How FierceMarkets publisher Rebecca Willumson drove major growth.

By Ellen Cools, Folio Magazine : July 21, 2016

There are over 100 digital publications and websites featured in FierceMarkets’ portfolio. But two brands in the Life Sciences group stand out: FierceBiotech and FiercePharma, led by a publisher who came up on a decidedly non-traditional path. That publisher is Rebecca Willumson, who is producing extraordinary results in a complex, regulated industry.

Kerry Gumas, CEO of FierceMarkets' parent company, Questex, says for the last several years, FierceBiotech and FiercePharma have been the portfolio's fastest-growing titles in terms of audience growth, revenue, and margins.

“She has developed the content team into a highly respected editorial organization known within the industry for high quality original content,” Gumas tells Folio:. 

Since 2012, revenue has grown by 119 percent, readership by 190 percent, and web traffic by 97 percent, according to Bob Stewart, strategy consultant at Questex. The Life Sciences websites now average 1.7 million page views and 525 thousand visits per month. 

Targeting audiences through innovation

Willumson stresses the editorial staff’s excellence and attributes the group’s success to their ability to produce quality content, but one could easily argue her push to innovate is a main driving factor behind the group’s notable growth.

As publisher, Willumson has championed a number of advances in a bid to be, as she says, “everywhere our readers want us to be.” 

For example, she saw a need in the Asian and European biotech/pharmaceutical industry, and played an integral role in the launch of FiercePharmaAsia and FierceBiotechEurope.

To better reach their target audience, the company also redesigned the FierceBiotech and FiercePharma websites. This not only helps with SEO and web traffic, but also draws in new audiences and broadens the group’s reach, Willumson says.

She's increased web traffic further by redesigning the brands’ e-newsletters to push readers to the website. Previously, full articles were available in the e-newsletter itself. This is especially key given that the Life Sciences group has over 700,000 total newsletter subscribers.

“The newsletter is really important and definitely our first touch-point with our audience,” she explains. “But we really want to get people to the website where they can engage.” 

FierceBiotech’s biggest push to reach its target audience comes in the form of a new live event, the Drug Development Forum.

The group is also in the process of revamping its podcast, recently redesigned the FierceBiotech mobile app, and produces e-books, webinars, and white papers. However, the biggest push to reach the target audience comes in the form of a new live event, the Drug Development Forum.

Willumson maintains that the main goal in all of these innovations is to connect more with their readers, and the recent growth in revenue and readership can attest to the success of this strategy.

Interestingly, web inventory only counts for around 20 percent of the Life Sciences’ group’s revenue.

“We’re a little bit different in that email and newsletter sponsorships are really our bread and butter,” Willumson says.

An advantage through operations

Perhaps what’s most impressive is that Willumson is driving the group and leading it to record performance from a non-traditional background.

Most publishers come from a sales or editorial background, but Willumson began her career in operations — a department often relegated to obscurity and grouped together with the back-office functions collectively known as “central services.”

Willumson started at FierceMarkets as the marketing solutions coordinator in 2008. By 2010, she was the marketing solutions manager. Then in 2012, she jumped to associate publisher of the Life Sciences group, becoming publisher by 2014.

While coming from an operations background meant she had to quickly learn the ins and outs of the industry, it also gave her an unparalleled advantage in terms of client relationships.

“She’s incredibly good at listening to the clients and people around her, and she’s got a really sharp intellect to be able to think about those things and come up with new ideas," Sean Griffey, CEO and president of Industry Drive, who previously served as FierceMarkets’ president, tells Folio:. "So her time in ad ops made her really strong in digital media, as well as really understanding what the client-event space is looking for, and what Fierce’s client needed.”

Inside the Life Sciences group as well, Willumson’s ad ops background is highlighted as an advantage.

“With her background, she has a ground floor understanding of how our products work,” Angelique Alcover, associate publisher of the FierceMarkets Life Sciences group, tells Folio:. “So when there are challenges/decisions to be made that require any operational support (which most do), she’s able to get involved at a level that most publishers can’t.”

Willumson’s relationship skills and intuition extend beyond clients as well.

“A lot of our success as a group has to do with the team Rebecca has built and managed,” Alcover says. “Rebecca has an eye for talent and she’s done a great job at recruiting and maintaining a quality team.”

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