Publishing has undergone a significant metamorphosis since the turn of the century. As the power of the internet has grown year-after-year, with Google's search engine shaping the way we navigate it, publishing companies have needed to evolve their business models accordingly.
Global Fund Media (‘GFM'), which publishes Hedgeweek and was established in 2002 by digital media entrepreneurs Sunil Gopalan (pictured), Chairman and Publisher, and Oliver Bradley, Chief Operating Officer, has always been a pure-play digital publisher. Over the last 18 months, the firm has evolved significantly to forge greater alignments of interests between its clients and readers across its seven titles spanning all investment fund classes including private equity, ETFs and property funds (see www.globalfundmedia.com).
A new model has emerged: Straight-Through Marketing or ‘STM' for short.
"Over the last 13 years we have learnt an enormous amount about digital publishing. About how to supply the right information to the right constituents, but also making sure that those different constituents i.e. buyers and sellers, are being informed with the right information," says Gopalan.
"The fundamental lesson that we've learnt is how best to unravel the different strands of DNA to understand exactly who our readership is in order to deliver a more focused content strategy for our clients."
This involved an extensive exercise in mid-2015 updating GFM's database of more than 98,000 readers to ascertain who those readers are and where they are located. If there is a gmail address, that person is contacted so that GFM knows the company they work for, their job title, and the business function they are involved in: is it a sales & marketing function, an institutional asset management function, or a trading function?
The old format of print publishing to a core audience is simply too limited. Many publishers have developed a digital model but they have done so from a traditional print heritage, shoe-horning their business to fit with the digital age. The point is, GFM does not have that legacy issue.
"We've approached this scientifically from day one. That's our main point of differentiation," says Bradley.
By the end of October 2015, GFM completed the database overhaul, making sure that the data has been scrubbed and cleaned. This is fundamental to ensuring that the STM model works at the highest level of efficiency. There are several moving parts involved in STM:
- Editorial Team – GFM has a team of experienced editors that work closely with clients to craft insightful, relevant content.
- Social Media – Making full use of Twitter and LinkedIn to disseminate the message and drive lead generation.
- Sales – GFM's experienced sales team take a high-touch consultative approach to understanding each client's objectives, helping them to develop their advertising and marketing strategies to maximise their campaigns.
- IT – Interrogating the outcomes of each campaign, producing traffic reports and a range of analytics for clients to gauge: e.g. number of article downloads, geographic dispersion of leads, who those leads are and so on.
"This shows how we are able to work from start to finish with our clients, and encapsulates what we are trying to say with our STM model," says Gopalan.
A one-stop-shop for tailored marketing campaigns
GFM can best be thought of as an amalgam of various processes that currently exist in various roles and departments within different companies. These include:
- The client's marketing department;
- The media buyer;
- The copy writer;
- The advertising agency;
- The PR agency;
- The publisher.
"We offer all of this in one solution at a cost-effective rate with 100 per cent transparency; that is: no leads, no value.
"The STM model is about crafting our service to suit our clients. To adapt and deliver according to their specific objectives and measure how well that approach has worked in meeting those objectives. We make sure that we measure its efficacy using the same quantum – or variable – as the client's. That way, we are all speaking the same language," explains Bradley.
For example, say a service provider has created a new product and wants to get a targeted message out to the industry. Once the mode of delivery has been determined – e.g. a bespoke report, a Q&A interview, an in-depth article – GFM will then disseminate that content to a specific portion of its readership (or indeed its entire global readership if appropriate), and over a pre-determined timeframe measure the number of leads generated, which that client can convert into new business.
In other words, there's a straight-through-digital-marketing line that shows what the client has spent, what content has been created – the INPUTS – and what the end result has been i.e. percentage of leads that have generated new business: the OUTPUTS.
This is the scientific approach that Bradley refers to earlier. In today's marketplace, where clients face considerable challenges cutting through the ‘noise' of the internet to get their voice heard correctly, having that rigorous front to back process in place means not only that that message is heard, it also means that GFM is closely aligned with the client's objectives from the outset.
GFM recognises that there is no longer a single solution approach to servicing clients; each one is different and in today's publishing environment, creating highly focused original content that resonates directly with the audience a client is looking to connect with has to be done in a carefully tailored fashion.
Today's financial practitioners need customised solutions – primarily content – to meet their needs. In that respect, publishers are no different to FoHF managers, fund administrators, prime brokers or technology providers: everyone is working to deliver value for the end-user.
This is no longer the age of the cookie cutter model.
Content is king
In the last couple of years, GFM has made strides to broaden its toolbox to give a client greater flexibility in how it controls and delivers its content. Traditional tools such as ad banner campaigns and press releases are still used, as are sponsored articles in a wide range of special reports that GFM's flagship website, Hedgeweek, produces on a monthly basis.
But now there are other choices. One has been the creation of what GFM calls ‘Mini Reports': rather than being part of a wider special report, these mini reports are 100 per cent owned by the client. Typically six to eight pages long, they provide a bite-size chunk of information that the client can showcase to GFM's readership.
Some examples of recent reports that have done significantly well using this model include:
- eVestment report: The evolution of hedge fund investing & why institutions remain sanguine.
- CME report: Deliverable swap futures.
- State Street Global Markets: Fund Connect – A multi-sponsor ETF platform for the 21st Century.
Then there are microsites. These are sites that sit within Hedgeweek that the client owns. The idea behind this is that it gives the client a unique opportunity to build a stable of original articles, based on editorial interviews with the GFM team, thereby reinforcing its market position and, crucially, allowing it to develop a strong digital identity; the more articles somebody writes on a specific subject, the more favourable they are viewed by Google.
GFM has developed successful microsites for the likes of Bloomberg, KPMG, SEI, Lyxor, Preqin, CBOE and Intralinks.
In addition to these mini reports and microsites, GFM's team helps with industry surveys, compiles reports on the back of client-hosted events, and even contributes blogs to help reinforce a client's message.
"More importantly, we can help our clients reach the right audience with this customised content. We then report directly back to the client with a stream of analytics on how many people looked at a particular article or report, who they work for and what their job title is – in other words qualified leads – in order for the client to capitalise on that information. The STM model is basically an end-to-end marketing communications solution for service providers.
"We have become incredibly active over the last 18 months creating microsites and mini reports for clients, which have proven to be hugely successful. It gives them an opportunity to shape and create content in close collaboration with our editorial team. Indeed, clients who choose to go down this path repeat the process: Lyxor Asset Management, SunGard, eVestment and several other companies have produced unique mini reports in recent times," explains Gopalan.
The STM model is, in effect, the antithesis of a scattergun approach i.e. producing content and hoping for the best. What GFM does is ascertain who the client is looking to connect with and what topic or problem in the market are they attempting to address? That then facilitates the creation of thoughtful, intelligent marketing that has the best chance of resonating with GFM's global readership.
"Because the internet is relatively intangible compared to print, a lot of metrics like numbers of unique views or impressions are by and large meaningless. We have always had that at the back of our minds as a digital publisher. In terms of how we deliver an advertising solution we aim to be as transparent as possible. Given that our model is 100 per cent supported by advertising, we have to take our clients' advertising needs incredibly seriously. That has always been the case since day one and has enabled us to maintain an 80 to 90 per cent retention rate," says Bradley, who goes on to explain why GFM has evolved its business model.
"Firstly, we have a better latent understanding of how the digital marketplace works. Secondly, the internet has become a lot more sophisticated. We operate purely within the business-to-business community. We help connect the dots, putting our clients in front of GFM's readers as efficiently as possible in terms of time, resources, and obviously cost."
Google’s Penguin 3.0 algorithm
The algorithms that Google and other search engines use is such that when you search for an answer you are confronted with 50 different options, all of which refer to the same data and contain the same content that you are looking for.
In a quest to bring the search engine user to the originator of that answer – and cut through the noise of the 49 other websites – publishers are going to suffer a bit with Penguin 3.0, the algorithm that Google updated last year. The whole point of Penguin is to fight against webspam in search results and black hat techniques to game the system, according to an article on entrepreneur.com (www.entrepreneur.com/article/239162).
Within a PR context, this is important. A PR agency wants to generate as much exposure for their client as possible by disseminating a press release far and wide. The search engine algorithm will, however, determine that the press release should only be attributed to one publication – first come, first served. All other companies who produce the press release will be penalised. On the one hand, this could impact Hedgeweek and other GFM titles that share press releases with the industry.
On the other hand, it could make the STM model even more powerful and compelling to GFM's clients over the coming years, as they will be able to guarantee that by using GFM as their primary receptacle for distributing original content, their company will feature prominently in Google's rankings.
"We are improving relevancy to both ends of the food chain – the advertisers, and our readers. People read Hedgeweek because they are in the industry, they have a vested interest. The content we create resonates with operations teams, front office traders, compliance teams, legal teams, asset allocators and so on. Having an article placed in front of you, that may lead you to contact the sponsor behind that content, is absolutely fair play.
"So we are well positioned to support clients even more strategically as the need rises for companies within the asset management sector to disseminate mission-critical information to the industry from a single reliable source: we are that source," states Bradley.
Gopalan takes a slightly more cynical, editorially-driven view on machine algorithms. To his mind, GFM is using human intelligence to make the STM model work and deliver meaningful results. As such, getting over-obsessed over whether an article or press release should be used more than once is unnecessary. He makes an excellent point to illustrate this by referring to the emergence of PERE funds – investment vehicles that span both the private equity and real estate sectors.
"Let's say a PE house wants to discuss their plans for expanding into the real estate space. It's ridiculous to think that we shouldn't then publish an article on both PE Wire and Property Funds World. That manager would want the exposure so as to appeal to both private equity and real estate investors. To suggest that an article becomes redundant when used on more than one website is missing the point entirely.
"We know how to disseminate that information to the correct audience; Google's algorithm does not," says Gopalan.
"Indeed, this is not like Amazon or eBay, which operate in the mass-market arena. GFM operates in a very niche industry. Our church is a small church."
With STM, marketeers can expect not to receive high volume, mediocre numbers but rather lower volume, high quality analytics and leads.
"As firms such as Bloomberg, Intralinks, State Street and SunGard have discovered, a focused strategy on content creation is allowing us to deliver quality leads that can be acted on. That's the key to this," says Gopalan in conclusion.