If you think all trade publications are the same, think again.
At HIMSS, I had almost 30 formal meetings, gave an opening presentation at our magazine’s Editorial Board breakfast, and delivered another at the beginning of our first-annual Innovator Awards Reception. I probably talked with an additional 30 people while attending dinners and receptions. Throughout the show, I caught up with our editors to hear what they were learning on the show floor.
Looking back on all those interactions, in every meeting, in every discussion, I kept making the same point (and reminding our editors to do the same): We’re different.
There are several publications that call the healthcare IT space home, and we’re one of them. I consistently drive home the message that HCI is very different from the others, and I do it with honesty, passion and, most importantly, specifics. To illustrate this, let’s pretend I’m instructing an editor-in-chief class for those who want to run a trade magazine. I think my lesson plan for the semester would go something like this.
Lesson 1 — Editorial Integrity is Everything
Advertising-supported trade publications are custom built for breaking the rules that journalists hold dear. While most writers are true believers, confident that the only reason to write something is because it’s of value to the reader, the inherent conflicts of interest mean the environment is rife with temptation. When financial times are tough, the business side of the house can get a bit short-sighted, looking for a little help from its editorial friends. When that happens, strong editors have to hold the line, ensuring the long-term viability of the brand and maintaining its reputation by saying, “No.” Success in this business is inevitable if the publication does things the right way. Write for the reader and consider nothing else. A short-term “nickels and dimes” approach will get you only so far.
But not everyone in the industry agrees. Some of our competitors don’t do a great job of holding the line, embedding ad tracking URLs in editorial items, going for nickels and dimes rather than long-term integrity, giving publishers strangely prominent column positions, and switching people between editorial and sales positions as if their skill sets and missions were the same. In fact, one of these publisher’s notes recently made a claim of superiority over its competitors (including HCI) by stating with pride that its mission was not to teach, “but simply to inform.” Well, I’ll respond with pride and say we absolutely seek to do more than inform. We seek to provide a forum for readers to teach each other.
To be clear, you’ve never seen a publisher’s letter in HCI, and you never will. Our publisher communicates with her clients, but she does it the right way, through meetings, phone calls and e-mails directly to them, not to our readers at large.
At HCI, I personally pledge that every single word, down to the smallest news brief, is selected for one reason and one reason only — because the editors on this magazine think it’s of value to you.
Lesson 2 — Tell Me Who You’re Not
I am a firm believer in the notion that you’ll never be successful trying to be all things to all people, as too broad a target inevitably results in watered down, mediocre editorial. But going narrow takes courage. It takes moving away from a nickels and dimes approach and adopting a bold strategic plan. It takes a publisher willing to say goodbye to peripheral advertisers that just aren’t a good fit for the publication anymore. Once embraced, however, success comes into focus, because an easily articulated value proposition means both the editorial and sales functions are coherent are logical. Once the target reader is more specifically defined, editors can quickly become part of that community, which is the ultimate key to success.
Again, our competitors aren’t very good at restricting themselves, as they struggle to cover hospitals, group practices, payers and vendors in a meaningful way. Even within that large swath, our competitors further refuse to curb their ambitions, covering each constituency from its smallest to largest iteration.
HCI has strategically narrowed its target audience, resulting in a laser-focused reader profile — healthcare IT leaders (including CIOs, CTOs, CMIOs, and anyone aspiring to those positions) of large hospitals and multi-hospital health systems. We write for these individuals cover to cover using a six-department format to ensure every aspect of their job is addressed every month. We speak to them, for them. We understand their needs better than their CEOs do, and we never lose sight of our mission. All reporters on staff are constantly reminded of our keyword strategy when coming up with story ideas, interviewing and writing: C-suite IT leader, total cost of ownership, and enterprise integration. It’s a simple and consistent approach that provides real value for those target readers. Over time, we feel this strategy will make us an indispensable part of the community we serve.
Lesson 3 — Quality Control is Key