Online Publishers' 2007 To-Do List

2006 was undoubtedly online publishing's breakout season. The growth in cultural relevance and publisher revenues is the result of the happy coincidence of infrastructure maturity, advertising industry acceptance, audience sizes and attitudes, and business development acumen.

2007 promises to be even bigger for the industry, but not necessarily for each individual publisher. In an attractive market, new competitors are constantly, well, attracted. But like yourself, they're probably taking a break next week. So go and enjoy your holidays, and spend some time thinking about how you'll approach 2007 differently from 2006 in order to stay a step or two ahead. Here are a few items to consider adding to your year's to-do list:

  • Your people are your greatest resource. It's a cliché, but it's true, especially now when talent demand is again outstripping supply. And next year, your second greatest resource will be the people you don't yet have, but need. It's time to look at hiring as a critical success factor, and dedicate resources (especially at the management level) to it accordingly. Launch open houses; schedule regular recruitment events; develop incentives for your current staffers to generate qualified referrals. Look proactively into outsourced or flexible staffing (once the crunch hits, it's too late)--whatever it takes to get into position. Approach staffing as creatively and energetically as you do new business development; of the two, it's likely to require the fuller pipeline.



  • Differentiate, man. Everyone is doing it. When placing a banner buy, differentiation boils down largely to audience size and composition. But increasingly advertisers are looking at better integrated, less disruptive ways of engaging people. So who is on a site and how many of them there are will take a backseat to the quality of the advertiser-customer interaction that can be achieved, and the uniqueness of the program. This is less an issue of ad inventory than it is a cultural willingness and operational ability to collaborate with advertisers in order to craft effective custom programs.

  • "New" is the new "big." Advertisers are more conscious of clutter and waste than they have ever been, and are turning more openly to experimentation. We now have a meritocracy of ideas, where campaigns break through not because of a massive media budget behind them, but simply because they resonate with people. Sure, doing a deal with YouTube can kick-start a campaign's viral potential, but yet another ad for "Huge Year-End Savings on Remaining 2006 Dealer Stock!" isn't going to win the auto mall many new customers online. Only what's good takes on a life of its own. And in a media landscape where people have seen and heard it all, what's good is very often what's new. There is an intrinsic value to being the first one in advertising; publishers need to help their clients get in front and stay in front.

  • Stay close to your new competitors. The good news is that this is easier than you think. The bad news is that it's because your new competitors are your clients themselves. Advertisers (alone and through their agencies) are becoming extremely savvy in their ability to create and use their own media. Why buy a million impressions, when twice as many people sit captivated in front of their computers watching Mentos-Diet Coke fountains, or a Burger King chicken do some big hucking on a motorcycle? Smaller brands get it, too, and even when they don't, they sure want to. The lure of freedom from media buying is strong, and the successes are frequent enough, with metrics realistic enough, to keep the eyes of advertisers across the industry glued to the prize. What can publishers do? Two things: 1) acknowledge that this shift is happening; 2) find ways of leveraging their own resources to help their clients (who are, after all, seeking to become online publishers themselves).

    Enjoy the holidays, and get some rest. It's going to be a busy year.

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