Houston Chronicle’s B2B Web site central to revenue-making venture

By Nicki Britton

In a display of its commitment to providing readers and industry leaders with extensive coverage of the oil and gas industry, the Houston Chronicle and its oil industry-focused FuelFix brand expanded their coverage of the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in innovative, cross-platform ways. 

Through heightened and well-coordinated digital, social, experiential, and print coverage, the news media company offered readers extensive daily coverage leading up to and throughout this year’s four-day event.

FuelFix is one of Hearst Newspapers’ targeted B2B sites, which aim to provide subject-specific news for the small communities within each newspaper’s coverage area. 

Launched in 2010 during the coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, FuelFix has since remained a must-read daily source for updates and analysis on developments in the energy business. Anchored by business reporters at the Houston Chronicle and other Hearst Newspapers, FuelFix incorporates blogs by energy experts, market updates, and useful data, as well as job opportunities within the industry. 

The site proved to be an ideal anchor for the Chronicle’s coverage of OTC. 

As background, OTC was founded in 1969 and is considered to be the principal event for discussions of the development of offshore resources in the fields of drilling, exploration, production, and environmental production. Hosted annually in Houston, the conference brings together more than 70,000 attendees from more than 110 countries around the subject of offshore resources. 

Conference topics at the 2012 event touched on everything from ethics, to the presence of women in the energy industry, to the newest technological developments.

During OTC, which took place April 30 to May 4, Hearst outlets provided up-to-the minute online coverage of the conference, benefiting attendees and oil and gas professionals who couldn't attend. 

Reporting kicked off with previews of speakers and details about participating companies a week in advance of OTC. During the conference, the Chronicle also published a daily FuelFix section in its print edition for the first time, which previewed the day’s proceedings and was distributed to local convention hotels.

“Ongoing coverage of industry news with our FuelFix brand allows us to keep the highly saturated oil and gas audience in Houston in touch with news and insights relating to the industry,” says Rob Cravaritis, vice president/recruitment and marketplace advertising for the Houston Chronicle. “Our coverage of OTC is the perfect example of that.” 

The newspaper added daily guest columns from industry leaders, including ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva, and made a strong effort to also include stories with broader audience appeal, like energy-focused business reports, society items, and career columns. 

Chronicle coverage extended to visitor information on the best food and entertainment in Houston and real-time Twitter and Facebook updates.

“Our daily FuelFix print section, Web site coverage, and social media reporting amounted to a 360-degree source of OTC information that enabled people to tap into the sessions and events they didn’t have time to attend,” Jeff Cohen, executive vice president and editor of the Houston Chronicle, said. “This is a very technical conference, yet our coverage was made accessible to a broader audience.”

A few of the highlights of the 2012 OTC included speeches from Bernard Looney, executive vice president/production at BP; James Watson, director of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement; and Lord Stephen Green, the U.K.’s minister for state trade and investment. 

An example of the 360-coverage Cohen mentions was seen on the first day of the conference: Houston Chronicle’s Dan McGraw “live tweeted” a speech by Looney, stimulating a days’ worth of engaging discussion on Twitter. Then, less than two hours after Looney’s speech, the Chronicle’s Emily Pickrell published a recap that examined the promises he made. And the next day, Looney himself contributed to the Chronicle as a guest columnist.

“Social media was an essential part of our coverage,” Cohen said. “All of the reporters tweeted live from the conference, reporting not just what was being said at the sessions but what they were seeing and hearing from the conference floor.” 

In another social media tie-in, Chronicle reporter L.M. Sixel wrote about making the most of OTC by using LinkedIn to network with like-minded attendees and advised on how to best stay in touch after the conference.

Not only did traffic to the FuelFix site double during the conference, the OTC coverage was profitable for the Chronicle: career and employment advertising led the way, with integrated sponsorships and local retail all coming together to create new revenue for the Chronicle. 

“This type of comprehensive coverage shows our customers that we work hard to make sure their advertising is seen,” says Amy Lawson, marketing specialist supervisor at the Houston Chronicle.

“This was a great example of cross-company strategy, planning, and flawless execution.  Every department came together to rethink and re-imagine our whole approach to this category,” says Houston Chronicle President John O’Loughlin. 

“Editorial’s up-to-the minute coverage provided compelling content — replete with bolder new design and graphics — while leadership in recruitment advertising set the example and tenor across all our revenue development efforts. Marketing formulated a creative consumer engagement plan, including some great work from our creative team in the layout of print and digital messaging, and our production realised the vision with printing and distribution. Across the Houston Chronicle, we have set a new standard of excellence, teamwork, imagination – and hustle.”

In total, nearly 90,000 people attended OTC, the most since the oil boom years of 1981 and 1982 and a 14% increase from the 2011 conference. This growth is in line with the rapid growth in oil and gas production and interest in the future of the energy business. 

“We’ll employ this type of integrated 360 approach in our key content areas and whenever we have a strong intersection between advertiser interest and audience interest, whether it’s the Houston Texans’ playoff run or the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo,” O’Loughlin says.


About Nicki Britton

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