An Interview with Ebner Publishing CEO, Gerrit Klein
If you’ve been paying any attention at all the world of publishing in the last decade, it’s clear that the model is beyond broken. Focusing on display advertising is a thing of the past. Multiple platforms are even blocking and limiting ads they deem invasive or annoying to their users.
It’s time to move beyond simple banner ads, pop-ups, and clickbait articles. The only way to make sure you’re able to effectively monetize your brand is to focus on content. Not just any content: High-quality, results-driving content.
Imagine being able to grow your website traffic by 700 percent, digital subscriber base by 800 percent, and newsletter list size by over 900 percent? Well Gerrit Klein, CEO of Ebner Publishing, was able to achieve this with WatchTime, one of the 82 special-interest magazines his Germany-based company produces.
How did he do it? By saying goodbye to traditional media rules.
“We do not produce magazines. We produce content.”
Klein is leading a massive mindset change. Ebner Publishing is not a magazine company, it’s a content company. Because Ebner Publishing distributes content across channels and audiences, Klein has instilled what he called the concept of “content atomization.”
Content atomization requires editors to proactively think about how each component of a traditional magazine article (images, captions, sidebars, etc…) can be strategically repurposed for digital. For example, the image should also make for a good Instagram post, or the material in the sidebar should make for a compelling LinkedIn infographic.
Klein said the transformation from traditional magazine workflow to channel-agnostic workflow has been a “long and windy road.” However, he is sticking with it. He emphasizes that being just a magazine company is not sustainable in the long run. He has invested in training, and even created “Ebner Academy” to teach these new methodologies to employees. (This approach to digital transformation is one we have spoke about before ourselves—and it’s clearly working for WatchTime.)
“The editor needs to be the main marketer.”
The concept of targeting defined personas is an important part of modern content marketing. A persona is a sub-segment of your audience (read more about segmentation here). It gives you a clear picture about how that group of customers feels and behaves so you know what content to develop and how to market your products.
Klein warns not to write for multiple personas at once. “You will fail with that approach. Concentrate on one persona and create the best fitting content for exactly that part of the target audience.”
Klein gives an example from another title, Guitar and Bass magazine. There are huge differences in the audience segments. Some are young kids who want to make music but don’t have money, so the most they can spend for a guitar is $300. Then there are semi-professionals—they need far more advanced equipment in the $2,000-3,000 range. And then there are collectors who would pay $5,000 for a piece. This group is not so interested in the sound, but rather the history (for example, who used it).
These are three totally different personas. The language, topic, and style of a piece of content for the first group should be completely different than that for the second or third group. So editors need to ask themselves which group the content is being produced for. Klein advocates, “Aim at exactly who you want. You can’t satisfy everyone, and that’s okay. A magazine is a mix — one-third for Persona A, one-third for Persona B, and one-third for Persona C. Not everyone will like everything, but there’s a chance that everyone likes something.”
This is why Klein says the editor needs to be the main marketer of all products. Editors—not just the marketers—need to deal with these questions about audience when creating content.
“Google Trends is so simple, but it provides a lot of valuable input.”
Klein uses the phrase predictive content to describe how Ebner Publishing comes up with story ideas. The team uses technology, such as Google Trends, to analyze what people in the target persona might be interested in. They pay attention to seasonality and trends over time.
For example, if they see that everyone is searching for Fender and no one is searching for Les Paul, then they won’t write about Les Paul, no matter how “cool” someone on the staff might think the story could be.
“Evergreen content is extremely important to digital.”
Klein gives three reasons for the success of WatchTime:
The team used data, not gut feelings, to make decisions.
Management developed a slate of initiatives and scheduled implementation—this was not a “we will see what happens” situation.
3. Evergreen Content
Klein says this is extremely important. News is passive, but evergreen content is timeless. Find something that people will always be interested in, regardless of what the current trends are.
“Display advertising never worked.”
Klein says, “Display advertising never worked, and it will not be satisfying in the future due to ad blockers.” He recognizes that the only way to get consumers to pay for content is “to be outstanding – it has to be better than it was 20 years ago!” Klein concludes by advocating that content marketing is the way of the future to build and monetize an audience.
Which of these concepts can you start applying to your business today? Channel-agnostic workflow, persona targeting (both in editorial and marketing capacities), predictive content, evergreen content development, and digital monetization are all tools to help you cut through the noise and reach your audience in an impactful and lucrative way.
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About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online, set to be published in 2018. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.