Custom publishing continues digital growth

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The hype over custom publishing ― even in its old-fashioned print form ― isn't going away anytime soon. Advertiser demand to produce content is a ripe opportunity for publishers looking to diversify their revenue streams beyond display advertising and subscriptions.

Almost a third of the average company's marketing/advertising/communications budget goes toward custom content, according to a study released Thursday by the Custom Content Council, which includes members from custom publishing divisions at major media companies. The survey saw an unsurprising rise of spending for custom content in emerging platforms such as video, mobile and virtual events. 

Interestingly, print still remains the dominant force in the custom content market ― but its pace of growth has slowed while spending on digital platforms has increased. New media channels are providing more growth opportunities for custom content, said Lori Rosen, executive director of the Custom Content Council, in a phone interview. 
 
Another recent study by the council found that more than half of chief marketing officers have shifted marketing funds away from traditional advertising in the last year toward custom content, representing an 18 point increase from 2006. Rosen said it's a sign of content growth in general. “Brands are taking more control of their messages,” she said. 
 
While the trend means some brands will produce content themselves, it's also a positive sign for publishers that offer custom media services. “The outsourcing pie keeps growing,” Rosen said. “Traditional publishers are seeing this as a huge opportunity.” 
 

Custom content: new and old opportunities

Given the demand for custom content, it will come as no shock that many publishers speaking this week at the Publisher Business Conference & Expo in New York discussed plans to expand this part of their businesses. 
 
Some publishers are trying out more creative routes that push the traditional definition of custom content. My colleague Rob O'Regan says it's “not your father's custom publishing” as media companies add content marketing and marketing services to the mix.  custom publishing
 
Hanley Wood uses more traditional custom publishing alongside new marketing strategies. Paul Tourbaf, senior vice president of corporates sales, said the company's services range from more traditional custom content to being a company's outsourced marketing firm (e.g. even running call centers and doing website design).
 
Tech publisher IDG innovated around its custom division last year by merging advertising and custom content within its “nanosite” ad unit ― which is effectively a microsite in a box, powered by Widgetbox. IDG's Custom Solutions Group builds the ad unit, packed with rich media such as Twitter streams, video and white papers.  
 
It's been successful so far in generating leads for advertisers, said Peter Longo, CEO of IDG Syndication and Network. In January 2010, the network generated about 1,500 leads for advertisers; this past January it generated 11,250, thanks to the new ad units. (IDG owns a vertical ad network with other technology publishers.) 
 
“Believe it or not, we may finally have figured out a way to generate leads by just running advertising across our website, by just running these content units,” Longo said. 
 
On the consumer media side, custom content has prompted big brands like Hearst and Meredith to roll out marketing services divisions. Independent publishers such as The Atlantic Media Co. are also lassoing the opportunity. Custom content is “the gift that keeps on giving” at The Atlantic, pulling in seven-figure deals, said Scott Havens, vice  president of digital strategy and operations at The Atlantic Media Co. 
 
Havens said Atlantic Media tries to differentiate by commissioning editorial talent that provide category expertise ― rather than looking at a a custom deal as an advertorial ― and charging a high CPM. While it's not a scalable business, it can be lucrative for a few big clients, he said.
 
Havens said they will likely follow in the footsteps of other publishers by launching a division focused on marketing services and custom publishing. “It's definitely a big part of our business,” he said. 

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