Past, now, future
Credit: Thinkstock
Four publishers and editors-in-chief from specialist publications shared their successes and lessons learnt in implementing digital strategies at the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) digital conference taking place in London today.

Here is a round-up of the four case studies and some of the lessons shared.

Retail Week
  • Key lesson: A change in workflow with digital at the heart is beneficial
Retail Week, which is owned by EMAP, has transitioned over the past two years, with the aim of "taking digital-only subscription options" to market by 1 July 2013.

The major change outlined by Chris Brook-Carter, the title's editor-in-chief, was to change the workflow.

Historically, the magazine was the centre of the business model, Brook-Carter explained. Now the brand is at the centre.

Making the shift to digital involved customer research to find out what those in the retail industry are interested in, and they found Retail Week customers wanted news-driven content. The title provides "current affairs of the retail industry”, Brook-Carter said.

The title adopted a new daily workflow – which they call Retail Week i3. Within that there are three components: 'information', which includes news; 'insight', which is where Retail Week "adds value" by helping readers make decisions; and 'intelligence', which includes publishing research papers.

The Retail Week website now publishes news content from 7am, and the aim is to "pull customers through that value chain", Brook-Carter said, taking them from being news consumers, through to readers of the in-depth research.

The weekly print workflow is layered on top of the daily digital workflow. Brook-Carter explained that 60 per cent of what is produced goes online-only, with 40 per cent of content included in the print magazine.

The title has a 'brand insight team’, headed up by Brook-Carter and which meets once a month to act as a "customer health-check", he said, ensuring the audience is central to any decisions.

Brook-Carter shared three "takeaways":

1. Try and understand the needs of people interacting on different channels, he said, explaining that print and online audiences have different requirements;
2. Set up the workflow to meet the needs;
3. Ask how you are measuring the success and set benchmarks;

The Drum
  • Key lesson: There are opportunities in the data contained in news stories
The success of The Drum, which has a website updated 24 hours a day and fortnightly magazine aimed at marketeers and those interested in digital media, is down to an early focus on digital, Nick Creed, The Drum's digital director and founder told the conference.

"In a way the recession was good for us as it made us focus on what we needed to do to move forward," he said.

In a way the recession was good for us as it made us focus on what we needed to do to move forwardNick Creed, The Drum
The Drum started to focus on creating "good, engaging editorial", on "being where the audience is", on "harnessing expertise" and on the "use of data", Creed explained.

"As other companies were cutting back, we were doubling editorial team, he said.

The domain was changed from a to .com, and journalists were recruited in the US and Australia. The website, which publishes up to 50 stories a day, now focuses on news, while the magazine puts the spotlight on analysis.

The site also has 40 bloggers – who are described as the "backbone" of the opinion section. They are trusted to publish straight the the website.

Creed said they realised there is "a real opportunity in the data" being gathered. There is, therefore, an emphasis on tagging relevant companies and people within stories. "We end up with rich data," said Creed. He used the example of how that data can provide insights such as on the companies in the industry which have won the greatest number of awards, a fact that is "really valuable for the audience".

The impact in the shift to a digital focus has been a "dramatic increase" in traffic over the past two years, Creed said. Page views are up 180 per cent, to 1.2 million a month, and the number of unique users has risen by 200 per cent to 600,000.

  • Key lesson: Put a lot of thought into the content you put outside a paywall
IHS, a niche B2B publisher with titles aimed at the defence, maritime and chemicals industries.

Paul Rayson, a senior executive at IHS, explained how the publisher decides which content to put behind the paywall, and which to offer as freely accessible to all.

The core business comes from large enterprise licences, with corporate companies paying for subscriptions for employees.

"Supporting that we want to build out the community and connect with a wider audience," Rayson explained. The aim is to take a reader on a journey which starts with an individual reading content for free, and results in a paid subscription.

The publisher has therefore started to introduce what they call '360 open access sites'. Jane’s 360, a site for the defence industry, launched in June 2013.

Rayson's "takeaways" include the value in putting a lot of thought into the content in that is placed front of the wall. User-experience is also key, along with considering sponsors’ needs and understanding the great potential in providing video.

Windpower Monthly (Haymarket)
  • Key lesson: Focus on changing the mindset of staff from print to digital
Windpower Monthly was launched as a print-only title published in Danish five years ago, and was acquired by Haymarket four and a half years ago after they saw the potential in a growing market.

The journey has since been about moving from print to digital, William Kendrick, publisher of the title, explained.

The aims were to grow internationally, expand the portfolio, change the culture and workflow from one focused on print, increase the paid audience and bring in revenue from online.

The challenges were many, including a "staff focused on print", Kendrick said, as well as targeting some parts of the world not used to paying for content online.

Haymarket focused on training staff to understand data, creating video, and launching a business directory. A new online title called was launched in response to the developing industry.

They achieved this by changing the workflow and team structure, focusing on corporate subscriptions, and launching online events and mobile-optimised sites.

"Work towards a digitally-focused information offering," Kendrick advised publishers.

Rough 'live' notes from the session are in this Google Doc.

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