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A strong year for major business titles

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BY SEAN CALLAHAN

Last week the McGraw-Hill Cos.’ BusinessWeek announced three promotions that illustrate how the landscape for general business publications, which also include The Economist, Forbes and Fortune, has changed in the past five years.

On Nov. 2, BusinessWeek promoted Geoff Dodge to senior VP-publisher, North America; Peggy White to VP-BusinessWeek Online; and Paul Maraviglia to VP-international publisher. All three are newly created positions.

Bill Kupper relinquished his title as BusinessWeek publisher but retained the president position.

The elevation of Maraviglia shows how important global reach has become to BusinessWeek. White’s promotion indicates the increasing importance of the Web to BusinessWeek as well as other business publishers. Similarly, Dodge’s promotion underscores just how complex the BusinessWeek franchise has become. While Dodge will assume control of the North American print publication, Kupper will focus his time on BusinessWeek’s expanding tentacles in conferences, on television (with BusinessWeek TV) and overseas.

Through the first 10 months of this year, BusinessWeek posted a 2.0% gain in advertising pages compared with the same period of 2003, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures. It was the first positive year since 2000. "We’re very pleased with the year we’ve been having," Dodge said. Online revenues have increased 60%, according to the company, since White joined in December 2002. "It’s been a fabulous year," she said of 2004. "We anticipate better than double-digit growth in ’05."

In fact, all of the larger business magazines can claim strong years in 2004, especially in light of the difficult times since 2000, when the category saw about half its ad pages disappear. "This was a case where the entire category suffered," said Robert Crosland, managing director at media investment bank AdMedia Partners. "It wasn’t a case of this book versus that book."

In the first 10 months of this year, all four major business titles posted ad page gains, according to PIB, led by Forbes with a 14.8% increase, followed by Fortune (8.7%) and The Economist (5.2%). Ad page growth, while providing a clue to the brand’s health, doesn’t take into account conference, online and other revenue. With the increasing popularity of integrated marketing among b-to-b advertisers, these brands may be much stronger than even the ad page growth indicates.

Each of the publications trumpets how it has adapted to the changing marketplace’s emphasis on integrated marketing. While much is different at these magazines, one thing that hasn’t changed is the relish they take in promoting themselves in large part by knocking the competition.

For instance, Dodge talked about a program BusinessWeek has helped create for Computer Associates International that involves a giveaway of "Media Man," a book about Ted Turner published by McGraw-Hill. Dodge also questioned the ad page growth at Forbes and Fortune, dismissing much of the gain as coming from house ads.

At Fortune, Mike Federle, Fortune’s group publisher, pointed to the strength of the title’s conference business, extolling the growth of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business event, which is now second only to the revenue generated by the Fortune 500. He also pointed out that Fortune, more than its main competitors, employs a paid subscription model on the Web.

Federle is bullish for next year. "We’re looking at ’05 as a pretty good growth year and, depending on what happens with technology, it could be a really good growth year," he said.

At Forbes, Jim Berrien, president-publisher of the Forbes Magazine Group, said Forbes will post growth approaching 20% for this year and will have made great strides in market share. He said a key strength of the Forbes franchise is the Forbes.com Web site, led by Jim Spanfeller. With the large audience attracted by the site, Berrien said, Forbes has the strongest print and Web story to tell, and he and Spanfeller are making joint sales call to get that point across. "It’s the ‘Jim and Jim Show,’ and it’s a lot of fun," Berrien said.

While most of the executives at these business publications look for a strong 2005, Olly Comyn, senior VP-advertising director-Americas at The Economist, sounded a note of caution. With rising oil prices, the outcome in Iraq still uncertain and consumer spending unpredictable, he said, the outlook remains uncertain. "If asked to call December, I still can’t," he said, adding that he was particularly concerned about the travel and financial sectors next year.

"It’s not going to get any easier," said Dodge.

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