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ABM conference mood optimistic, but mobile and social media challenges loom

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Jack Griffin, former CEO of Time Inc. and Meredith Corp., opened American Business Media's Annual Conference in San Francisco Sunday with a keynote address exploring how media companies should adapt to the decline of print advertising. “Advertising isn't going to support all of the media companies that exist today,” he said. “We need to do something more.” To plan for a future in which advertising's primacy will fade, publishers “have to run two companies simultaneously: one for today and one for the future,” he said. Griffin was optimistic about the ability of b-to-b media companies to adapt to this new reality, because they have been leaders in reaching their audience in ways beyond advertising and have always relied on “deep domain expertise and knowledge.” As an example of b-to-b media transformation, he cited UBM TechWeb, which has seen its print advertising decline from 85% of its business six years ago to less than 10% now. Optimism about b-to-b media's ability to adapt seemed justified by positive numbers released by ABM at the conference, which drew 215 registrants, up 12% over a year ago. The association said it has gained 52 new members in the past year. “I'm pleased to report that ABM is again on the growth path,” said ABM Treasurer Anthea Stratigos, who is CEO of Outsell Inc. She reported that ABM has generated $3.3 million in revenue for fiscal 2012, which ends in June, a 20% increase over the previous fiscal year. ABM President-CEO Clark Pettit, in his address to the membership, acknowledged the challenges facing b-to-b media, which include the rise of mobile and social media. But he emphasized that these challenges also represent opportunities. Petit encouraged b-to-b media companies to examine the “why” of their existence (to serve an audience and the marketers looking to communicate with it) rather than the “what” of their existence (publishing magazines or producing trade shows). He said b-to-b media have always been good at creating communities, a skill that should serve ABM's member companies well in the era of social media. He added that with the barrage of information people are experiencing, b-to-b media companies can play an important role: providing “order in the chaos.” In keeping with the conference's theme, “The customer-driven future,” many of the presentations at the conference provided specifics on how b-to-b media companies could leverage better understanding of their audiences to derive more revenue directly from readers and also from advertisers. Among the most compelling presentations was “Putting Metrics Into Action: Driving Conversions,” by Chad Phelps, chief digital officer of b-to-b and enthusiast publisher F+W Media. Phelps challenged b-to-b media companies to generate more revenue directly from their audiences, and he described F+W's e-commerce strategy, which uses 25 online storefronts to sell content such as archived stories or events to Web users. Phelps said that when he joined F+W in 2008, about 90% of its digital revenue stemmed from advertising. Even though F+W's online advertising continues to grow, Phelps said it only accounts for 16% of current revenue because e-commerce revenue has boomed. The key to driving that revenue is F+W's email list, Phelps said. By tracking user behavior and interaction with email, F+W can identify, for example, whether recipients of its graphic designer emails are print designers or interactive designers. It can then target specific paid content offers based on a user's behavior. For example, it could offer print designers a $299 course on becoming an interactive designer. “We strive for one-to-one marketing,” Phelps said.
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