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Procurement Leaders – our strategy

At the PPA awards in July, Procurement Leaders won the Business Media Brand of the Year award. Last December, they won the Digital Product of the Year award at the PPA Independent Publisher awards. They’re clearly doing something right. David Rae gives us an insight into their successful publishing strategy.

By David Rae

Perhaps the biggest single contributor to the success of Sigaria and our award-winning B2B brand Procurement Leaders is that the founders aren’t from a traditional publishing background.

Although staff with publishing experience make up a significant proportion of the payroll today, that legacy means that every assumption is questioned, any traditional approach is scrutinised and every decision is driven by customer need. Why print a magazine rather than be a pure digital resource? Can we invest more in the content to add value, in digital, in technology or something more fruitful?

As a fast-growing company, we are brimming with ideas but working with fairly limited resource. We can’t afford to just throw money at things so everything we invest in has a tangible return, every commitment to time is a potential lost opportunity elsewhere.

What became immediately apparent in the early days is that our ‘end users’ – senior procurement executives at global 5000 companies - appreciate top quality, unique and actionable content, whether delivered via magazines, research reports, data services, case studies, webinars, roundtable discussions, events or a hundred other vehicles of content delivery.

But perhaps what they appreciate most of all, and continue to do so today, is the ideas and experience of one another. Procurement professionals want to talk to other procurement professionals, exchange ideas, share war stories and seek assurance. And in this, they are no different from any other professional.

And it’s why our strategic vision is simple - to be the global destination for procurement professionals worldwide.

Community is king

In 1996, Bill Gates wrote an essay for the Microsoft website titled Content is King in which he wrote that, “Content is where I expect much of the real money [to] be made on the internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

In this, he was right. But Procurement Leaders has found another ‘c’ to be even more powerful in building a highly successful media brand over the last decade: community. From the beginning, we put our end users at the centre of everything we do, and we are now in a position that allows us to charge a premium to be a part of our membership community.

Today, more than half of our revenues are generated from subscriptions to our corporate membership, with the vast majority of the remaining revenues coming from events – both delegate fees and sponsorship. So what is that we do that makes our corporate members willing to spend, in many cases, tens of thousands of pounds a year with us? As is always the case, a combination of many things, but there are six tangible building blocks worth highlighting.

1. Content, content, content

I have already explained how we saw community as a hugely important component in the pursuit of our strategic goals. But content is the ‘glue’ that holds our community together and we recognised early on that it required significant investment.

Our content today can be split, broadly, into three buckets: primary research and data, secondary research reports and case-study based, traditional editorial. The two former buckets represent the highest value and provide the opportunity for us to sell to our members on a return on investment basis while the latter showcases best-practice from within our community, provides personality to the brand and acts as a shop window to our more premium-rate services.

To help produce this content, we have a substantial, merged team of researchers and traditional editorial staff who work very closely to ensure we produce topical, accessible research that is well marketed to both the community and the wider world.

Our continuing goal is to become a more embedded part of the workflow of our member organisations and to help us achieve this, we try to understand how the function we serve operates as best as we can, and use the news sense of our journalism team to influence the research roadmap. We also tap into annual business cycles, and release content specifically designed to help with annual occasions such as traditional Q3 budget and strategy setting.

2. Ask, and thou shalt receive

The above does not mean that we know best, and long gone are the days when editors would decide on the content they would push to readers. We regularly research our community to understand their challenges and needs and develop content and services designed to tackle them. We also continually track downloads and usage data via our analytics tools to inform our agendas.

We are busily building a Member Intelligence Database by collecting information on the projects our members are working on, as well as the specific specialisms they are either looking to gain knowledge on or are willing to share with the wider community. This intelligence will become increasingly important as we continue to develop our products.

The redevelopment of our online platform was also done in collaboration with our Advisory Board and wider community to ensure that we were providing exactly what our community wanted in exactly the right format.

3. Continual improvement and development

We are constantly innovating, improving and adding new services to our membership offering. This is part of the culture of the business and the approach has become a distinct competitive advantage. We work hard to foster an environment of innovation, we accept mistakes and are wide open to new ideas wherever they come from. The diversity of our people is one of our key strengths.

This year has seen us launch an innovative online collaboration platform, already proving a hit with members; but other examples include education programmes (the Procurement Leaders mini-MBA), online benchmarking tools and the complete digital platform overhaul mentioned above which locked down all of our content other than blogs.

4. Be flexible

Our offering comprises many things, but can be broken down into three distinct services: procurement intelligence, professional development and networking and collaboration. Within our procurement intelligence pillar, we produce strategic research, tactical research and editorial-style content and case studies, as well as online networking. We allow our members to decide on the product mix that suits their organisations, as no two clients are ever the same.

To support this, we have developed a membership pricing calculator that allows us to individualise our membership offering down to the finest detail. This removes confusion from the negotiation process and allows us to provide our clients with better pricing visibility and exactly the services they require.

5. Be global and target the team

Today, our membership community comprises 21,500 individual members from more than 700 corporations in 50 countries. A large proportion of customers work with us on an enterprise basis and to support this, we have research designed to be consumed by senior procurement executives and different research designed for their subordinates. We also produce research that is written for specific regions and industries.

Such an approach has many benefits: we are able to justify a client investment far more logically if we are assisting several areas of their business; we get more deeply ensconced in organisations with the opportunity to develop ‘fans’ deep within their organisation; we have a greater opportunity to sell access and upgrades to other products and when the employees of clients move on to pastures new they are more likely to become members at their new organisation.

6. Customer Success

We established a Customer Value Team (CVT) staffed with experienced account managers, customer services associates and engagement specialists to help us service our members. Underpinned with innovative technology solutions, our relationship with members is extremely close and we are able to provide detailed usage and trend information based on the behaviour of their teams.

This investment has two benefits: first, it provides a real and tangible value-add to members, who feel like they are being well served and looked after; and second, it provides an opportunity to upsell other services to our current members.

With a membership subscription model, improving yield from retained clients is a key method of maximising revenues and profit and our CVT team is focused on this while providing a superior customer-service experience at the same time.

Looking forwards

The past five years have seen us completely transform Procurement Leaders into a digitally-led, intelligence driven membership community with high-value research and data at its core. In 2009, membership / subscription revenues represented 14% of our total revenues – last year, this rose to more than 50% in a business which is itself growing quickly.

For all of us in the company, this represents a resounding success and is a result of significant investment in our brand, our people and our platform. The beauty of all of this is that it is also self-fulfilling – the stronger our community, the more people want to be a part of it and the higher the value to all. At the same time, members and partners are willing to pay a premium to be associated with it.

However, nothing ever stands still, and despite the launch of our current platform to broad member and industry acclaim, we are already well into our strategic planning for the next five years.

In that, we see the greater modularisation of different content types to allow for more flexible distribution, an increase in personalisation and a move towards the technologisation of content as key trends.

In essence, we are driving towards a platform that provides our members with instant access to the right information and the right connections at exactly the right time. What executive wouldn’t pay handsomely for that?