As major magazines are decreasing page counts to deal with the economic downturn, custom publishers and the associations and corporate clients they partner with seem to be doing just the opposite, according to a new study by the Custom Publishing Council.
Released in April, the study—“A Look at the Volume and Type of Custom Publications in America”—found that the average number of pages per issue for custom publications increased last year from 22.2 to 23.2.

When we work on custom publications for our association and corporate clients, we always keep the interests and passions of their members and readers in mind. According to a recent study, those readers are taking notice.
The Roper Public Affairs and Media/Custom Publishing Council study — Americans’ Relationship With Customer Publications and the Companies That Provide Them — was released in March. The 2009 report is an update to a study conducted in 2005 and an examination into Americans’ thoughts and feelings about electronic publications.

Hammock partner Susan Weiss of the national advertising sales firm the James G. Elliott Company shares some perspective on the value of advertising in today’s environment in the latest issue of their company newsletter Ads & Ideas:
It’s a question that marketers struggle with during periods of economic unrest: cut costs by reducing or eliminating the advertising budget, or else maintain or increase the brand’s advertising exposure?
Today’s b-to-b marketing decision makers have learned the lessons taught during past economic upheavals. Meeting a recessionary climate with aggressive advertising is, historically, a way to grow business during a recession and maintain continued growth after the recessionary period ends. A study conducted by BtoB magazine earlier this year finds that most business-to-business marketers are determined to hold or increase their marketing budgets during 2008.

The private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson, specializing in the media, communications and information industries, recently released their annual report on media spending. According to the report, total communications spending is projected to grow 5.4 percent in 2008 to $924 billion. Outsourced custom publishing was one of the eight media segments that exhibited double-digit growth from 2002-2007. Along with word-of mouth marketing, pure-play Internet and mobile services, branded entertainment, out-of-home media, professional and business information services, VSS predicts that custom publishing will continue its growth momentum over the next five years, resulting in a solid decade of double-digit gains.

Custom media products
used by business marketers*
Email newsletters 68.7
White papers 50.0
Case studies 47.3
Custom events or roadshows 38.7
Blogs 28
Custom video 22
Custom magazines 18
Online community/social networks 14
*From the Junta 42 and BtoB study

A report recently released by Junta42 and BtoB magazine reveals that business marketers spend on average 29.42 percent of their budgets on custom content. This is slightly higher than that the 2007 studies by the Custom Publishing Council and Publications Management, which found marketers spending 27 percent on average for B2B and B2C. Spending on custom products is on the rise, too. In 2008, 42 percent of business marketers increased their spending on customized content marketing.

Find the full list of custom products used by marketers responding to the study here.

Email marketing continues to be a powerful part of most companies’ strategies, but many factors can contribute to the success of an email program (text vs. email, time of day, day of the week, etc). It can be overwhelming at times to pinpoint the ideal email for your organization, and testing different combinations is often necessary.
The good news is that the London company Alchemy Worx has solved one piece of the email puzzle for us—subject line length. According to their research, response rates are highest when the subject lines are in the 50-character range or 80-character range, but they fall in the middle when the length is 60 or 70 characters. To increase open rates, keep these magic numbers in mind next time before you click send.

Reader Panel Tips
Posted in Research, by Barbara Logan
May 23, 2008

Soliciting feedback from readers is an important part of a magazine’s research efforts. With a reader panel, a magazine has continual access to a group of readers who they can survey on various topics including past issues, future content and general opinions about the magazine. In addition to these editorial benefits, reader panels also provide an opportunity for advertisers to pose questions to your group of readers. Here are a few tips to help you manage your reader panel:
1. Keep it Short
Don’t be greedy with your panelists’ time. Limit each survey to 10 or fewer questions that can be answered in five minutes or less. Do not send a survey more than once a month or you risk panelist burnout. Remember these are volunteer readers so if you respect their time you are more likely to return a higher response rate.
2. Offer Incentives
Reward participation by giving readers something in exchange for their participation. Select incentives that are appropriate for your audience. Gift cards are a practical option for most groups.

3. Experiment with A/B Test

Segment your panel into two groups and try different subject lines, day of the week, time of day and personalization. Analyze the results to determine the optimal combination for the most successful survey.

My 8-year-old daughter is studying the Oregon territory and she refreshed my memory (thanks, Wikipedia) that the U.S. and Great Britain were involved in a land grab during the 1840s. The U.S. ultimately prevailed and a treaty was signed establishing the 49th parallel, the line that runs between the states of Washington and Minnesota on the U.S. side, and British Columbia north of the boundary.

Determining the 49th parallel in the media world is happening right now. The territory in question is the very fertile territory known as engagement. We are witnessing a land grab to define and determine how we will measure and monetize audience engagement with Web media. And there are all sorts of parties putting forward ideas of how to redraw the lines on Web analytics so this idea of engagement is more relevant to current Web media experience.

Like most people in this business, I have become obsessed with this discussion surrounding the idea of engaged audiences, particularly as this discussion centers on Web analytics. (I’m not sure I speak from personal “blogging” experience about engaged audiences when my last post to this page was in January. Mitt Romney looked like our next president when I last blogged in this space). Regardless, I’ve been paying attention to the people who have been trying to define this idea of engagement.

Forrester, who has been all over engagement for more than a year, is the latest with a set of metrics. Forrester Research’s last month at their annual Research Marketing Forum in L.A., which are based on the concepts developed by analyst Brian Haven in an August 2007 Forrester Research report on the same topic, lay out the ideas of Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy and Influence. Haven’s full report on these metrics, “Measure of Engagement,” which is co-authored by Suresh Vittal, will be published this month.

Will Haven’s metrics stand the test of time. I think Haven’s metrics ( I look forward to the full report) are an advancement in our quest to understand what sometimes seems like the unknowable: what does she think, what is she going to do?

We have ways of of trying to evaluate something like engagement in the print world. As Josh Chasin, chief research officer at comScore, admitted in a column he wrote about engagement, he doesn’t really know what engagement means. I can detect enough sarcasm to hear what he’s really saying: he believes we don’t know what engagement means.

Chasin knows that print and, now, online media, are evaluated based on reach and frequency, which might sound like engagement, but it’s not. He’s right. We ask how many issues out of 4 do you read?, and how much time do you spend with our magazine? Do you take specific actions as a result of reading my magazine? How many people other than you read this issue?

While I always thought those standard measurements were a little too crude to evaluate the experience a reader has with a magazine, and they never claimed to be engagement, they are pretty darn close to Haven’s 4 “Is.”

Much closer, in fact, than the idea of trying to use the same reach and frequency measures online, in a medium where the media itself isn’t a reach and frequency medium anymore.

But Haven’s metrics fall short of being useful for all purposes. While the end goal for most participants in this conversation may be an easier way for advertising agencies to come up with sound ways to direct their client’s spend of dollars, that’s not the defined goal for all observers of this discussion.

At Hammock, we’ve noticed how the metrics used to evaluate advertising-centric measurements aren’t intrinsically useful discussions for some clients. If selling Web advertising online is even one of the top five things under discussion with an association client when we talk about the Web site, it’s rare. The purpose of the site is to create a greater sense of value of membership to the visitor. The purpose of the site may be to spur a call to action. The purpose of the site might be a serve as launchpad for a set of helpful links. It might be a place where members can find helpful tools and advice, it might be a place to renew, or register for a products for which members qualify for a discount. It might even be a place to, yes, engage members, because all associations need ways to ensure that there is some way they can continue to drive home what is valuable in their proposition.

I agree with Chasin about the value of measuring “against a clearly defined set of goals.” Chasin points us to Eric Peterson, author of Web Analytics Demystified. Peterson has a series of quantitative and qualitative ways to analyze engagement. It comes down to an idea that what you measure is tied to an idea of what you want the experience of the visitor to be.

Setting goals that can be measured makes sense to me. If generating advertising is the goal, then I await the best sets of metrics for that purpose. If it’s not the goal, I think it’s on us to develop better ways to measure what we know is engagement.

The Custom Publishing Council (note: Hammock is a founding member) has just conducted a survey called, “Characteristics Study: A Look at the Volume and Type of Custom Publications in America” that indicates custom publishing is thriving. According to the survey, in 2007 a record number of marketers used custom publishing solutions to promote their products and brands – with impressive results. Other industry reports show that spending on alternative media jumped 22%, with more advertisers seeking out new channels. Custom publishing can be expected to grow even more in 2008 with the increase in Internet distribution of content and creative new media solutions.
[After the jump, view statistics and other highlights from the Custom Publications in America survey.]

According to new research conducted by Roper Public Affairs and commissioned by the Custom Publishing Council (of which Hammock Publishing is a founding member), 80% of Americans (the general adult population) is familiar with custom publishing and at least two-thirds of American adults read them.

The survey was conducted among 1,004 American adults to measure awareness of custom publishing magazines and newsletters. The survey was fielded from March 4 to March 6, 2005. The margin of error for this study is +/- 3 percentage points, and will be higher for subgroups.

Here are some highlights of the research:

Eight in 10 Americans have at least some awareness of custom publishing.

When asked how familiar they are with seeing or receiving custom publishing materials, eight in 10 Americans (81%) say they say they have at least some awareness of custom publishing[1]Over one in four say they are very aware of them (27%) and four in 10 are somewhat aware of these materials (40%).

Two in three Americans look through custom publishing materials at least occasionally.

Two in three Americans (66%) say they pick up custom publishing materials and, at a minimum, flip through them at least occasionally. An additional 27% does so rarely and only 7% say they never look through custom publishing materials.

While strong majorities of both genders do, more women than men look through custom publishing materials.

Women are more likely than men to say they look through custom publishing materials at least occasionally, however strong majorities of both say they do so (70% vs. 62%, respectively).