A press release crossed my desk today from New York 411, a database of entertainment industry resources, and a sister publication to the well-known LA 411 guide. They're both part of the Variety Group at Reed Business Information.The subject of the press release was that New York 411 had held its first-ever advisory board meeting. This being the entertainment industry, the meeting didn't take place in some windowless conference room, but rather at New York's trendy W Hotel. Ah, Hollywood!

What's significant, however, is not the venue, but the fact that it represents a refreshing new emphasis on the time-honored notion of the advisory board to help publishers stay closer to their markets while garnering valuable ideas and insights from industry leaders. The publisher of New York 411, Kevin Davis, perfectly described the power of the advisory board when he noted, "The New York 411 Advisory Board is part of a continuing effort to create a sense of connection among community members and to keep 411's finger on the pulse of what is happening today in the New York production world."

While many data publishers maintain advisory boards of one type or another, most are little more than "masthead enhancers" with many publishers regarding them as purely cosmetic. Relatively few publishers maximize them for what they really can be: dream focus groups that you'd never be able to assemble if you called them focus groups.

An advisory group is a publisher's opportunity to assemble prominent leaders from the markets they serve in one place and pick their brains and get their ideas on how to evolve their products, and better respond to emerging market needs. An advisory board can also provide an early warning system in terms of new competitors as well as new opportunities. By the way, the more you engage your advisory board and make them feel that they are really influencing and shaping your product, the more likely they will say positive things about your product to others in the industry -- adding real buzz you couldn't buy to the focus group you couldn't buy.

Advisory boards are just one of a number of ways you should be actively engaging with your market, but they are an important one, and inexpensive to boot. If you haven't done so already, take a fresh look at this often under-utilized asset. These days, you really need to become one with your market. And hold that thought. We'll pick it up and amplify it at InfoCommerce 2006 October 10-12 in Philadelphia where becoming one with your market will provide the central theme. Join us and be prepared to be challenged and inspired to rethink not only your how you publish, but what it means to be a publisher today.