Media Experts Weigh in on Trends at SIPA Conference

Key Takeaways from the 42nd Annual SIPA Conference | The Sterling Woods Group

From June 5-7, specialized publishing professionals gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 42nd annual SIPA Conference. There, they discussed the latest industry trends, shared best practices, and heard from keynote speakers who are finding innovative ways to survive in this ever-changing business.

I reached out to my colleagues after the conference and asked them for their key takeaways. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

In the wrap-up session, organizers and attendees noted that change management is a critical piece of moving forward in this industry. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and in the digital publishing world, it needs to be you, the publisher, driving those changes.

Greg Krehbiel of Kiplinger agrees, noting, “We need to ask ourselves this: How have we changed our product in response to changes in the market or user needs?” Proactive changes driven by your users’ needs are the key to growth. Ignoring current realities means you’ll be left behind.

This sentiment was backed up by Tim Hartman’s keynote speech, where he talked about the Atlantic’s radical new business approach. Fifty percent of their revenue now comes from products that didn’t exist five short years ago. This success should serve as a rallying cry to any publishers who are hesitant to make changes. Change is not only necessary—it can revitalize your entire business.

2. Outside Resources Are a Publisher’s Secret Weapon

So now you’ve observed the changes in your market and user. Next, you need to turn to outside resources to get new ideas off the ground. In his keynote, Hartman suggested reading How Stella Saved the Farm, which talks about this principle.

Sometimes your internal processes and even well-meaning, longtime employees get in the way of real innovation because everything is designed to work efficiently with the status quo. When you introduce radical new ideas, you must create a new approach to give yourself the best shot at success. Often, you need to look to outside resources for inspiration in disrupting your current model.

3. Finding the Data Sweet Spot

Many publishers still struggle to strike the delicate balance between data and content. Elizabeth Petersen of Simplify Compliance notes, “We’re still trying to find the sweet spot for data. We know we can do more with what we have, but we don’t have to become the next Google.”

Jim Sinkinson of Fired Up Marketing agrees: “Over the coming months, publishers should focus on customer relationships and prospect tracking. We specialized publishers are just scratching the surface in terms of building tight, personalized, loyal customer bonds. Longer, stronger relationships are the next frontier. As for prospect tracking, we now have the ability to collect data on prospects’ behavior and identities like never before—it’s revolutionizing the marketing of content.”

Both Petersen and Sinkinson contend that data can provide crucial information on users that allows us to serve them better. Data and tracking will give us insight into how to build those deeper customer bonds. On the other hand, we can’t lose sight of the personal side of things. In the end, it’s our teams that create the content that resonates with users.

4. Think Niche, Not News

News is everywhere. There are plenty of free resources readers can turn to online for breaking stories and the latest headlines. That means you, as a content creator, have to provide something different.

Gerrit Klein of Ebner Publishing noted in his session that, “A publisher’s real asset is access to a targeted group.” But you’re not done once you’ve found your niche.

Greg Krehbiel explains that once you’ve identified your niche, you need to create “content that solves a real problem experienced by the target audience.” And Ed Coburn of Cabot Wealth Network takes it a step further, “It becomes more important every year that publishers focus on the key drivers of their business and cut out activities that don’t contribute to them.”

Identify the kind of content users want, create the best and most unique product you possibly can, and forget about everything else. News, listicles, and shallow coverage of multiple topics don’t sell because the public can find that just about anywhere for free. It’s the rich analysis of the niche that is valuable and can be monetized.

Of course, the next step after any conference is to go home and put those lessons into action. What new idea or concept will you try with your business? I’d love to hear about it; drop me a line.

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. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.