Top executives of some of the leading fulfillment companies were assembled for FMA‘s annual President’s Panel yesterday to provide an update on their companies and how the market is evolving. Conversation moved through a perfunctory look at company stats and quickly settled into a discussion about the identity of a fulfillment provider in today’s publishing landscape and where it sits in the content value chain.
About 90 fulfillment and magazine executives were on hand to listen to the panel, moderated by Joe Furgiuele, founder and president of FCI, Inc. While some attention was applied to file sizes and number of magazine shutdowns and startups, panelists-including iPacesetters CEO Ray Butkus, CDS Global CEO Malcolm Netburn, SFG president and CEO Tony Pytlak, ESP COO Michael Jordan and Palm Coast Data president John Meneough-focused on publisher business models, how they inform the fulfillment providers’ service enhancements and what new services providers will need to develop.
CDS’ Netburn noted that business had stabilized to a "slower level of diminishment," meaning ad revenues were returning to customers which in turn helped fuel a more level operating environment. He also claimed a 53 percent total market share, a number that went undisputed among the other panelists.
PCD’s Meneough pointed out that the company has completed its consolidation of operations and has invested about $2 million in human resources. Publishing clients, he said, still appear to be largely confused by the the rapidly evolving media landscape. "There’s a lot of chaos. How do we drive revenues in the digital market and where do we fit in that?"
That question set the tone for much of the remaining discussion. Butkus, who briefly described the recent merger of ARGI with iPacessetters to form a fulfillment services, technology and outbound calling teleservices company, zeroed in on driving the ability to better understand customer data and how that can drive transactions. "Regardless of where our client base is," said Butkus, their revenue models are changing. These changes are absolutely rampant. How we think as a provider has to be consistent with the way they are going."
SFG’s Pytlak sees opportunity in emphasizing integrated services, a path his company has recently continued to invest in. Echoing Butkus’ comments, Pytlak noted that understanding the customer is "hot" again. After the last couple years of experimenting with multiplatform content delivery, Pytlak says publishers are getting the hang of things and settling into more defined business models. "There’s more interest in data mining and customer intelligence. Publishers are starting to adjust better to technology and how to deliver content to customers. There is more structured testing and less experimentation."
Netburn picked up on that thread and offered that publishers are not as focused on brand and product extensions. Rather, continuity of content delivery has gained prominence. "It’s not so much about different products, but more about anytime, any place, anywhere content availability. This is about the same product and being able to come back to it where you left off-a simple, easy experience for the customer."
ESP’s Jordan jumped in to clarify that fulfillment providers are not interested in or responsible for the distribution, but how they’ll govern access. "We want to capture the data and provide the access," he said.
Here, the conversation moved into how fulfillment providers were going to be able to offer the technology and services to enable this access and insight. It was acknowledged that there will need to be partnerships with other types of providers.
Netburn, who noted that his 13 percent of business is now digital and growing at double-digit rates, said, "The days of fulfillment owning the process end-to-end are over. The role of a successful fulfillment company is to be a part of that [customer data] food chain. At first, that might seem scary, but when you get over that you realize there are a lot of opportunities," he said.
Meneough likened the provider role to that of a gatekeeper between a collection of systems. "The technology will be the easy part," he said. "Making a dynamic offer when the customer is right there is a major shift for the publisher today. They had been so product-centric, now you focus on the customer."
Pytlak, who added that providers provide solution sets, said that customers may come with a set of needs that can only be partially met by a fulfillment company. In those cases, he said, the provider must enable those services that are not germane to the company, keeping the client inside the fold.