B-to-b online ad network launches

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With millions of URLs ending in .com, finding the right sites to place business-to-business advertising on the Web is like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. B2BWorks, an online advertising network that launched in May, was created to make it simpler for business-to-business marketers to satisfy their thirst for Internet advertising -- without getting soaked.

"It's so easy even the brain-dead can do it," said Bill Hebel, a media- buying supervisor at Ford Motor Media, Chicago, and a member of B2BWorks' informal advisory board.

Modeled after DoubleClick and Flycast Communications Corp., Chicago-based B2BWorks is affiliated with more than 100 Web sites created by b-to-b media companies, such as Intertec Publishing and The McGraw-Hill Cos. The sites, which include those of Architectural Record, Chemical Engineering, Thomas Regional Directory Co. and Waste Age, are aimed at 70 vertical markets.

One-stop benefits

George Short, publisher-electronic products for Thomas Regional, said he has 5,000 advertisers online, but most of them are small manufacturers of pumps, valves and other industrial products. "For us, it's relatively simple," Mr. Short said of Thomas Regional's affiliation with B2BWorks. "It extends our brands to non-traditional advertisers."

B2BWorks acts as a sales representative for the sites, offering banner space to horizontal marketers looking to reach a range of vertical markets. It gets the bulk of its revenue from commissions on ad sales.

Marketers using the service no longer have to contact a slew of individual Web sites. They can gain access to more than 100 Web sites with a single phone call.

"It's a customer-centric model that we're going to be able to offer advertisers," said Bill Furlong, B2BWorks' president-CEO and former managing director of Business Marketing. "It's one-stop shopping."

Mr. Furlong and Bill Giacalone, B2BWorks' senior VP-site relations, see their online network appealing to telecommunications, computer and service companies that might normally use Business Week to reach a broad range of vertical markets. The advantages of B2BWorks, as Messrs. Furlong and Giacalone see it, are many.

First, with a base cost of $75 for 100,000 impressions, B2BWorks is more cost effective on a cost-per- thousand basis, they say. Second, banners and other Web ads can be easily tailored to communicate targeted messages to individual vertical markets. Third, the Web sites allow marketers to "drill down" into vertical industries, reaching engineers and others below management level.

Additionally, with ad management company AdForce's technology, the performance of various banners and Web sites can be quickly evaluated and adjusted on the fly. Marketers can eliminate ineffective ads and unresponsive Web sites from their campaigns.

Tyler Schaeffer, senior VP-media director at Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, and a member of B2BWorks' advisory board, said the online ad network provides a bird's-eye view of the Internet. "This is more of an overarching view, a view of the landscape from up above where you can pick and choose the real estate you want," he said.

Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., projects annual b-to-b electronic commerce will surge to $1.3 trillion by 2003. Forrester also predicts that annual online b-to-b ad spending will reach $2.5 billion by 2002 -- presumably fueled by many marketers looking to drive traffic to their e-commerce Web sites.

Building awareness

B2BWorks hopes to be well positioned to take a hefty portion of this spending. Mr. Hebel said he believes the service offered by B2BWorks is so useful that the online network merely needs to build awareness with media buyers. Enhancing B2BWorks' credibility by promoting its offer of ABC Interactive audits with a minimum 500,000 impressions won't hurt its standing with media buyers either, Mr. Hebel said.

On the other hand, Mr. Schaeffer and John Keck, senior VP-interactive media director at FCB Direct, San Francisco, while excited by B2BWorks' possibilities, said he has some reservations about the concept. B2BWorks has made a commitment to forging relationships with leading b-to-b Web sites, although it hasn't been successful in every vertical market, Mr. Schaeffer said.

"So far, it varies by category," he said. "They need to have a consistent level of leadership across the categories to make this thing viable."

Mr. Keck said traditional b-to-b print publishers as a whole -- with the high-profile exception of Ziff-Davis' ZDNet, which is not affiliated with B2BWorks -- have not adapted well to the Web.

"My own feeling is it ought to work, but I don't know," he said. "The jury is still out."

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