Why online PR matters as much as print – or perhaps even more

Pat McGovern is the founder and chairman of the £3 billion turnover privately owned business-to-business publishing giant IDG Communications, publisher of more than 300 magazines and 450 websites globally. In an interview in today’s Guardian McGovern provides some fascinating insights that every B2B PR client should know, not least that he thinks within 10-12 years all B2B publishing will be online.

He also explained why IDG made the (surprising to many) decision to drop the print edition of its 180,000 circulation flagship magazine Infoworld, to focus on events and online. "Many said without print people wouldn’t be reminded every week of our brand and 40% of our revenue would disappear overnight," McGovern recalls.

Instead it was a spectacular success. One year later Infoworld’s online revenues had trebled, overall revenues were up 10%, and without the costs of print, paper and postage, profit margins shot-up from –3% to 37%.

Another interesting nugget from McGovern is that 60% of the content on the company’s B2B sites is created by users.

All of this has significant potential implications for B2B public relations consultancies and their clients.

First of all if 60% of the content is user generated then the old model of pitching journalists with a story can only ever influence 40% of the content, even if it is 100% successful. Therefore the conversations, relationships and content of a B2B PR campaign need to be different to what they used to be.

Secondly the importance of online content becomes paramount, yet most B2B PR agencies still focus on print to the detriment of online. The flip side of this is that they (and we) do it because that’s what senior client-side people want to see. Whacking a cuttings book down on a boardroom table still has more impact than pointing clients to online coverage. One of my first experiences of online media was the 1997 Budget. I was working in-house at accountants Grant Thornton and had been asked to get the firm into one of the broadsheets to provide the budget analysis. My response was that it couldn’t be done as the big four had it locked tight with long term, existing relationships. What I did do was to get Grant Thornton onto the BBC website. I was deemed to have failed as I hadn’t made it into the broadsheets and had only got them onto the internet. Even back in 1997 the BBC website had about 750,000 visitors on budget day, which compared favourably with circulation figures of broadsheet newspapers.

Finally one of the most important reasons why online coverage is so important is that time-poor people are being more selective in what they read. People are far less likely to just ‘browse’ a website, even from a well-known publishing brand, than they are to search for and subscribe to specific subjects that are really of interest to them. That means a piece of content that appears online today still has value in three months and even two years time. It has never been more true than now to say that the equivalent piece of print coverage is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.

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