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Focusing on digital at UBM Built Environment

Matt Davies is Digital Director for UBM Built Environment, the division within leading publisher UBM which handles the property, architecture, and construction sector.

His role is not only to ensure that digital is at the heart of everything which the company does, but also to encourage digital integration between the different strands of the business, which encompasses magazine publishing, shows, directories and conferences.

“I see digital as the glue which can bring together these various parts of the enterprise, strengthen the brand, promote further growth and help us, over time, to realise additional sources of revenue. My goal is to make a significant proportion of our business digital – well before this inevitable change is forced upon us and the rest of the industry.”

The focus on digital for UBM Built Environment is paying off. Traffic is up by 30% on a month-by-month basis. A newsletter sign-up initiative doubled the number of subscribers. And revenue – derived from a variety of online products and services – has increased by over 200% year-on-year.

The core of UBM Built Environment

At the heart of UBM Built Environment is the well-known, highly respected, award-winning ‘Built Environment’ portfolio of publications, which includes such titles as Building, Building Design and Property Week. Each magazine has an associated web site, designed and built by Abacus e-Media using their Webvision online publishing solution, which Matt Davies describes as the “backbone and pinnacle of our web publishing business. Without the Webvision content management system there would be no way of so easily running our digital content platform.”

Webvision has been extended with a number of Open Source social networking tools and in-house developments to offer blogs and forums, and is complemented by Abacus’ Dispatch (email management module) and Marketplace (which manages the company’s directories).

“Our focus on digital integration – and realising economies of scale – is epitomised by our use of Webvision. For each of our publications, we are able to use the same templates, relying on their inherent flexibility to retain the strong individual brand identities of each magazine. Having developed a specific function within Webvision for one magazine, we are then able to roll this out extremely quickly to all the others. An example of this is the enhanced newsletter sign-up procedure which we put in place for Building. This was a great success, seeing email sign-up doubling – we were then able to utilise this initiative for all other titles.”

Changing the culture

Although the magazine and data operations within UBM Built Environment are reasonably well-advanced in terms of digital adoption, there is still more to do. Other parts of the business have, according to Matt Davies, “quite a long way to go, particularly in terms of digital-derived revenue.”

Editorial, marketing, sales and technology teams are all being encouraged to focus on the benefits of digital through online project delivery, training and incentive schemes. This is underpinned by the overall shift within the publishing industry towards a digital environment. However, changing the culture of such a long-established and traditional sector is challenging. “If someone has been selling print for thirty years, it can be a huge cultural challenge for them to start selling the benefits of online.”

Matt Davies’ digital team is working with the editorial teams to help increase traffic and introduce more interactive content. Sales of online content are gradually increasing, with Webinars and Virtual Shows proving to be very successful. In the past the company’s Events were recorded onto analogue tape. Now each one is produced in a digital format, allowing selected parts of the content to be used on the relevant web sites. “Although I believe that the shelf-life of show content is quite short, we have had some success in charging international visitors to the web site for this, plus it helps us to increase the audience for an event.”

Economic challenges

For UBM Built Environment the downturn in the economy has been a double blow; not only has advertising revenue been hit generally, but the company’s core markets have been amongst the most severely affected.

Given, however, that digital provides the opportunity to do things much faster and more cheaply, Matt Davies believes that this may hasten the change in the company’s culture and adoption of digital. “The digital environment allows one to take bold steps – without having to create lengthy, in-depth business plans. Innovative ideas can be put in place extremely quickly without incurring prohibitive costs. Some would argue that the current economic climate is the ideal time to exploit the potential of digital.”

Building from strength

Building on the strong brands of the magazines and fully exploiting the potential of their web sites is a core activity for Matt Davies and his team, and one in which Webvision plays an essential role. And with this strong foundation in place, the company is able to offer the other complementary products, such as the shows and conferences, to its well-established audiences.

Matt Davies:

“To realise the full benefits of digital, we not only need to continue to change the culture of the organisation, but we must also have a good relationship with our key suppliers. Our partnership with Abacus is getting stronger all the time. Teams from UBM Built Environment and Abacus work closely together, not only implementing regular updates and enhancements, but collaborating on the more long-term initiatives which will help us to achieve our goal of building an integrated digital operation which contributes significantly to the overall business.”