Journal Ad Review: Back in the Mix

A few years ago medical publishers were approaching a cliff and the choices were simple: Evolve the business or fall over the edge. By having learned to survive, some publishers are now ready to thrive


For many years now the standard yardstick measure of print advertising revenue has painted a rather-forlorn picture of ongoing decline in the medical publishing sector. However, the story is no longer just about selling print pages—and there is every reason to believe that publishers' efforts to reinvent the business in order to better serve audiences and advertisers are starting to pay off.

The first piece of good news is that in 2014 medical/surgical print journal revenues were up by 7.5% to $341.3 million, while the entire healthcare journals category saw a modest 2.0% rise to $596.8 million. Such spikes can often be attributed to specific isolated market conditions, such as a glut of product launches within one or two specialties, and are rarely seen as true predictors of growth. However, the 2014 spike is made of sterner stuff.

“Pharma spend was up all around,” says Dave Emery, VP/general manager, healthcare research at Kantar Media. “It was a rising tide floating all ships, including both commercial and association publishers.”

This “rising tide” was certainly evident in the fortunes of 2014's top five journals, ranked by revenue. Each performed impressively, with the top four posting ad-page increases in the 10% to 18% range.


CLICK HERE to see the Top 25 Advertisers for 2014

CLICK HERE to see the Top 25 Advertised Brands for 2014

CLICK HERE to see the Top 10 Online Brands (by ad occurrences and quantity of sites used) for 2014


The story gets better, though. There's a very good chance that 2014 was an even stronger year than the print numbers might indicate. “We saw a lot of increased project activity, such as microsites and the ancillary things publishers do,” notes Emery. “So the numbers that you are seeing on print advertising don't fully reflect the success that the publishers are having today in the marketplace.”

Fabien Savenay, VP, sales at Wolters Kluwer and the new president of the Association of Medical Media (AMM), agrees. “The [print] data is an indicator, but is not necessarily representative of the overall business,” he explains. “From all points of view, we've seen this [level of] growth in this market for the past few years.”

Tom Easley, senior VP and publisher, periodic publications, American Medical Association, also agrees, adding, “We did well. We saw gains in [print] market share. In digital, it's harder to measure but I think we saw similar gains. The market overall has been pretty stable over the last two years.”

Platform agnosticism

As to why 2014 was so strong, one industry watcher believes the answer is threefold. First, there was an increase in new product launches. Second, following marketers' initial stampede away from print toward anything digital and/or shiny, there has been a realization that a balanced, integrated media mix—which includes print—is the best approach. Third, and most telling of all, is the increased availability of effective cross-media packages to advertisers. Journal content can be consumed in a lot of different ways, and publishers have been working hard to develop effective packages for advertisers. It's an approach that seems now to be paying off.

Savenay claims his company was an early adopter of this strategy. “In the past four years we have been moving from the traditional journal perspective to look at our business in a more holistic way,” he says. “The role of the publisher is to produce the best possible content and deliver it to each part of the audience in the way they want to receive it. If they want to read print, they should have print; if they want digital, they should get digital. We want to be platform-agnostic.”

And once you have that audience, of course, you can then develop offerings that provide effective exposure to advertisers. Three years ago Wolters Kluwer introduced iPad digital formats and also launched its print-plus-digital bundles. “The combination delivers higher value to our customer,” says Savenay, who says that the bundle has been successful.

“Print is still important,” he continues. “But whereas it was the driving force before, it is now only one of a complement of products we offer our customers.”

It won't surprise anyone to learn that Easley has taken a similar channel-agnostic approach to delivering quality content for the JAMA community. “It's not so much that we are looking at digital as a way to compensate for a decline in print,” he says. “It's really been more of an acknowledgment of how consumption of information has changed. Physicians want to get their information across multiple platforms, so we've focused on making content available—reliable and highly usable—whether it's in print, on the website or in mobile applications.”

And again, with a well-tended, loyal, engaged audience comes increased opportunities for clients. “We have been leveraging our strength in being able to learn more about our customers and adopt the type of targeting that benefits both our editorial mission and the desires of our advertisers,” Easley says.

Online and off

Kantar Media Health's Evaliant tracking spider has again revealed Janssen's Invokana to be the most prolifically advertised brand on the Web (as well as in print). At the same time, Emery says he is seeing a lot more Web ads altogether.

“There's definitely been a notable increase in the level of online activity, especially around the number of sites that are being used,” Emery notes. (Invokana has been clocked at 64 of the 300 sites monitored, for example.) “It may mean that the brands have moved beyond saying, ‘I need to be on Medscape.' It's realizing that there are a wealth of different sites where they can get exposure.

“If you can get half a million impressions of a site to the right people, then it doesn't really make a difference whether it's the leading site of not,” he says. “But to do that in print, you've got to start with your leading journals because it's more efficient to do it that way.”

That said, Emery believes that finding the right mix of media channels and programs for each marketing objective and for each product situation is still one of the greatest challenges facing healthcare marketers. “It's a challenge that cuts across publishers, agencies and advertisers,” he says. However, it's an area in which Emery thinks publishers are ideally placed to take the initiative. “There are just so many different ways that publishers can help with that. Those who are stuck on being traditional publishers are going to face big challenges, but those who embrace the opportunities are going to be in a great position to help marketers.”

Savenay nods in agreement. “Traditional publishers like us have an amazing opportunity to reinvent the business,” he says. “We reach a very large audience across numerous disciplines with amazing platforms. We reach the audience in the right place at the right time and in the right context. At the end of the day, we have an amazing industry. There have never been so many drugs in the pipeline, never been such an opportunity for growing in the recruitment market for physicians and nurses and so on, there have never been so many patients, and now the technology—we can go international, we can break down global borders that we haven't been able to do before.”

All of a sudden the intersection of traditional publishing and digital technology feels like a far happier place. The apparent recent reevaluation of print media as an important component of the professional media mix certainly plays right into Savenay's wheelhouse. “Recently, I was even invited by one of the leading digital—that's digital—agencies to go and talk to them about print,” he chuckles. “They want to know how they can use it and how they can leverage it as part of their marketing mix.”

It's the kind of leadership that will stand Savenay in good stead for a year at the helm of AMM, and he can't wait to get started. “I have never been so excited as I am for the next 12 months,” he says. “I think we're entering into a new phase with AMM. We are all aware of the challenges and we are also aware that we need to work really hard as a team to raise the level of the industry and to provide to each of our customers a better service. If we move from being journal-focused and print-focused, and provide access to our audience in the right context, with high-quality content, and we are able to reinvent a way of thinking about our business, it's going to be a magical year ahead of us.”

Easley agrees. “Publishers who have a solutions mentality and a portfolio of ways to reach their audiences and create opportunities for advertisers are the ones who are going to thrive.” 

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