American Business Media's Executive Forum, held last month in Chicago, offered plenty of advice from industry experts on how business publishers can diversify their revenue streams, particularly when it comes to offering subscription-based products that are immune to the vagaries of the cyclical advertising market. However, one subject seemed to dominate the conversation throughout the two-day meeting: data.
Several speakers said that as the effectiveness of some traditional business media products dwindles, the pressure is on publishers to add data-related products, whether organically, through acquisition or by developing partnerships with research companies.
Abs Kotulski, VP-strategy and development, commodities and commercial markets at McGraw-Hill Cos., said that creating data services will require b-to-b media companies to make some wrenching changes.
“If you're a traditional media business and moving into data information, I think it's much more challenging; and many of you are probably in that situation,” he said. “In that case, you're looking at building entirely new teams, with very different skill sets. It's a move from editorial to much more [of] a product approach, where you have people who have more of a software background and a need to innovate.”
Kotulski said publishers have to position their data products as a springboard for additional services. It's not just providing the data, it's being able to either build a work-flow tool on top of the information or develop analytics to provide new insight. “Is it a nice-to-have piece of information or is it a must-have? That's a critical question you have to ask yourself,” Kotulski said.
Another speaker, Tim Baskerville, a business information consultant and board member of HG Data Co., said that in creating data products publishers must consider scale. “Margins, once you've got the operation up and running and stable, can be highly attractive,” he said.
Raymond Bianchi, VP-group show director at Cygnus Business Media, presented a “12-step program” on how business publishers can build live events using data and brand equity.
The initial steps include identifying a media company's “data scope” within the sector covered and, within that sector, determining if there is a community that's not being served by a live event. “Don't say, "This is going to disrupt my existing business,' ” Bianchi said. “Your existing business may not exist someday.”
A crucial step is to carefully test ideas about live events with potential attendees. “You need to test your assumptions,” Bianchi said. “You need to create a survey of your key demographics and ask the right questions to determine the need.”
As the event starts to coalesce, publishers should vet the concept with a variety of potential sponsors and create a board of advisers to examine the data.
During his opening remarks, Clark Pettit, president-CEO of ABM, said that b-to-b media companies can ill afford to wait for new business publishing models to mature. “When disruptive transitions happen, the old models die before the new ones emerge,” he said. “In b-to-b [media], we're seeing new models and new revenue streams try to replace old models, but the new models aren't fully baked.”