Sunday, July 22, 2012

Editorial Piety, Brands in the Sandbox, and Data as Design

I joined the magazine editorial ranks when the church/state axis was a whole lot clearer than it is today.  Yes, we paid attention to the editorial cost per page and the price of dropping that fifth color on a favorite graphic, but we were largely word girls and guys and would get to the business stuff in due time.  I will be forever grateful to the keeper of the financial keys at Rodale, for sharing all those gnostic secrets about magazine financial levers and ratios.

The chatter during a recent Linkedin Independent Publishers Forum about vendor-supplied content suggests the church/state battle lines are still sharply drawn.  Participant Andy Kowl, who advocated rethinking the content model, wrote that he felt he had been “digitally tarred and feathered.”

If I still believe that magazine editorial content, delivered in print, on the web or mobile devices, holds specific value because it is brand-stamped and curated through the intelligence of savvy editors, I must also acknowledge that other content, especially in the verticals, makes a medieval church/state discussion a little less neat and predictable.  Of course, we have an editorial trade association that keeps magazines reasonably honest by separating advertorials from editorial content, but even this distinction has become fuzzy and business requirements often become the tail that wags the editorial dog.

But I’m not that interested in this somewhat virtuous dustup.  Rather, I am more interested in digital content created by marketers that is engaging, provides value and adds to the online experience.   I will acknowledge that I am a late convert to what is generally called content marketing, having long thought it a diminished, if not bastard, form of what I produce.  I was frankly surprised to learn from Outbrain, a content discovery platform, how extensive, and above-board, this practice is on the part of marketers.  In a report entitled “The State of Content Marketing, 2012,” Outbrain notes that “Content marketing continues to be one of the rising stars of the online marketing worlds as brands from American Express and Proctor & Gamble to GE and General Mills use it alongside more traditional strategies to reach their target audiences.”

Senior-level brand managers and agency executives surveyed while they judged the 2012 Effie Awards report that 100% of brand and agency marketers use content marketing; 87% of respondents cited video as the most common form of content created.  Not surprisingly, social media is the most popular channel.  Outbrain found that “marketers employ content marketing efforts to drive brand awareness and target top of the purchase funnel rather than for generating leads.”   This is one of the key strengths of magazine advertising: reaching the consumer when she is ready to make a purchase decision.

Now this is all very interesting, but what does content marketing look and smell like? examined content marketing strategies of GE, General Mills, and Sears.  Fundamental to all these corporate marketing efforts is the idea that if content isn’t good enough to share, then they have failed in their efforts.  The companies carved out consumer interest areas within their portfolio that they think consumers might be interested in.  Sears, the country’s largest supplier of fitness equipment, built on that strength with its Fitstudio effort that includes a library of content, making decisions in ways not unlike traditional editors: what type of content would most interest, inform, and engage readers.

General Mills through, a site consisting of straightforward editorial content, marketed to the Millennial audience through food-related web sites, Pinterest, content vertical, search engines, and blogger-relationships.  The branding is behind-the-scenes.  General Electric, through sites like Ecoimagination and Txchnologist, are more straightforward brand initiatives, with GE being a little more data-driven.  The company seems very sophisticated about understanding why a consumer moves from one piece of content to another.    

While the branding around these efforts vary—some are readily apparent; others mentioned in Terms of Use or About Us--none is trying to put one over on the consumer.  These companies have a sophisticated understanding of content and have found that paid or branded content has a place along the editorial continuum.  Sharing is rising to the top as the key measurement metric.

In many ways, these companies are becoming content publishers and curators themselves.  The people writing the blogs are very knowledgeable about the verticals.  The marketers are quite sophisticated about measuring consumer engagement and in ways seem more advanced than some publishers in their use of social media metrics, particularly sharing.  All have vast libraries of useful content.   

It’s not a new insight that content models are changing, though we are still early in this disruption cycle.  But it is not only the big marketers that are getting involved in this transformation of content; non-profits and independent media organizations are also in the hunt.  I read a very interesting article at by Jeremy Lehrer with the catchy title “How a Web App Can Help Non-Profits Tell Better Stories and Raise Cash.”  I was drawn in because I am doing some consulting for a non-profit, exploring how to marry content and cause marketing in ways that are ethical, interesting and measurable.  Or to put it another way: how does one link storytelling to social enterprise?   

Enter Sparkwise, a project from Tomorrow Partners in San Francisco, a free, cloud-based, open-source service that combines visualized data with video, audio, text feeds to create a moving story featured in widgets.  At the heart of this offering, now in beta, is making stories easier to tell through visualizing data.  Sparkwise provides a platform that integrates open access to big data with art and everyday metrics.   Data should always be visual. 

One benefit of this platform is that it is completely transparent; for non-profits this would mean that the results of its efforts will be front-and-center, updated in real time.  We are inundated with data, most presented as flat, ponderous and unremarkable.  Sparkwise brings all this blandness to life.

When I was sitting in the editorial high chair, I saw content marketing as something just short of treason.  Now I am a little less righteous.  Editors and publishers can learn from marketers that are consumer-centric, technology and data-driven, and are re-envisioning content along a dynamic continuum, not unlike the consumers they chase on social media platforms.

Equally important, revenue is flowing out of traditional advertising into content marketing.  Perhaps this will take some of the sting out of the angst editors might be feeling. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Armani Suits, Digital Health, and Where the VCs Roam

Research has told us that men don’t like to visit the doctor.  That might be true for the rest of the country, but certainly not in New York.  I welcome visits to the specialists that have carved my body into special interest sectors, not because they are particularly good at their trade, but because when in their offices I get to see the latest Armani fashions worn by the young and the beautiful who might have just stepped off Project Runway.  These beauties are the well-groomed, iPad-laden, pharmaceutical representatives who drag suitcases-on-rollers that are stuffed with drugs for the physician to hand out to patients as if the gifts were Halloween candy.  I have been caught with my hand out more than once.

Because I leave the office with expensive goodies, I don’t mind waiting that extra thirty minutes so my doctor can partake of the latest windfall from GlaxoSmithKlein, the pharmaceutical giant that probably won’t be slowed down by the recent $3 billion fine from the DOJ for inappropriate promotion of certain drugs.  The company will just hire more runway models.  Or perhaps sign up another television celebrity like Dr. Drew, who reportedly got a cool $275,000 for promoting Glaxo products to his afternoon audience a few years ago.  Thank goodness for Dr. Oz.

The Affordable Healthcare Act, recently upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court, probably won’t get Armani suits out of the doctor’s waiting room and therefore can already be considered a success.  Perhaps more interesting than the 2,000-plus page tome that describes in numbing detail this Healthcare Act is the wonderful work ProPublica is doing tracking this beautiful but dark underside of medical marketing.  We owe a debt of gratitude to ProPublica reporters Charles Orstein and TracyWeber, who have exposed the financial ties between doctors and drug and device makers. offers a data base through which you can check and see whether your doctor is receiving money from pharmaceutical companies.  Through this data base, I learned that my favorite urologist in 2010 received $6860 from Pfizer for consulting.  I’ll give him a pass on the $165 for meals.  The reporters note that in 2011 a dozen drug companies spent $761 million for doctor speaking fees and consulting, with speaking fees comprising a large percentage of this total number.  Weber and Orstein encourage consumers to do the research and have this conversation with their doctors.  A speaking fee doesn’t necessarily mean a doctor is in the pocket of a drug company.  But they are very large pockets.

I read a Reuters blog by Ezekiel Emanuel stated that, in 2008, 17% of office-based physicians and 9% of hospitals had electronic health records (EHRs) and few than 10% used electronic prescriptions.  Then came the little known Health Information Technology provision in the 2009 Economic Recovery Act. This basically gave physicians and hospitals financial incentives for adopting EHRs.  If they didn’t, Medicare payments would be reduced starting in 2015.  There were the usual protests, but by December 2011, EHR use among office-based physicians nearly doubled to 34% with e-prescribing exceeding 40%. Hospitals responded just as positively with 35% adopting EHRs.

Emanuel writes that “going electronic will allows physicians to more closely track patients, especially the chronically ill, enabling a seamless exchange of data across multiple physicians, hospitals and other providers.”  The writer observes that this initiative has taken the focus away from developing new forms of coding and ways to bill the patient and placed it on improved patient care and enhanced coordination among physicians.

I have written in previous blogs about Qualcomm Life’s efforts to place the smartphone at the center of patient care, christening it the “Pocket Doctor.”  This has huge implications for health care because the company has the capability and partners to build a vast wireless health ecosystem.  Entrepreneur and medical doctor Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, designed to stimulate competition in health care,  is eloquent about how technology has finally made is possible for individuals to truly take responsibility for their own health.  That day might come sooner than we think.

While the chatter around the Healthcare Act was at full pitch, I was paying more attention to what is happening in the Venture Capital space that might impact the industry.  Gigamon points to recent and ongoing investments in digital health as worthy of serious attention because health care is ripe for massive disruption and democratization.  C. Steven Burrill, CEO, Burrill & Co., suggests that “the increased funding in digital health reflects the growing awareness of the transformative power their technologies bring to health care.”

And these technologies are small, large and numerous, including: wearable body monitoring products, personalized therapies via mobile devices, software that turns a smartphone into a clinical-quality ECG-reader, platforms for healthcare cost comparisons, wireless sensors that track activities, digestible tracking sensors, HIPAA-compliant and secure mobile messages, management software for home health care, and numerous EHR platforms.  Full details are available at

It’s interesting that, with all the bombast about the Health Care Act, technology offers enormous promise to change the field, one doctor, hospital and patient at a time.