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Why you should question any tech B-to-B PR campaign that emphasises print over online

A very instructive interview with IDG founder Pat McGovern in today’s Guardian – with some unavoidable conclusions for the tech PR sector.

McGovern hasn’t built a $3bn empire by getting things too wrong – so worth listening to his views on the future of B-to-B publishing (he says all B-to-B publishing will be online in 10 years).

A few things in the feature did stand out. For example, many questioned his decision to drop the print edition of Infoworld in the US – saying farewell to distributing 180,000 copies every week. “Many said without print people wouldn’t be reminded every week of our brand and 40% of our revenue would disappear overnight,” claims McGovern.

One year later, InfoWorld’s online revenues had trebled, the magazine’s overall revenues were up 10%, and without the costs of print, paper and postage, profit margins went from -3% to 37%.

He also says it costs around $20,000 to launch a new online magazine title – compared with $400,000 for a print version.

And here’s an eye-opener – 60pc of the content on IDG’s B-to-B sites is user generated. As McGovern rather too gleefully admits: “It’s nice to have more than half your content generated for free.”

So what are the implications for tech PR?

1. Any PR approach that prioritises print over online needs to be seriously questioned.

2. Tech buyers still trust media brands such as Computer Weekly, Computerworld, etc – however, the way they consume and interact with the magazine is very different. They are unlikely to pay much (if any) attention to the print title. And even when they get information from the online version, it is most likely to be via search rather than because they treat the online title as a destination. Even the small proportion of readers who will subscribe to a magazine RSS feed are likely to filter the content. The 80/20 principle applies ie 80pc of individual reader value will lie in 20pc of the content – readers will increasingly select only the really relevant stuff.

3. If 60pc of content is user generated, then the way in which PR is involved in the process of content generation and conversation is going to be very different.

4. Paradoxically, some magazine related events may become more valuable eg I’d wager that Information Age events are seen as more valuable by many of its readers than the print version of the magazine. They trust the brand, but they don’t have time to read the print version. And they will get content from the magazine online – and via search (and RSS if the magazine reinstated its RSS feeds….). Particular events, however, allow for networking, peer contact, etc.

Given the importance of search in this whole equation, any tech PR programme that doesn’t integrate with a carefully thought through approach to buyer behaviour and search is seriously flawed.