Ask the editorial director: What are the three Ts?

It used to be that if you wanted to start a successful publication in this business, you would choose from any of a number of hot new technologies.

In the 1980s, we had all kinds of magazines dedicated to operating systems such as Windows and Unix to those about hardware platforms from PCs

to mainframes. These included several specific titles at the midrange level from DEC, to IBM AS/400, to HP3000. And for the network affficionados, there were at least three sizable magazines with LAN in the title. (That’s local-area network, if you care to remember.)

In the ’90s, we entered the techno-pop culture era. We had trendy technology titles with a pronounced lifestyle slant. There was Fast Company, Industry Standard, Red Herring, Business 2.0, Wired just to name a few. All these magazines were so thick you were excused if you didn’t make it past the contents page.

Now it’s 2004, and in our bottom line-obsessed times, the trend is towards publications that that cater to job titles. CFO and CIO magazines such as CIO Insight and Baseline in the U.S. are ones that I look at regularly. Our own EDGE (for Executives in a Digital Global Economy ) also fits into this category.

At this point, however, I wonder if this job title thing has already gone too far.

I was recently looking at a new magazine called CMO, for example, which manages to pander to marketers while being bland both editorially and visually. It also has an IT focus, although obviously intended for the chief marketing officer. But you wonder, with CIO and CFO magazines already in place, how differentiated these titles can be. (Why every executive of the corporation needs officer in their title is lost on me, but that’s another matter.)

Already in CMO I’ve detected a sameness to the editorial style and subject matter. One article focuses on why the average CMO tenure is less than two years. It wasn’t that long ago all the CIO publications were exploring the very same topic, taking CIO to mean Career Is Over, and calling on them to brush up their communications skills, become better business managers and make friends with the CFO and CEO. Now substitute CMO for CIO and what you get is pretty much the same article.

Another article in CMO is called “”Future Shock”” (How’s that for a lack of imagination?). It looks at five new technologies and how to better achieve measurable ROI. Sound familiar?

There is, of course, nothing wrong with publication that caters to a job title. I’ve always maintained that the publications that do the best are the ones that know their audience.

Going forward, it’s going to take even more than that. The next wave of successful technology magazines will need to blend the three editorial styles seen in IT magazines and newspapers of the last three decades.

The editors and writers that work for them will need to not only know the technology and the products, but investigate how technology fits into culture, and of course, deliver it in a style appropriate to the various job titles.

Let’s call it the three Ts: technology, trends and title. It’s a balance that will be tricky to achieve, but necessary for survival.

Martin Slofstra is the editorial director of the IT Business Group.

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