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Have you ever had a work experience that leaves you freshly evangelized about your job? Last week, Sheridan descended on the South with sugary pralines and New England style hospitality at the 2014 Niche Conference. Charleston is a unique city with history and charm. The cobblestone streets and the narrow, colorful buildings are suggestive of Europe. We enjoyed fantastic networking, idea exchange, and to top it off, one of our customers walked away with a prestigious publishing Nichee award for Magazine of the Year.

In case you weren’t able to enjoy the conference (you missed out!), here are my top takeaways:

  • Big Data. After attending the Niche Conference, I now find this publishing buzzword less intimidating. To make a long story short, publishers can collect data in a variety of forms and methods, aggregate and sort that data, and use it to help them make decisions and form strategies. For example, if you have a newsletter, you should be able to view the open rates and click-through rates, determine what type of content is most interesting to your subscribers, and then tailor future editorial decisions in the newsletter to drive higher reader engagement. You can also look at the times and dates of email opens, and schedule your newsletter send so that you’re reaching your readers at the optimal time. Mike Bannan of IDEA Health and Fitness Magazine cites that send-time optimization can increase open rates and click-through around 30%. The best use of big data is to give your audience the content they want to read.
  • Sponsored Content. This hot topic also goes by the names of native advertising and advertorials. Trending in the magazine publishing industry, even the American Society of Magazine Editors has weighed in with guidelines and regulations. Rob O’Regan of eMediavitals and Kyle Walkenhorst of Sprocket Media broke down the how, what, and why into profitable, palatable, and executable segments. With the advent of digital, native advertising can now come to life in so many different forms. This creates new, exciting opportunities to extend our brands even further, reach our audiences in an alternate, enhanced way, and of course, make some money in the process. Sponsored content requires a premium price and a consultative, cumulative sales approach when packaging print, digital, online, and social. Regan and Walkenhorst note that “not everyone is a fan,” and that native advertising must be offered to your audience in such a way that remains true to your readers and is not deceptive. In short, don’t choose your advertorials unless they are a topic you would actually include in your magazine, and for a company you would actually buy from yourself. Native advertising should be sold, without selling out your brand.

One final reflection that that resonated with me personally was delivered from two passionate publishers and speakers, Bryan Welch of Mother Earth News and Bill Thompson III of Bird Watcher’s Digest: love your readers and make your publication reflect that. Be excited about your job, your brand, your content, and especially, your audience. It’s easy to become lost in the struggles of ad sales, business decisions, day-to-day production and just the status quo; we forget the passion that brought us into publishing and the reasons we focus on a certain, specialty subject matter. The reason that niche publications are surviving in a harsh economic landscape is because they are being run by people who are thrilled about something special and they identify with all of the other people out there who love that same thing. They run on tight budgets and a lot of heart. Sheridan, too, continues to be a resilient company in a challenging market because our employees―from the suited salesperson at a trade show to the press operator on 3rd shift―all want to please the customers that we love. Every magazine that comes off the bindery belt is a reflection of our love of and passion for magazines. It becomes easy to sell advertising, technology, website banners, or even printing, when you really believe in what you do.

If you want to talk more about where you’re going with your magazine, hot topics in the publishing community, or next year’s Niche Conference in Denver, let me know! Contact me through twitter: @emilyfadden.