From Audience to Customer: Centaur Media CEO Andria Vidler calls for industry rethink

Andria Vidler

Revisit the Marcus Morris Lecture from the PPA Festival 2018, held at Tobacco Dock on May 10.

With 2018 in full swing, this year’s PPA Festival is themed around the strengths of the collective and what better way to start than with positive news?
 
Last November, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) announced that the creative industries – which includes advertising, design, fashion, events and of course publishing – are healthy and growing and providing increasing value to the wider economy.  The latest government statistics tell us that UK creative industries contribute over £91 billion to the economy. In fact, creative industries has the highest growth rate of all sectors –  it’s one of the fastest growing industries, outperforming the wider UK economy. 

That’s something we should all be proud of. And there is more good news.
 
Last month, the government pledged a landmark £150 million deal with the creative industries sector to develop creative clusters nationwide and roll out creative careers and businesses. The deal aims to double Britain’s share of the "global creative content market" by 2025.

Even more recently, a £3 million fund was announced by the government to support creative and cultural organisations across the Northern England powerhouse.

How I see things, collectively, the creative industries wield power and influence. Individually, however, we – the publishing industry – are not the headline-grabbers.

So, I’d like to pose the question to everyone here: “Why are we so quiet?”

Many of us sitting in the room have had a few difficult years as the world of publishing truly turned upside down – we have kept our heads down and done whatever was needed.

But my challenge to you at the start of this Festival is to suggest that the publishing industry has much to be proud of and now is the right time to shout from the parapets and trumpet our collective achievements. 

The explosion of change across publishing and media has heavily disrupted the traditional TV/print paradigm. Facebook, Netflix, Google, Amazon, Apple, Snapchat and Instagram have changed the way people consume information and entertainment – forever.  Procurement, transparency, data have also all been game-changers.  Audiences choose to interact with content on social media platforms (largely for free). Copy sales have diminished and advertisers are seeking alternatives to the old agency order.

The global digital platforms haven’t just disrupted our old publishing business model – they have turned it upside down. We have closed magazines and consolidated minor sub-brands into larger master brands.

Digital disruption has been industry-wide across both B2C and B2B, and, let’s be honest, it’s been painful.

Andria Vidler

From change comes opportunity

Along with many other business leaders, I believe that with challenge comes opportunity and these challenges have brought out some of the best in publishing.

We have shown entrepreneurial, creative strength and helped this industry step forward and grab opportunities emerging from disruption firmly by the scruff of the neck.

Everyone in this room has been exploring new revenue opportunities, and our forward-thinking publishers are redefining what it means to be a media entity in the multi-platform era, diversifying into TV, retail, lifestyle, training, events and digital. From the digital edition of Harper's Bazaar to Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson’s mobile update, the cross-platform presence of magazine brands is dynamic, diverse, and remains an essential part of our consumers’ lives.

Our unifying strengths are content and brand trust.

Across the industry, we have great examples of boldness and agility, breathing new life and energy into existing brands.  

Health Service Journal has transformed from a magazine featuring jobs to a digital intelligence service with a market leading reputation and 70% recurring revenues from subscriptions and events. Future plc has grown share price exponentially thanks to a successful ecommerce strategy. Condé Nast has launched a College of Fashion and Design in London, while Wired has diversified into events, consultancy and retail pop-ups. Haymarket’s What Car? still offers car reviews, but now enables readers to consider, find and buy the car all via the What Car? brand cleverly turning its audience into consumers.

Underpinning all these successes is the reappraisal of audiences and an understanding that now, as customers, they expect something different.

We are all game-changers

I love this quote from Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” 

We must be the changemakers. All of us.

From change and challenges has come opportunity. And where we have embraced change, we have flourished and we should all be shouting about those successes.

As media owners – our clients – the advertisers have never needed us as much as they do now.

Our clients have to be more efficient and more effective. They have limited budgets, which need to demonstrate strong ROI in mostly slow growth environments and digital is disrupting the way they work.  What’s more, tech is changing faster than organisations, and the people in them, can absorb.

Our opportunity as content creators close to our communities, whether B2B or B2C, is to understand what content is relevant and essential.

Andria Vidler

Content as a silver bullet

Content is not only king – it’s our silver bullet.

As publishers, we have two tasks: to keep focused on the audience and customer and to innovate constantly to ensure content is highly valuable.

I was recently reminded of this at a media event. Chatham House rules applied but I was struck by the words of a historic print publisher, not necessarily known for its innovation and agility.

To paraphrase, sadly without the eloquence of the speaker: “I don’t care if the title is digital, tv or print, as long as it stays true to its original ethos – breaking news stories based on respected investigation.”

I was struck by his bravery and sheer determination to stay close to his readers, whatever the format. Many of us here today should congratulate each other for enabling content teams to innovate and move away from thinking the format was the primary definer.

From audience to customer

“Audience” to “user” and ultimately to “customer” has not been an easy path, but it has been worthwhile.

It is possible to re-energise through innovation and product development – and this is what we have quietly been getting on with at Centaur Media.

Over the past four years, Centaur has successfully repositioned itself from a publishing company to a content and insight-led business information group.

Just like everyone else here today, we saw the world around us transforming at a phenomenal pace, creating both unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Our internal transformation strategy focused on our customer’s need for more in-depth market analysis and a need for actionable intelligence and advice.

To achieve this, we had to restructure internally and create multimedia customer-focused teams (yes, the rumours are true, we had to introduce the Marketing Week and Marketing Week Live teams to each other). We created a central services team that could help every part of the business in this new more digital era, to lead on digital product development, on event operations, on data management and insight, on research, tech and IT.

These changes created a highly effective way of transforming old Centaur, and finally ridding the business of the old siloed approach, enabling teams to start to learn from one another events team learning about digital, younger digital brands like Econsultancy learning from heritage trusted brands like Marketing Week.

Centaur has become a simpler business, consolidated around strong professional knowledge ecosystems and, today, as a provider of business information in many formats, Centaur is more relevant than ever before.  Passive audiences are now active users and are becoming customers. 

Our new products and services mean that less than 20% of our total revenue is now advertising. We are no longer just selling space and stands we are helping business win.

We “Advise. Inform. Connect.” It hasn’t been easy, and yes, we’ve had ups and downs. But within just four years, we have innovated to become a completely new business – and I couldn’t be prouder.

Let me give you a couple of powerful examples of what I mean.

Andria Vidler

The Lawyer

In 2013, The Lawyer was a weekly trade magazine with over 70% revenue reliant on classified advertising and sponsorship. It was a well-read publication that generated no revenues at all directly from its audience.

The market was changing rapidly and traditional revenues with their exceptionally high margins were under significant pressure and falling fast.

We did a lot of research and we took a good look at ourselves in a Trinny and Susannah mirror that exposes all the ugly bits (they were not pretty). Then we set about on a plan of reinvention – gradual reinvention that piloted and tested and piloted and tested, small areas of innovation, taking both audience and advertisers on this journey together.

Fast forward to May 2018, and today The Lawyer is a digital intelligence service that’s satisfying the needs of both corporate lawyers and in-house general counsels. It combines award-winning editorial with in-depth data, all on one platform, making it easier for subscribers to find insights they want. It has over 200 corporate accounts. Revenues have grown by over 15% over the last four years.

Today The Lawyer has a hugely successful monthly magazine and digital subscription revenues that account for nearly 40% of total revenues.

That’s quite a successful leap in four years.

Marketing Week

A 40 year-old magazine has established itself as a multi-format brand that enables professional marketers to succeed in their jobs.

Marketing Week is now an online publisher with nearly half a million monthly users. It has a monthly magazine, two powerful must-attend large events and a very successful e-learning business. Its content is core to how it has been able to develop and grow strong new revenue streams. The right content, in the right format, at the right time – a story of innovation success.

Marketing Week has innovated yet stayed true to its heritage: to provide content that matters to marketeers.

Andria Vidler

Centaur growing to help clients to grow

Taking our story one step further, Centaur is now in the position where, by working together across the group, our complementary brands can offer clients both a specific service or an end-to-end solution. Bringing together the expertise and knowledge of our content brands with best in class business consultancy.  

For instance, we have recently helped the CMO of a retail business with a one-off project to drive new business; an entertainment brand with marketing consultancy to help remodel its marketing operations; a pharma business needed help embedding digital within traditional marketing and a restaurant chain needed a seamless training programme to accelerate marketers’ performance.

Centaur is helping clients to grow. It’s an exciting place to be. 

I know there are very many similar stories here today – stories to be proud of and to shout about, loud and clear.

#alltogethernow

There is no doubt that the pace, and nature, of relentless change can be bewildering both for our customers and for our profession. We are transforming fast and have created new business models while many of our advertisers are just beginning to be hit by their own digital disruption.

I believe that our successes have happened when we have been able to innovate, where we have worked together and where we have learnt from each other.

Alongside a dose of economic and political uncertainty, the next decade will certainly bring new challenges – let’s all recognise the entrepreneurial and creative strengths of publishing and lead the creative industries sector with confidence and pride.

As the great man Henry Ford said: "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

The Festival is an excellent opportunity to hear all about great content successes, so listen and learn and seek out those you think can offer you more specific guidance.

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