary platforms have set up a tech version of the Tower of Babel, and that may be a real problem for companies looking to take advantage of IoT.
  4. The rise of Artificial Intelligence. Don’t worry – despite concerns from Elon Musk and other tech influencers as well as the plot points in various Hollywood movies in 2015 – self-aware AI robots aren’t going to take over humans in 2015. But the ways we can use AI and machine learning will increase in 2016, helping us make better business, personal and health decisions and helping to address security concerns.
  5. Whither unicorns and their business models? Unicorns – startups valued at upwards of $1 billion – were big in 2015. Expect coverage in 2016 that questions whether the unicorn bubble will burst. This will be true not just of privately held startups but also of publicly held companies (that represent the next stage of unicorn development) that fail to fully monetize their businesses. Twitter and Yahoo! – that means you and other social media platforms that fail to live up to financial expectations.
Look for more trends over the next week. And please let us know if you feel we got things right or wrong. 

Instead of updating TrendWatch once a year, we plan to look at trends twice in 2016. To subscribe to our TrendWatch newsletter, please email us at TrendWatch [at]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Track Record for Our 2015 Predictions

A lot of people issue predictions, but we feel it's important to look at the prior year's predictions to provide some integrity to the process. But it also helps us focus on changes for the following year.

We try to cover a lot of ground when making predictions, certainly covering our client's sectors (without taking away from what they're doing or hyping what they're doing). But there's a lot of things we miss. For example, we -- like most of the rest of the world -- did not predict that Donald J. Trump would be a GOP front runner for five months. (We're guessing that only Donald J. Trump would have made that prediction last year.)

So here are our grades based on the trends we predicted for 2015:

Here are our predictions for 2015:
  • Wearable tech will be big in 2015. Wearable tech was successful but not necessarily "big." That's in part because most wearable tech is still in the oxymoron stage – where it either works as fashion or technology or neither but not both. But the other reason it's still not enough reason for most of us to buy and wear them. We still feel wearable tech will become mainstream but maybe in 2016. Grade: B-.
  • Expect sensory overload. Just don't expect that yet. We meant that the Internet of Things (IoT), which will use built-in sensors, networked-enabled smart devices to capture information and communicate to bring a higher level of convenience for humans, would overwhelm us with too data from sensors. Clearly that didn't happen in 2015. On the other hand, we said "within two years," so that means we still have time to be rigt, if this happens by 2017. Grade: B-
  • Content management remains king. We got this right though we've seen some decline in the impact of infographics (though they're still flourishing on Pinterest). Thought leaders through blogs, videos, bylined articles, social media, traditional media will remain strong in 2016. Grade: A.
  • Watch for the monetization and maturation of social media. We were right about Snapchat but wrong in terms of Twitter, which has matured but has not been able to apporiately monetized its users. The revolving door of Twitter CEOs validates that others are expecting monetization even if Twitter can't deliver. Grade: B.
  • More will cut the cord in 2015. Streaming services did become ever more popular this year, with new apps from HBO, CBS and others. But the realization finally seems to have hit that cutting the cord isn't simpler, may cost just as much, and that to be able to stream video from the Internet, you still need Internet access, which is still provided by cable providers. (Check out this recent Bloomberg Businessweek article: "Cutting the Cord, Not the Cost.") We got this one right. Grade: A.
  • The importance of a college education will continue to generate media interest. Because student debt continues to grow, the value of an education became an ongoing story in 2015. Expect that to continue in the election year. Grade: A.
  • After a couple of more-or-less stable years, 2015 will be a rough year for print media. Unfortunately, we were write about this. There were layoffs in newsrooms in Philadelphia, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, New York Daily News. (And not just print:  even ESPN laid off several hundred employees.) According to Poynter, the reason: "This year has been a worse year, not a stabilizing one, for advertising. Digital and other new revenues are not making up those loses. As new strategies (like paid digital subscriptions or contracting printing) settle in for a few years, they still generate revenue but not growing revenue." Grade: A+.
  • There’s always going to be a new site generating lots of buzz, but those may not be the ones to reach your customers. By way of example, we cited Yo, an app generated a lot of buzz in 2014 because it allows you to say only “Yo” to your friends. Haven't heard much about it in 2015 so we think that proves our point. Grade: A.
  • Wearable tech will allow new ways for marketers to interact with consumers. This prediction was ahead of the curve but we remain convinced this will happen and that it will be a bit creepy. Grade: C.
  • The temptation for marketers is to be everywhere all the time – but more Americans will try to disconnect, if only for a few hours or the weekend. When a popular meme on Facebook urges people to look up, and turn off their devices, we may be at odd moment. We don't seriously expect people to put away their devices for good – as a society, we are all too addicted to them. But we are seeing people talk about unplugging for the weekend as a sort of electronic cleanse. Grade: A.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Preparing our annual track record of predictions

We're getting ready for one of our favorite times of the year -- no, I'm not referring to the holidays though I enjoy them, too. We're finalizing our annual track record of predictions for the current year while we also prepare our predictions for the coming year.

We've been doing this for more than 15 years, and it's become a way for us to close the year.

Expect our track record by the middle of this week, and the predictions by next week. Consider them a slightly early Christmas present (or a late Hanukkah present).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Best Practices in Writing Customer Case Studies

For B2B companies, customer case studies are more important than ever. Here are some tips for writing compelling case studies that generate interest from prospective customers.
  • Length: Some studies show that longer case studies rank higher up in search rankings while others suggest to keep case studies to about 500 words to keep your readers' attention. You might try experimenting, writing a short and long version of the case study to see what works best. For longer case studies, make sure to have clear summaries that enable readers to scan the story quickly.
  • Style: Pick a style -- whether formal or informal, for example -- that matches your company's corporate personality. Case studies should be consistent so consider developing a style guide that sets the standards for spelling (is it health care or healthcare), type of voice, and accompanying artwork. Keep in mind that case studies must be engaging and tell a story that has a logical flow. They also need to be informative and credible. 
  • Format #1: Simple can be best. We typically address the following items:
    • The Challenge (or Situation Analysis): Explains the problem and pain points that the client came to us to help solve.
    • Strategic Plan & Execution: Provides an overview of our strategy and what we did to help our client. In others words: this section details our solution and the implementation. This is a vital section in which to highlight clear, key benefits of working with your organization -- and should directly link to the Results (below).
    • The Results: Includes key metrics that demonstrate how we made a difference. 
  • Format #2: Make sure to have an interesting headline. Subheads (like the ones mentioned immediately above) are useful in breaking up blocks of text. Consider including a highlighted quote from the customer that encapsulates the key points. For long case studies (over 1,000 words), consider including a sidebar summary that delivers the key points.
  • Multimedia: Consider producing video interviews of your customers so that visitors to your site can read or watch the case study. Video case studies can also be uploaded onto YouTube.
  • Customers: Make sure to identify compelling customer stories and spokespeople. Hopefully your best customer also has a great spokesperson. Keep in mind, that the customer spokesperson should match the decision-makers you're targeting with the case studies.
  • Call-to-Action: Don't forget to include a clear call-to-action so that prospects know what to do to get more information.
Developing compelling case studies is important because you can also develop presentations and byline articles based on good case studies. For more information, email us at

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

7 PR Lessons from O’Reillygate

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.Biz:

The recent credibility scandals of Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly are shocking and fascinating. But for PR and marketing professionals, there’s a lot that can be instructive.
  • There’s no statute of limitations when it comes to the truth. Both scandals stem from incidents that took place between 12 and 33 years ago — long enough ago that it might seem the truth is no longer relevant. It matters if only because both Williams and O’Reilly retold their embellished Iraq and Falkland war stories several times within recent few years.
    • PR pros should keep in mind that a crisis could originate years before an executive joined an organization.
  • There at least two ways to handle a scandal: 1) Issue an apology, conduct an investigation, and hold someone accountable or 2) Conduct a scorched-earth approach of attacking your critics and their character. NBC followed the first approach, O’Reilly and Fox, the second. Both can claim the victory of a post-scandal ratings boost.
    • Since no laws were broken, for PR professionals, the right approach depends, to some extent, on your brand and your audience. NBC suspended Williams to hold him accountable and protect its credibility — whereas had he apologized, O’Reilly would have greatly harmed his brand and his connection to his audience. In fact, keeping the controversy alive may actually strengthen the O’Reilly brand, ratings and value.
  • If you decide to fight the scandal and your critics, don’t wait for the facts to start making your argument.  O’Reilly started attacking his critics well before he had time to assemble his facts. By doing so, he was able to frame the narrative to focus on the credibility of Mother Jonesand the other reporters who subsequently came forward in support of Mother Jones — instead of his own credibility — while keeping others off-balanced through intimidation and threats.
    • This is a case of “don’t try this at home, kids.” His scorched-earth approach is working for O’Reilly but he has a nightly bully pulpit, and you don’t. That said, framing the narrative is an important element of crisis communications, and can be done without resorting to oppositional research.
  • By commenting on his show and in other outlets, O’Reilly is able to keep the attention where he wants it: on him aggressively attacking his critics. During a crisis, most organizations try to avoid speaking to the media. Not O’Reilly. He’s not hiding. He’s arguing his case on his program and many other outlets, providing new statements almost daily since the Mother Jones article hit. The resulting coverage has focused on O’Reilly’s eagerness to attack, which is a win for O’Reilly because it deflects attention (from questions regarding the credibility of his reporting) while showcasing O’Reilly brand’s combativeness.
    • Most organizations should not follow the O’Reilly playbook of attacking and intimidating reporters. But it can be a mistake to go silent, too, which lets the media spend endless cycle time speculating. For example, the NFL went silent during most of the intensive Deflategate speculation, and lost control of the narrative, which hurt its credibility.
  • There is a distinction being made between journalist and pundit.The line between fact and opinion can be very blurry – but in the case of Williams and O’Reilly, the demarcation is widely recognized, and O’Reilly benefits from lowered expectations for pundits. (What’s being overlooked is that the questions about his accuracy stem from when O’Reilly was a reporter.)
    • This blurred line between fact and opinion is important to keep in mind when your client or CEO asks you to respond to an inaccurate opinion article. It’s almost impossible to get an opinion writer to apologize.
  • Despite the media’s tendency to attach the word “gate” to every scandal, the media this time is not referring to it as “Williamsgate,” “O’Reillygate” or even “Truthgate.”This is far from the most important element but it speaks to the fact that some crises follow a certain pattern while others will go in a different direction from the crisis plan you assembled.
    • Good plans address likely scenarios and then also figure a way to address unlikely crises that may still occur.
  • Truth is not always quantifiable and what’s at stake depends on your value system. Just as some people see that dress as black and blue while others insist it’s white and gold, there are two camps when here: Those who say the truth matters (and invariably cite a spinning-in-his-grave Walter Cronkite) and those who believe freedom of speech is more important. Where you fall has quickly become another political polarizing question.
    • For PR pros, it’s important to understand which stakeholders are important and what their perspective is – is an important element in determining the path you should take.
Despite all the acrimony from both side, there is one thing both O’Reilly and his detractors probably agree on — these lessons are irrelevant to them. But understanding them — like starting the vetting process to cover years before an executive joined the organization — may enable a PR function to better weather a future crisis.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Positive Power of Robotics

There are a number of movies hitting the silver screen (does anyone really use that term anymore? I guess I do) this year that involve robots and artificial intelligence.

Some stories have appeared wondering about the power robots will have, and they think about some doomsday scenario in which robots subjugate mankind.

I don't see that happening, and not because I don't think robots are getting more powerful.

I see that robots have power -- to help raise us up to be better people.

Here's an example of the positive power that robots and robotics can have, courtesy of our non-profit client, FIRST, a terrific organization that holds an annual robotics competition for kids in the US and around the world. I have been to two regional competitions (one in a professional capacity, the second as a parent of a competitor), and the spirit, enthusiasm and positive energy is infectious and inspiring.

That's part of the power of robots.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wall St. Journal Validates Another of Our Predictions: Getting Away Means Disconnecting

Back in 2012, we said:
  • The desire to be connected 24/7 may change in 2012. You almost never have downtime anymore, and people are beginning to notice that’s not all good. Sure, if you are waiting in line at the post office or bank (something today’s kindergartners won’t do by the time they hit college), you’ll be able to check email, play an app, text your friend, or make a call. But this lack of downtime may negatively impact our ability to concentrate and avoid distractions at work and at home. The recognition that we actually need to disconnect, that we need downtime, is likely to generate coverage this year. Already a handful of companies have limited email, both during the day and after hours – and we think more will join those ranks. We also think the concept of going on vacation without access to email or cell will become more of a status symbol because it now takes a lot of money to disconnect yourself from your regular workday.
In our list of ongoing trends that we update annually, we've mentioned the ongoing need to disconnect. That need may be more pronounced than ever as younger-and-younger kids own their own devices -- and as more-and-more parents can't get their kids off their screens.

Screen use and children, including how they socialize, how they interact with peers and grownups, how they experience their environments, will be a growing area of tension for parents -- at least when they look up from their own devices. (And we're all guilty of that.)

We even once said that where it was once only the wealthy who could stay connected wherever they traveled, that soon, it would be a luxury to travel and not be connected. That's borne out but an article in today's Wall St. Journal: "Resorts Promise Families the Perfect Getaway—From Electronics: Looking for a technology detox, more parents book vacations at family resorts touting limited Wi-Fi."  Check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

5 Trends Marketers Should Consider in 2015

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.Biz:
Each year on Groundhog Day, “Punxsutawney Phil,” known as “Prognosticator of Prognosticators,” makes a prediction about whether we’ll have a short or a long winter. It doesn’t really matter if he’s wrong or right. In that vein, here are five trends that will marketers should consider in 2015.
  • Content management remains king. Companies need to continue to promote themselves as thought leaders through social media, blogs, videos, bylined articles, infographics and more. This content needs to be produced and updated on a regular basis; you can’t post a blog in January, and think you’re done for the year. Even smaller, niche B2Bs are realizing they need to publish more. You can’t rely on a press release from last March to show you’re still active. Establishing a content or editorial calendar can help companies take a more systematic approach to the content they publish.
  • After a couple of more-or-less stable years, 2015 will be a rough year for print media. Publishers are finally accepting that they can’t charge as much for online ads and subscriptions as they once could get from print. So expect more buyouts and layoffs at print media. This will push print media to adapt their brand of journalism to include more “listicles” (articles that are primarily lists – like, um, this one) and more native advertising. (How you feel about it depends on whether you call it “native advertising” or “clickbait.”) Marketers need to consider adjusting their content to map to how print is adjusting its online content.
  • There’s always going to be a new site generating lots of buzz, but those may not be the ones to reach your customers. Yo, an app that allows you to only say “Yo” to your friends, generated a lot of buzz in 2014 but even if your customers use it, Yo may not be the best app to engage with them. Some brands are finding success on Snapchat but it will be difficult to generate traction if you’re continually jumping to a new app or social media site. Instead, look at your customers and make sure you have a strong sense of the social media sites they actually use. In other words, you need to consider saying no to Yo.
  • Wearable tech will allow new ways for marketers to interact with consumers. Beyond smart watches, smart clothing and the Internet of Things will provide new platforms for branding and customer engagement. Based on new kinds of sensors and apps, your smartphone knows much more about you than your spouse or doctor could ever know. And that data is being aggregated by the phone company and its marketing partners to offer content that’s more targeted and useful – and that can be a bit creepy.
  • The temptation for marketers is to be everywhere all the time – but more Americans will try to disconnect, if only for a few hours or the weekend. This tech sabbatical isn’t about cutting the cord on cable service to save money. It’s about realizing that being constantly connected makes us more stressed and less happy. This will get more intrusive when we get low on milk and our soon-to-be networked refrigerators start offering up “You Might Also Like” suggestions of other foods to buy. Marketers may be more successful if they show they respect consumers’ boundaries, including privacy, such as by making it much easier to opt-out from email lists.
While there are, of course, many more trends that may affect marketers in 2015, the theme that links the ones included in this article is the need to publish new content on a regular basis, to tweak the content to how people are consuming content (because we don’t just read) these days, to determine where your customers are online, and find ways to really engage with your customers which may mean knowing when to not engage with them. A lot of these suggestions may seem simple or obvious but too many businesses overlook these suggestions. By the following these suggestions, companies can be more effective marketers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What the Selling of Forbes Tells Us about the State of Business Media, Part II

(This post originally appeared on The companion piece can be found here)
Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes and other magazines, is running into roadblocks as it seeks to sell the company. Working with Deutsche Bank, Forbes was pursuing international companies to purchase one of America’s premier business publications. The problem: Germany’s Axel Springer SE says it is no longer involved in the bidding process while Singapore’s Spice Global Investments Pvt has “removed itself from the process” and China’s Fosun International Ltd. hasn’t held active talks for “some time,” according to a recent Bloomberg article, a Forbes competitor.
At the time when bids were due, New York Times media columnist David Carr, provided some insight in a column entitled, “Foreign Buyers Eying Forbes Magazine, a Chronicler of the World’s Wealthiest.”
Given the limited interest in acquiring a well-known global brand, here are some lessons learned, gleaned from the article and our experience:
  • Establishing a strong brand is important but outsiders may not find enough value in it. Unquestionably, Forbes has a strong presence and brand awareness, including its annual Forbes 400 issue in October. Its journalism is respected and the magazine and its website continue to be relevant. But brand may not be enough – certainly at the price Forbes’ current investors and family are searching for. It may be worth noting that McGraw-Hill sold BusinessWeek to Bloomberg for a reported $5 million along with the assumption of $10 million in liabilities in 2009; and Newsweek, a once equally strong media property, was sold for $1 and the assumption of $40 million in liabilities in 2010.
  • Standalone magazine companies are at a disadvantage to conglomerates that can spread costs and profits across a family of magazines, according to Carr. For the most part Carr is right — but Forbes actually publishes several other titles — ForbesLife, Forbes Europe, Forbes Asia as well as 29 international editions. (It’s probably not a good time to purchase advertising in Forbes Russia, Forbes Ukraine.) Forbes also runs a very popular website (more on that below) and family of website. Our point is: it’s not just publishing a range of publications — it’s publishing magazines that reach a range of readers. After all, if you put all your eggs in one high-value Birken bag, when advertisers pull back on your demographic, you could get hit 29 times.
  • Sometimes selling isn’t a matter of making money but in preventing additional losses. The estimated asking price for Forbes is between $250 and $400 million. Elevation Partners paid $264 million for a minority stake — so their portion is likely underwater. Carr says the Forbes family is unlikely to make money from the sale. The question becomes: why sell? Seems clear that the reason is that it continues to be tough for media companies to build value.
  • The value shoring up Forbes is not its popular website — but its conference division. The publication is probably generating tons of revenue from its growing number of conferences, including luxury cruises offering insights and access to top stock pickers. Conferences have re-emerged for Forbes and other publishers as a profit generation tool. Conferences may have been a difference in the valuation of BusinessWeek for $5 million (and the assumption of debt) when it was acquired by Bloomberg. The same for Newsweek, which had no conferences and was sold for $1 and the assumption of debt. The bottom line lesson: perhaps leverage a successful conference series and turn that into a multimedia property (which is what TED is doing).
  • Forbes could generate more money by establishing a paywall around its content. Carr makes the point that others news outlets — including the Times and Wall St. Journal — have successfully boosted revenue by establishing paywalls around their content. Yet aggressively promotes the website in a bid to generate views that can translate into higher revenue. It has been very successful in developing a community of columnists (many of them people trying to position themselves as thought leaders). The bottom line here: there’s still no single, accepted way to generate sustainable revenue online — neither free access (and higher revenue from advertisers) or paywalls (and subscription fees from access) are really replacing print advertising revenue that will never return to pre-mobile/digital levels.
  • Circulation is holding steady but it may not generate steady revenue. Last year, Forbes was offering print subscriptions for $10 — that’s a steep discount from prior years. Keeping circulation high is important to advertisers (and the amounts you can charge them) but discounting clearly hurts profits. And constantly discounted subscription offers tell advertisers the circulation figures may be clogged with subscribers who don’t spend much time reading the magazine.
  • Forbes is very creative in finding revenue. It’s been a leader in pushing advertorials. It can sometimes feel like a 1/5th of the magazine is devoted to advertorials. But more significantly, Forbes is a pioneer in native advertising through its BrandVoice section on the website and in the magazine. Here’s how Forbes describes itForbes BrandVoice™ is an integrated and by-invitation content-sharing platform …(that) is an innovative approach to integrating marketers’ content with Forbes’ editorial and users’ content — allowing marketers to demonstrate their thought leadership on the Forbes platform using the same tools as content creators.” What does it take to receive an invitation to be a Forbes BrandVoice partner? We’ve heard estimates of $800,000 in annual advertising just to get to the point of discussing BrandVoice. (In other words, BrandVoice spending is on top of a company’s annual advertising buy.)
  • Not all ways of charging access are reader friendly. While Forbes doesn’t charge to access its website, it does charge for iPad access even if you’re already a print subscriber. Print subscribers still have to pay $9.95 for an annual iPad subscription.  When you consider Forbes’ $10 print subscriptions price, charging $9.95 to access the iPad version is the equivalence of a 100% tax increase.
Carr makes the point that it’s ironic that a magazine with a strong heritage of America-first is now being sold to an international company. I agree — but I also think that the sale (likely to an Asian company) makes sense because Forbes is more likely to be seen as a trophy property for companies based in Asia than anywhere else in the world. And yet, so far, interest from any part of the world seems less than anyone might have expected.
What Carr doesn’t discuss or speculate is how an international owner will change Forbes. For that, stay tuned.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wall St. Journal Valdates Our Net Neutrality Predictions

In its "The Year Ahead," column, subtitled "Eight Business Trends to Watch in 2015," the Wall Street Journal validated our prediction about net neutrality, issued Dec. 2014.

According to the Journal, one of the business trends is "Net-Neutrality Grows More Intense." The first paragraph says it all:
"The debate about the opennes of the Internet is only going to get  more heated in the months to come."
Which is what we said back in December.