Farm Journal Media's steady stream of innovation
Think you have it tough? Try developing a digital audience of farmers. Or selling cattle online.
But that’s what Farm Journal Media has done. With its 134-year-old flagship, Farm Journal, at the core, the publisher has built a broad multi-platform portfolio consisting of websites, data products, e-newsletters, mobile apps, events, and even TV shows, all focused on the agriculture industry.
Farm Journal Media is an example of how B2B media companies can successfully transition into the digital age with a mix of advertising, commerce and reader revenue. The privately held company doesn’t release financials, but the business is on track to grow by 80% during its current five-year planning period, according to Mitch Rouda, president of eMedia.
Fueling Farm Journal’s growth are an extensive audience database (1.5 million active names on its farmer file), quality editorial content (Grand Neal Award winner in 2011) and a willingness to experiment with and launch a steady stream of new products and features. Since completely rebuilding its suite of websites less than two years ago, Farm Journal’s eMedia group has launched approximately 25 additional products or significant feature enhancements, including:
- A mobile version of the AgWeb.com portal site. Rouda said 40% of the farmers in Farm Journal’s database have smart phones.
- Cattle-Exchange.com, launched in January, is on online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of livestock. The site has about 30,000 cows for sale, on average. “The web is good for these types of episodic purchases,” said Rouda.
- An ad network, launched in April, which sells impressions across approximately 100 non-Farm Journal properties at about one-third the cost of premium advertising on its own sites. The goal, Rouda said, is to capture more of the low-end display market from existing advertisers.
- Three mobile apps, along with its own app marketplace. The main AgWeb app, released last October, offers industry news and weather updates and connections to the portal's popular audio broadcasts and discussion forums. Cash Grain Bids, launched in May, is a location-based app that helps farmers compare local grain prices. A new app, due later this year, is an app version of Farm Journal’s Online Field Guide database for identifying and treating weeds, diseases and pests that affect crops.
- New websites for the corporate brand and its paid content brand, ProFarmer.
- Behavioral targeting and retargeting capabilities for advertisers
- New large-sized ad units and page takeovers
- "selectronically bound" enewsletters that add custom content and advertising modules depending on demographics or interests of subscribers
There’s a process for vetting these ideas to ensure that investments are made wisely. “Each one has to be thought through, developed, designed and sponsored,” said Rouda.
Importantly, every project must have an owner – generally one of the lead executives for AgWeb, digital advertising, business development, or one of the brand editors. The development team never owns a project – it serves as an internal vendor to the sponsors.
Each project owner has to develop a cost/benefit model for each idea. Initial approvals are queued up for testing; once the R&D is complete and a project is fully approved, the development team creates a project plan with milestones and launch targets. The dev team holds weekly meetings to adjust the road map as needed, Rouda said.
This type of process requires frequent cross-functional collaboration – which can be a challenge considering Farm Journal Media’s geographically dispersed organization. Corporate headquarters are in Philadelphia; the eMedia team is based in Chicago; the editorial team is in Mexico, Mo.; the livestock group is based in Kansas City; and the Professional Farmers division and corporate call center are in Iowa.
“We all travel easily,” said Rouda. “We meet face to face routinely. The executive management team meets every month for a couple of days in person. And we’ve become experts at GoToMeeting and Skype.”