Centaur Media CEO on innovation in B2B media

There are signs that revitalising old revenue sources as well as creating new ones have brought about new opportunities.

Andria Vidler, CEO of Centaur Media, one of the UK’s leading multi platform content groups whose brands include The Lawyer, Celebrity Intelligence and Marketing Week, explains to Ashley Norris how her company has innovated by a change in culture and significant restructuring, and how events and international expansion could be core to its future.

Andria will speak at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, from March 20-22 (with the main Summit in the 21st and 22nd). Save hundreds of Euros on the final delegate rates by booking with our Early Bird offer – ending soon. 

Was it tough taking Centaur from 50 business units to seven? What were the core challenges?

Uniting and organising any group of businesses so they are built on the same principles, HR systems, financials, rewards and so on is always difficult, as so many things need to change. Often even identifying the right platform solution can be tricky.

At Centaur the brands were managing themselves in their own special way, so the integration challenge was massive – but in the end it was really worthwhile. You don’t want to lose the spirit of those small teams, you need to harness it and enable them to feel empowered to achieve more.

At Centaur we recognised that many of the digital growth opportunities for our strongest brands needed a multimedia approach. Strong brands glue together print, events, information and social channels and the data that is then captured can be harnessed across all formats. When platforms are run in isolation brands can often fail to be cohesive and consistent and customers see it.

The pain you go through can reap fantastic rewards. For example, only two years ago our Home Interest division consisted of three separate magazines (Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living and Real Homes) and a number of small unconnected events all struggling to compete. By pulling the team together differently the business has been growing in terms of product development, margin and market share very successfully and creating career development opportunities for all.

Do you see a print future for your titles? If so will it be one of slow decline, or can print magazines re-emerge as flagship products for B2B media companies?

I love the print medium, especially when you combine it with content across other platforms. Successful multimedia growth is all about recognising the strengths and values of a brand and leveraging these across different platforms in a way that delivers benefits to the customer.

Magazines can offer a unique position as an anchor for a multimedia portfolio. The Lawyer is a great example of this – it has the leading online presence in the legal sector and has developed a market-leading events and data reports business, but its readers still value a high-quality, sophisticated print experience. 

That said, we have deliberately restructured around market verticals and successfully enabled each team to develop a stronger event and digital content and advertising strategy so our reliance on traditional print advertising revenue has reduced to a significantly manageable percentage. Our Home Interest magazines have actually grown market share over the last 12 months because they are an integral part of our brand offering. 

Do you think that paywalls will be a key part of your future? Or should B2B publishers be thinking more along the lines of more subtle membership style products with benefits etc?

I think paywalls will be an element of our future in some markets and for some brands. But you have to assess each market on its own merits. Some of Centaur’s brands and services may adopt the paywall approach, but others may find that the core revenue generator is from another source, such as live events, and therefore its online presence is part of cost effective marketing. In those cases, going behind a paywall may be less appropriate.

How do you think your years of working for BBC, and the restructuring you were part of, has prepared you for the challenges of Centaur?

Whilst the BBC has the luxury of knowing how income it will have every year, unlike commercial players, it has a clear responsibility and obligation to the licence-fee payers. As a result it thinks strategically and long term and is incredibly audience-obsessed.

The BBC changed enormously whilst I was there, but it held constant its views of providing excellent content and learning to the UK licence payer. During the years I was there it developed ways of working that enabled the business to begin to think imaginatively about audiences and brands and how to distribute content in multiple ways – not just by creating TV and radio programmes.

On a personal level those changes not only taught me how much you can learn from a changing flexible environment, it also taught me how difficult change is for people, all talent – at all levels.

And from a professional perspective the changes over that period at the BBC enabled me to learn how to build a multimedia brand across platforms by focusing on the strengths of the brand and its relationship with its audience. 

Do you ever see a world in which B2B media companies live without traditional display style advertising revenue?

Some media content businesses already live without traditional display revenue. Our Profile Group products like Celebrity Intelligence and Fashion and Beauty Monitor create content for their customers which is traditional media content, but it’s a paid-for digital subscription-only model.

How has Centaur innovated in data collection?

Phase one has been to combine all of our existing data from our many sources into something useful for each market. Getting structure and accessibility right takes time but has been key to enable improved insights and in turn much better targeting.

Last year we gated our key brands, such as The Lawyer, Marketing Week and Money Marketing. That enabled us to collect robust and recent data, our audiences are happy to share their information when they have access to quality content that they value in return whether that is business-critical information or access to an exclusive event. It’s also given us clear evidence of the quality, seniority and engagement of our audience – all good news that we can feed back to our commercial partners.

I think it’s also best to focus on data quality versus quantity so once again truly understanding your customers’ needs and engaging relevant audiences in the right way creates relationships – I want us to focus on building quality relationships not piles of data!

How central to Centaur is international expansion? Which do you think are the key markets? Are there emerging markets in Africa and Asia that you are considering?

Our longer term potential for international expansion across the business is huge. I’ll give you three examples, but there are plenty more! Econsultancy, Celebrity Intelligence and Fashion and Beauty Monitor are the businesses with greatest international potential now and the teams are well placed and growing quickly within Centaur.

Our Econsultancy team in APAC grew revenues by over 90 per cent last year which is a stunning result. Our team in the USA have already grown the Fashion and Beauty Monitor from a standing start to US$0.5m of revenues in 2015. This all points to a huge potential growth for us and we are actively exploring other opportunities.  

Currently our strategy is to be led by the market and the customer,  where we have something we know works internationally.  In the US and Asia we are actively progressing but not yet Africa.

How central is social media to B2B publishing now? Is LinkedIn providing opportunities or challenges or both?

Social media is of course an important ingredient in the B2B publishing mix, and most of our brands are market leaders on Twitter, but how central and important it is – still very much depends on the market. For example, lawyers and engineers are still less likely to use social media than marketers and independent financial advisors. 

How much do you think the purchase of Econsultancy in 2012 shaped the future of Centaur? Did it affect a culture change in the company? Is cultural change more important than strategic change in contemporary publishing businesses?

Econsultancy is a great example of the strength of Centaur and its future as a group. Our purpose is to create products and services that both inspire and enable professionals. Econsultancy helps marketers and ecommerce professionals around the world and in multiple sectors, to succeed online through offering a combination of research, data, analysis, training, events, and a fabulous online resource – with over 600,000 professionals relying on its services every month.

Econsultancy brought new skills and a new approach and therefore did help with the transformation of Centaur, but only when the group had decided itself that it wanted to changed and work in a different way. 

In certain sectors- namely marketing and advertising – the events markets is becoming very competitive. How does Centaur keep ahead of its rivals? Is it mainly about the legacy of the brands and the quality of the data they own?

We believe content is key regardless of format so our priority is always to get the content at our events to be the very best it can be and both deliver value, inspiration and surprise the delegates. The Festival of Marketing is a great example of this. In November, our team created a two-day event with over 270 speakers in 155 sessions in Tobacco Dock which was attended by over 3500 delegates. Independent research conducted afterwards reinforced the key drivers for bringing marketers into one place – 81 per cent of delegates said the event was very useful for keeping  up with market  trends, 76 per cent said they were inspired  and 70 per cent said the event was very useful for personal education and training, either for themselves or their wider teams. 

The Festival of Marketing doesn’t owe its success to legacy print brands but the team that manage our suite of marketing products and services are very close to their customers and audiences. We want to always ensure we know the challenges our customers are facing and create events that will really help them take better professional decisions more easily as they are better equipped with more understanding, learning  and  shared experiences. 

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