When Ascential made its stock market debut last month it was valued at £800m. The CEO of the events and B2B publishing company, Duncan Painter, spoke at the Digital Media Strategies conference in London today about how he had successfully transformed the group into a company with a focused portfolio and a dedication to customer retention.

Painter said the key to Ascential’s success was its decision to concentrate on two products: events and publishing. Speaking about the changes to their B2B publications, which include the fashion publication WGSN and Nursing Times, he revealed that he had steered away from news to content which gave readers analytical expert advice. 

‘We don’t want to be in the news industry. We do provide news but we do not think in the future that is what our customers will be coming to us for. We provide information that helps people run their businesses. Information that people will put a price on. We don’t believe that news is something that people put a premium on.’

Ascential is increasingly becoming a digital-only publication company and Painter predicted that ‘print advertising will be gone in our business model in the next four years’:

‘We will let our customers decide how they want to consume our information and 80% of them want to consume it through digital. With the evolution we are already seeing, within two to three years the print platform will no longer be viable and we might as well be realistic about it.’ 

Half of Ascential’s overall revenue come from their large-scale events and festivals which take place across the world. The biggest of these is the Cannes Lions film festival. Painter said:

‘Cannes Lions has grown enormously. It is 63 years old and last year it had spectacular growth. It has become the global festival of creativity. We have made it the ‘go to’ event simply by ensuring it is what a good event should be: a mirror reflection of the industry it serves.’ 

He also mentioned another Ascential event, Money 20/20, a financial industry exhibition, which saw 38% growth last year with 10,000 professionals attending its American version in Las Vegas: ‘That is the rocketship event in our portfolio.’

Since joining Ascential in 2011, Painter believed that he has brought ‘an obsession about retention’: 

‘Fixating on customer retention teaches a company to really listen to what its customers want. You have to know who you are losing and why you are losing them:

‘When I joined our retention was between 70% and 80%. It is now 96%. And 3% of that 4% go bust, so there are very few people who choose to leave our content. Every single day we focus on providing content that our readers will engage with and need.’