CASE STUDIES

Growth Trends in B2B Media

David Shanker
(Formerly) Chief Executive Officer — EnsembleIQ

December, 2018

MediaGrowth spoke with David Shanker, who at that time was CEO of EnsembleIQ, to hear some of his views on vision, strategy and areas of growth, both at his company and in the B2B media community.

MediaGrowth:
EnsembleIQ has created a powerful voice in its business communities by combining the resources of a number of influential B2B media brands.  How has management organized all of those parts to benefit your customers?

David Shanker:
The first thing that we did was to go out and speak with our customers.  To me, everything begins there. We learned that our individual brands obviously had a lot of equity. Everyone knew them — titles like Progressive Grocer, Convenience Store News and Drug Store News.  But for the most part, our customers were unaware that EnsembleIQ had over 20 powerful brands, with all their associated events and digital platforms, that could deliver messages to their target audiences.  So, once we understood that our customers could be looking to us to do more for them, we organized ourselves in a way that made sense for them. We put like brands together and made the decision to go to market with four verticals — Consumer Goods and Retail, Healthcare, Technology, and The Path to Purchase Institute.  This enabled us to have experts in each of these verticals that could have very different conversations with our customers.

For example, now, instead of our convenience team only talking with a customer about convenience, the conversation can be much broader.  We can talk to customers about how to generate leads, to show thought leadership, to be an expert in a field, to launch a new product, and more — all across multiple brands.  Putting those like brands together in verticals now allows us to have different, more profitable conversations with our customers.

During these conversations we often find out that many of our clients don’t really know what it is they need. They know they have a business issue, but by listening and asking a lot of questions we can help them with more complete solutions for what they are trying to accomplish.  A lot of times it is about generating leads, and when we understand what they are focused on in terms of their business initiatives, we can apply a whole array of digital programs to help generate leads related to those specific initiatives – the awareness they are trying to create in their industry.  What’s important here though, is to know that leads for the sake of large numbers is a bad idea.  What we aspire to do with our customers is deliver 50 fantastic leads rather than 500 average leads.  Once we understand the awareness our customers are trying to create in their industries, we can get really smart about delivery to our audiences.

MG:
How are you working to serve your audiences?

DS:
Obviously, it’s critical that we treat our audiences with TLC.  We want to make sure they get the information that they want, when they want it, how they want it.  Do they still want to receive their print magazine?  Some still do, some are ok without it.  We want them to make that decision.  How often do they want to receive our email blasts — daily, weekly?  Do they want to receive alerts on their mobile phones?  We’re offering this right now for two of our brands – Progressive Grocer and Convenience Store News – and we’re going to continue to roll that out.  It’s all about the right content at the right time.  Business professionals are all busy.  We can’t be inundated with so many emails and text messages that important content gets lost in the clutter. 

As an example, Drug Store News does something that is brilliant.  They recap the previous week’s stories on Sunday night and send out an email blast to those that have opted in.  This stands out.  It comes on a Sunday and doesn’t get lost in the clutter.   We try to be very responsive to our customers and to put them at the center of our decisions, while at the same time making sure that we’re treating our audience with the same TLC, so that they only get content when and how they want it.

The biggest challenge we all have is time. No one has enough of it.  We’re all working fast and with limited resources.  So, what you’re going to see from EnsembleIQ is more video, more short subject pieces – quick little snippets — that people can digest more quickly as news breaks or as something needs to be discussed.  We want to be able to customize our news feeds so that they only deliver desired information.  If anyone wants to read the long form later, that’s great, but we’ve got to make sure that people are getting information the way media and content are consumed today.

Look for more short form content, look for more alerts and text messages, look for audio either via podcasts or in 30-second or 60-second formats, easy to listen to – to find out what’s happening.  These are the things that you’ll see us continually improve upon as we move forward.

MG:
Where do you see organic growth happening in the near term?

DS:
We’ve seen good organic growth from some of our brands, but not all, and obviously we want to see organic growth from all our brands, all of our events, all of our digital platforms.  We believe in 2019 we are going to see organic growth come from primarily two areas, events and our digital platforms.

MG:
How do you see events changing to serve audiences better?

DS:
We have hired experienced event leadership to continue to drive the next generation of events across EnsembleIQ.  After an in-depth analysis of all the events that we had in 2017 and 2018 we decided that we were no longer going to host some, and we were going to double down on others.  And that was based off of questions such as: Are they a strategic fit with the brand?  Do we believe that there is room for them to grow?  and, Do we understand that this is something that the industry is looking for?

Some areas where we see growth and where we will be doubling down at our events are honoring and identifying top woman executives and rising stars (male or female) across the CPG and retail industries. Today we have Top Women in Grocery as a very exciting event that we just held a couple of weeks ago in Chicago.  We had Top Women in Convenience, that was last month in Vegas, and you’ll be seeing us do more events with presentations about the inequity of compensation, the severe inequity in terms of the number of women on boards and the really severe inequity of women in top fortune 100 CEO rolls across consumer goods and retail.  You’ll also see us doing much more about identifying rising stars and making sure that we are celebrating all of them in the appropriate way.  So that is an example of identifying an area for growth that we are going to continue to invest in.

Our attendees will also find that our events are going to become much more experiential, much more about community.  One of the things attendees have said is, “When we come to one of your events, be it The Path to Purchase Summit, The Path to Purchase Expo, your MURTEC event or one of your League of Leaders events, no matter which one (and those events range from a couple hundred to over 2000 attendees), no matter the size, we feel the sense of community.”  So we continue to make sure that that is a big part of everything we do around our events.

Our events also have to be experiential.  People have to feel, when they attend one of our events, that they are getting that white glove treatment.  And that starts with the moment they hop out of their taxi or Uber, walk into the hotel and check in, all the way through every single part of the event. We really are focused on making sure all of those touch points give all of our attendees this white glove treatment as part of a community – be it a shopper marketing community, a restaurant technology community or a community of thought leaders. You’re going to see a lot of that from EnsembleIQ going forward.

Obviously, networking is one of the primary reasons that people come to our events.  And all events must be educational, but not only educational, they have to be actionable.  Attendees must be able to learn and take 2 or 3 things away with them, back to their organizations, that they can implement to make a difference at their organization.  That’s the filter that we put all our programing through.  Is it educational, but more importantly, is it actionable and can you implement it when you get back to your office?  So, we want practitioners speaking about things that are really actionable to our attendees.

MG:
What about innovations in digital platforms?

DS:
We are becoming a business intelligence platform. We have great content.  We have unbelievable editorial staff members who are truly, truly domain experts in the fields that they are covering.  Our knowledge of what’s going on across our four verticals is probably the best I’ve seen in my 30-year business career working with different types of content.  So, we have the opportunity to take all this great content and leverage it in ways that our audiences can get real value from.  And this business intelligence platform is going to leverage big data better and better over time.

If you think about our audience — we know who they are.  We know if they are attending our events, which ones and with what frequency.  We know how they are engaging with our digital content because we track what they do online with us.  Did they open the Monday morning newsletter from Progressive Grocer?  If yes, which articles did they read?  How much time did they spend with us? Obviously, we know if they subscribe to a hard copy version of the magazine as well.  But the more that we understand their online behavior with us, the better we can tailor information for them.

So as an example, if we see someone that’s part of our Progressive Grocer audience and if we know that they are clicking on loss prevention articles, we should be smart as a business intelligence platform and feed them more loss prevention content and less content on, say, merchandising or pricing, to provide them a better experience.  The next generation of that will be looking at all the behavioral data that we have and then thinking about other data we can append to the behavioral data that we have.  We have a couple of data scientists exploring that right now and I don’t know where that is going to take us.  But I do know from some of my prior experiences running market research agencies that there are data sets that are easily appendable and the secret sauce is identifying which one of those is the one that we want to append to our behavioral data so that we can increase the value that we provide to our audiences.

MG:
What challenges are you facing and how are you dealing with them?

DS:
When you have five different companies that have been brought together under one umbrella, at some point the leadership team needs to look across the brands and make some decisions on what the company stands for, what its vision is, and what the strategy is for how it is going to go to market. Since I joined EnsembleIQ at the end of February, we’ve been focused on just that.

We believe in solving big problems and inspiring bold ideas.  That’s the company vision and we articulate that to our customers.  We listen and then apply our resources across our four verticals to help customers solve their big problems with bold ideas.  With 20 brands and 5 different acquisitions — that’s a challenge.  It’s hard to do.  But with focus and with a good leadership team – and we have a great leadership team – we can get that done.  We’re being very responsive to what the marketplace is telling us.

Also, disruption is happening everywhere.  It’s a challenge for the industry, but it ends up being an opportunity for us.  It’s happening in consumer goods and retail, it’s happening in healthcare, it’s happening in restaurant and hospitality technology.  All of that is a great opportunity for us because when disruption is happening, someone has to break thru the clutter.  At EnsembleIQ we say that it is our job to help our audiences and customers see around the next corner.  We must be predicters, if you will, of what we think is coming.  We analyze what we see going on in the marketplace and put a position on it.  We tell our community what we think they need to be looking out for.  If you’re in the media business and have the ability to deliver great content like we do, disruption is really great for your business because it is what keeps people looking for new information.   We have an abundance of that.

MG:
Do you intend to continue to grow through acquisitions as well as organically?

DS:
We plan for organic growth.  We also are still focused on acquisitions.  This is a company that has acquired five different businesses.  And we are going to continue to look at different acquisitions that make sense and align with our business.  We are excited about the future of events and digital intelligence.   And there are some other things that we are working on that are probably a little too early for primetime release.  Just put them under the bucket of innovation and on-going focus and we will be able to talk about that as they get closer to being commercially available.

MG:
Thank you, David!