SUCCESSFUL FARMING'S TOM DAVIS NAMED 2006 NAMA MARKETER OF THE YEAR
Some people look at a magazine and see paper and ink. When Tom Davis, this year's National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Marketer of the Year, sees a magazine, he sees a living, breathing product that has power to connect, inspire, educate, motivate and solve problems.
That's because Davis, recently named Group Publisher for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines, IA, and formerly Publisher of Successful Farming magazine, envisions a magazine brand as a multi-dimensional franchise that offers much more than paper and ink to create opportunities and move people to action.
"During my 28 years in this business, I remember the days where all you tried to do was get to a prospect and sell ads," says Davis. Today, we are more focused on understanding a customer's business, offering measurable solutions and creative ideas that effectively move an advertiser's brand to new levels of success. That has driven us to develop new products, new solutions, and new ways to communicate. I prefer the way things are today versus the old days.
BUILT ON TRUST
"At Successful Farming, in fact in all of the Meredith Corporation products," Davis goes on, "we have a deep sensitivity and appreciation of the trust in our magazine and brands and how that trust can be leveraged to help readers and advertisers succeed. Meredith Corporation has an incredible number of re-sources and capabilities to offer readers and advertisers, and we try to take advantage of all those resources to make Successful Farming, Agriculture Online and Living the Country Life more relevant to our customers."
When Davis became the seventh publisher of Successful Farming in 2001, he inherited the original cornerstone publication of Meredith Corporation. Successful Farming had already transitioned itself into the largest paid circulation farm magazine in America. The publication had vaulted into the forefront of the Internet age when Agriculture Online made its debut in May 1995. But at the beginning of the magazine's second century, Davis faced decisions that would likely determine its direction and its impact on the ag industry for decades to come. Industry consolidation was happening at a fevered pace, ad budgets were being cut, the number of farmers was continuing to dwindle, production costs were going up and there was a growing proliferation of communications options available to America's farm families.
Since 2001, Successful Farming has had several record setting years (fiscal year 2006 will be the best year in the history of Successful Farming), it has won several industry and public service awards, and has maintained a level of pre-eminence in the field of agriculture. The franchise has become a dominant force on the Internet with Agriculture Online, and has made inroads in television, and developed numerous non-print revenue streams.
Davis helped position Successful Farming for the major shifts taking place in the way information is distributed and consumed by readers. He has convinced Meredith to continue to reinvest in Successful Farming, including a major design upgrade that's nearing completion. He was alert to the power and potential of the Internet as well. He viewed Agriculture Online not merely as an adjunct to print, but as a potential profit center of its own, capable of providing marketers and online users exciting, customized and relevant programs to help them educate, promote and increase their business. Today Agriculture Online is fully integrated into the Successful Farming franchise and recently updated to the in-house Dynamo and Interwoven platform in order to offer more online versatility and expanded marketing features.
As such, Agriculture Online (www.agriculture.com) has become a groundbreaking force arguably second to none in the industry since becoming the first agricultural magazine Web site on the Internet eleven years ago. It has been awarded the prestigious Jesse H. Neal Business Journalism Award for Best Web Site, has twice been named to BtoB magazine's Power 50 List as one of the most powerful and targeted business to business advertising venues, and has received min's Best of the Web awards in the categories of Interactive, Online Community, and Integration with Print categories.
With industry consolidation becoming the norm, a major challenge facing Davis was the development of new revenue streams so that Successful Farming could continue to be a viable business. In the summer of 2002, Davis oversaw the launch of Living the Country Life, a 200,000-circulation magazine conceived and developed to reach the fastest growing audience in the nation (confirmed by both Successful Farming and independent research) - the affluent rural/suburban acreage audience. And because of the groundwork already done with Agriculture Online, it was a short step to establishing the first Web site for the rural homeowner, www.livingthecountrylife.com.
Not content to stop there, however, Davis spearheaded negotiations with RFD-TV (with over 26 million rural viewers), to develop the Living the Country Life television program. First produced in 2004 by Successful Farming and hosted by Living the Country Life editor Betsy Freese, the magazine, for the first time in its history, found itself with a TV solution that rounded out its comprehensive, multi-platform communications offering that already included print, the Internet, radio and database. In the fall of 2005, the Living the Country Life show was expanded to a half hour format and currently airs five times a week. It has become one of RFD-TV's most popular programs.
Always on the lookout for non-print revenue streams, Davis next guided Successful Farming into the database arena. After a significant investment expanding and enhancing the circulation data of the magazine, Successful Farming and Living the Country Life, along with support from the Meredith database group, entered the database business. For the first time, Successful Farming magazine's 2.5 million-name database, overlaid with the more than 87 million Meredith consumer database (the largest media company database in the country) and was made available to marketers.
Another non-print business development was the creation of an ancillary sales group aimed at generating income from sources other than the magazine. The department markets Successful Farming branded products as well as other associated brands such as "Ageless Iron" and "All Around the Farm," the magazine's nostalgic covers, and a variety of products related to rural living, primarily through the newly created Web store, farmhomecollection.com.
UTILIZING ALL OF
Davis has aggressively utilized Meredith resources to build the profit center by tapping in-house talent for many projects, as a way to expand creative resources and keep costs manageable. He recognized and has taken advantage of the many opportunities that exist to utilize Meredith Corporation's broad-based media assets and vast library of content. The marketing of the magazine's database is a prime example, as is tapping into the editorial expertise of Meredith's special interest publications, particularly in the areas of gardening and landscaping, for Living the Country Life magazine.
As a result, the Successful Farming profit center has become a template for how to transition a 100-year-old print franchise into a multi-media product with several new revenue opportunities, while at the same time maintaining a strong brand with devoted, committed, and involved readership for the mother magazine.
"At the end of the day, you cannot do great things unless you have great people helping you," Davis states. "You've got to have editors and creative talent that know how to create relevant and compelling products, who have their finger on the pulse of the audience. Plus you have to have a marketing and sales staff that is equally creative and just as focused on solving customers' problems. We are fortunate to have both at Successful Farming, Agriculture Online and Living the Country Life.
But Davis also understands that the industry itself is constantly changing, and many things that worked yesterday don't necessarily, and very likely won't, work tomorrow. "An ever-shrinking pool of farmers and market consolidation are the two 800 pound gorillas we wrestle with," Davis says. "But ever since 1902, Successful Farming has adapted to the changing marketplace. If we continue to recognize that we are in the solutions business, have the right people in the right places, and are willing to adapt, we will continue to be successful."
Prior to joining Meredith Corporation, Davis worked on the magazine staff of the National FFA Organization in Alexandria, VA, and in fact, credits FFA with changing his life.
"No doubt about it," he says. "As an FFA member in high school, I learned about a new world of business, competition, agriculture, travel, people and opportunities." Davis adds, "NAMA also played a significant role in my career. While a student at Purdue and during a Chicago NAMA meeting, R.C. 'Fergie' Ferguson introduced me to the National Sales Manager of Successful Farming, who hired me a year later. I doubt I would be here if it had not been for Fergie and that Chicago NAMA meeting."
Davis served as the National President of NAMA from 1997-98 and received NAMA's R.C. Ferguson Award for Distinguished Service in 2001.
He joined the Successful Farming advertising sales staff in 1978. In 1980, he was promoted to the Chicago branch and in 1984 returned to Des Moines as branch manager. In 1991, he was made regional manager. Five years later he was named director of advertising sales and became publisher in 2001.
Davis is a past president of the American Business Media-Agri Council, one of the founders of the Agricultural Media Summit, and is a recipient of its "Vision" award. He currently serves as vice president for the Agri-Business Education Foundation, and is a member of the FFA Foundation Sponsors Board.
An active member of the Alpha Gamma Rho agricultural fraternity, Davis is a recipient of the fraternity's Grand President's Award, is a past president of the Chicago Alumni chapter, and he was recently elected national vice grand president.
He grew up on a small farm near Floyds Knobs, IN, the oldest of nine children. Davis holds an Agricultural Economics degree from Purdue University and has been honored as a Distinguished Alumni of the College of Agriculture. He and his wife, Sandy, live in Des Moines and have a son, Adam, who is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. AM