B-to-b media executives ignore user-generated content at their own peril

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B-to-b media companies must learn to embrace so-called user-generated media or risk missing out on a trend that’s only going to grow, according to a panel of media industry executives at last week’s DeSilva & Phillips media dealmakers summit.

“It’s critical to build community,” said Bill Pollak, president-CEO of ALM Media, which serves legal, real estate and business professionals. “You can no longer be up on Mount Olympus, making pronouncements on what you think is important. You have to learn how to play in the market” of Web 2.0.While it is understandable that b-to-b media companies want to protect their electronic content, members of the panel said the bigger risk is to put up firewalls that prevent users from accessing content.

“It’s about including, not excluding” user-generated media, said Tyler Zachem, a partner in the private equity firm MidOcean Partners, which owns 50% of Penton Media, along with Wasserstein & Co.

Despite concerns about user-generated content, b-to-b media companies are well-positioned to capitalize on the trend, Pollak said. “It’s not so different from what b-to-b media companies have been doing for 100 years: sitting in the middle of a community and providing tools to pull that community together around daily, weekly and monthly information,” he said.

Tim Weller, CEO of Incisive Media, which covers markets such as financial risk management, insurance, capital markets and marketing, added: “We tend to overcomplicate our business. We connect buyers and sellers through various platforms, and it is similar to how we’ve done business in the last 100 years. It’s just that now you need an agnostic view on how you want to deliver that content.”

Weller said that if b-to-b media companies continue to preoccupy themselves with their brand without focusing on content, they’ll “make a bit of money but … won’t be around in 100 years.”

The opportunities in user-generated media were just one aspect of a freewheeling conversation about b-to-b media trends.

Pollak pointed to the growth in vertical search. Referring to ALM’s core market, he said: “If you’re looking for a legal case on Google, it will give you 35 pages of information that won’t meet your needs. …To help customers find exactly what they’re looking for should be the mission of all b-to-b media companies.”

Zachem chimed in on vertical search, too, saying, “You have valuable content and can beat Google in their own backyard by developing highly focused channels.” Asked how well smaller b-to-b media companies might fare in what continues to be a quite active media M&A market, Pollak said: “Trying to fund organic growth is a lot harder when you’re trying to position yourself for a future sale. I worry we’re not investing enough in the online business.”

He added: “Whether you are public or private there’s a balance to build value. You have to keep your eye on the horizon and not respond to moment-to-moment pressures.”

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