Dishing Content on Multiple Platforms
The staff of Zagat Survey LLC consisted of just Tim and Nina Zagat when the pair first set off in 1979 to compile restaurant reviews contributed by their friends to help create the first of their popular restaurant guides. The book series since has become virtually synonymous with dining, and the staff consists of 110 full-time employees, plus local editors in more than 70 cities around the globe. Tim Zagat, the CEO of Zagat Survey, faces the same challenges that other publishers do as his company prepares to face the opportunities and challenges that digital content delivery creates.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Tim Zagat: In our case, the challenge is in providing our survey data to the masses on all available platforms. We’re doing a great job at it, but technology moves quick.
What have been the challenges you’ve faced in helping to guide your brand into the digital world with all of the changes the industry is undergoing?
Zagat: The digital world changes everyday. Fortunately, our staff is able to look at not just what our readers want now, but what we anticipate they will want in a year or more from now. Getting those bells and whistles online at the same time a trend hits, is what is challenging.
As for branding, we are very fortunate to have had great success before the dawn of the digital age. We have an advantage over bloggers and the like because, while they are competing and trying to differentiate themselves from the huge pool of fellow bloggers, the Zagat brand has a history and loyal following that predates the digital age.
How long ago did you make the decision to begin providing content on multiple platforms, and what was the first step in making that happen?
Zagat: Zagat Survey ratings and reviews have been the principal source of restaurant information available online since the late 1980’s on Prodigy, CompuServe, AOL, Sidewalk, Travelocity, Pactel, USWest, Ameritech and Pathfinder. In addition, Zagat has partnered with Microsoft, Apple, Sony and NewsCorp to provide electronic products. Zagat has worked with NTT DoCoMo in connection with its i-mode, and most recently has worked with Handmark in developing software for a variety of mobile devices and cell phones. Zagat Survey content is available online at www.Zagat.com, where users can access more than 30,000 reviews, voice their opinions, and execute related transactions. Zagat.com was launched in 1999 and is one of the few profitable restaurant guide Web sites. Nina [Zagat] has been very influential in keeping Zagat.com up to speed in the digital marketplace.
How have you adapted your business strategy in an era much different than when you started in 1979 now that people are increasingly going online to obtain information from other sources?
Zagat: In some respects the Internet Age has saved us considerable amounts of money. For example, our surveys used to be on paper and mailed out to people who requested them. Today, we have our reviewers take our surveys online, eliminating the cost of paper, envelopes and stamps (which has certainly gone up since 1979) as well as saving hundreds if not thousands of man hours in tallying up the results of the surveys. Without the technological advances we’ve made, and with more than 250,000 surveyors worldwide, the cost for us to mail our surveys out (just the cost of stamps) today would be more than $92,000 a year.
Our business strategy has been to provide Zagat.com users with as much if not more information that they can get elsewhere. Menus, editorials, ratings/reviews of restaurants, hotels, attractions and more. We’d like to consider ourselves a one-stop shop of sorts. People can get information about a particular business (restaurant or otherwise), take a look at the menu ahead of time and then, with our new user review capabilities, come back after dinner and write a full review of the experience.
Our business strategy has also been geared toward providing people with Zagat information everywhere they go at anytime. We want people to be able to download our reviews to their iPod or cell phone or PDA, and to be able to have it on your car’s navigation system. Pretty much every available platform.
What do you believe keeps the print version of each year’s Zagat Survey a desirable product when the online version of the guide is able to be updated on a daily basis?
Zagat: The guides are extremely handy and provide tangible properties that our other products don’t have. People love to write in the columns next to the restaurant to describe what they ate. Others put an asterisk and date next to the restaurants to keep a record of their dining experiences. It’s like a newspaper. People like to have paper in their hands. And who doesn’t love to get a Zagat guide for the holidays from their client or employer?
What area of your company is showing the greatest growth?
Zagat: It’s fairly even between our corporate sales and online areas.
How has the Web opened up the opportunities of having more contributors who can provide input for your surveys? How has this changed the survey results?
Zagat: It’s a time saver. People can respond to the survey at their convenience. And with the click of a button send us their responses. On our end, the calculating of the ratings is made much easier as well, being that [the data] has been collected digitally instead of on a faxed or mailed piece of paper. Just about everyone is online in some way or another today. Either at home, at school, at work, on the go (mobile phones, PDAs, laptops, etc.) and for those that don’t have a computer for themselves, access can be had in libraries. You have to go where the people are. And they, in turn, have responded.
How have you decided to handled the increased demand for creating content on the Web? Was your existing staff trained to help facilitate the new tasks or were new employees brought on board?
Zagat: We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of Web savvy employees for years, and we have also recently hired several new staff members that are well in tune with the current and future demands our customers will expect from our online offerings.
What significant initiatives do you have planned for Zagat Survey for 2007?
Zagat: You’ll have to wait and see.