Knowing your readers the basis for digital strategy: Forbes CEO

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Knowing your readers the basis for digital strategy: Forbes CEO

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Mike Perlis, President and CEO of Forbes Media

In commemoration of the JoongAng Media Conference that marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the JoongAng Media Network, the Korea JoongAng Daily runs a series of interviews with major players in the media industry. The “Know Way Out” media conference will be attended by world-class experts in the media industry including those who had interviewed beforehand. The conference, which will take place Monday at Dongdaemun Design Plaza Art Hall, will address the crises the media industry currently faces and suggest new directions for the years ahead. -Ed.



Forbes Media promotes itself as one of the first media players to “make a significant investment in the digital age,” according to CEO and President Mike Perlis, who took control of the company in 2010, and traffic on the company’s webpage, Forbes.com, has risen nearly
fourfold over the past five years.

In an email interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Perlis — who will attend the JoongAng Media Conference, organized by JoongAng Media Network, on Monday — said 70 percent of total advertising revenue came from digital platforms, a strong indicator of the importance of enhancing online operations to satisfy consumers.

One of the factors attributed to Forbes Media’s online success is the company’s decision to open its platform to outside content contributors, who number around 1,600 and can directly post their insights.

Perlis, the former president of Ziff Davis Media and Playboy Publishing Group, said that constructing a digitalfirst strategy “starts with creating a different type of newsroom that’s more focused on understanding metrics and data” to meet the needs of consumers.



Q. What advantages do business media like Forbes have in transitioning to digital operations, both in terms of content as well as
advertising and marketing?


A. In the mid-90s, Forbes was one of the first media companies to make a significant investment in digital with the launch of Forbes.com. Since then, we’ve continued to innovate and build scale while aiming to preserve our high journalistic standards. Our transition to digital has allowed us to efficiently create high-quality content at scale. The tipping point occurred five years ago, when we launched a unique
publishing platform with technology that we built in-house. Different constituents now share their voice on Forbes.com through easy-to-use publishing tools. Not only do our staff journalists publish content, but we also have 1,600 contributors (topical experts, authors, academics, business leaders and freelance journalists) who publish directly onto our site. And for a fee, marketers can share their domain expertise on Forbes.com, further enhancing the experience for our visitors. The quality, quantity and variety of our content has delivered record results. Today, 70 percent of our total advertising revenues come from digital.



What sets Forbes apart from other business media? How has Forbes been able to attain an advantage?

Forbes is a 98-year-old media company that has always maintained the same mission: to champion free markets and entrepreneurial capitalism. Today, this mission is more relevant to a new audience of start-up entrepreneurs than it ever was before. With that vision, we’ve focused on combining our 98-year-old tradition with a culture of innovation, science and contemporary performance. We’ve been able to keep changing the content model and advertising model to maintain our competitive advantage. This has enabled us to create a more efficient business model for quality journalism.



Would a general paper such as the JoongAng Ilbo be better off strengthening business news? Would that help in terms of formulating a digital-first strategy?

Building a digital-first strategy starts with creating a different type of newsroom that’s more focused on understanding metrics and data to help inform the quality journalism that meets consumers needs.



Some argue that business media tend to blur the boundaries between news and advertising, especially in the digital age, damaging editorial independence. What would you say to that? What strategy or philosophy do you have in this regard?

We have crossed a philosophical divide in the content continuum. There are many experts on either end. They all have unique points of view. Our audience wants that knowledge, and as long as the content is transparently labeled to show the source of the information, it’s no longer a matter of blurring the lines. Instead, it becomes more about offering quality content that the consumers want.



Readers and Internet users in Korea are not used to paying for online news content. They are so used to reading news for free through the local equivalent of Google. What advice would you give publishers in Korea who are attempting to set up a paywall or otherwise monetize?

All of the content on Forbes.com is free, so we can’t offer advice on creating a paywall. We believe that advertising models that factor in content marketing provide a powerful way of monetizing a website.



Quality journalism is hard to sell. How do you maximize your readership with quality journalism, other than using infographics and video?

Forbes.com has a content model built around 1,600 contributors and staff journalists. Each of our writers or contributors has a specific beat or expertise. Their job is to produce quality content based on their expertise. We also use investigative reporting to uncover stories that no one else covers.



What is your mobile and video strategy?

Most news consumers still use the web to obtain news and information. We’ve developed our website to have responsive pages so that they work for all different devices. The foundation of a mobile experience is working in new ways to convey content in shorter formats,
and that’s an area we’re really focused on right now. For example, we’re looking at new ways we can show a cover story via a mobile device. We also have an app strategy that’s different from what most media companies have because it’s focused on niche social networks. Coinciding with Forbes’ Under 30 Summit this October, we will launch an Under 30 app for members of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” lists. The Under 30 app is only the first of a platform of individual community apps that will launch under the Forbes umbrella. We’ve created a strong video team that works with content editors daily to find the stories that would interest our audience. We’re also focused on
developing videos wherever our audience is — whether they’re on Facebook, YouTube, Forbes.com or elsewhere. The key to any video strategy is distribution, and that’s an area of emphasis for us.

BY PARK SUNG-WOO [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]



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