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Built by association: The next step for b-to-b publishers

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Recent shakeups in the upper ranks of the largest consumer media companies reflect the changes that all trade publishers have faced for the last decade: the migration of the traditional business model to encompass more complex media enterprises.

The magazine-and-trade show model that worked so well for decades has crashed into a wave of vertical resources online and elsewhere. Traditional b-to-b magazines, once the best and often the only place to learn about news and trends in a vertical niche, now face competition from every consultant with an ISP and a desire to blog. Mergers and acquisitions within the client base, along with advances in communication technology and the increasing complexity of travel, have made trade shows less vital to the sourcing of suppliers or the signing of contracts.

The transition from hard-copy publisher and event producer to dot-com has been a required step in the evolution of business publishing. The move online has enabled media companies to provide more information in a more timely manner to a wider audience by freeing them from circulation constraints and travel-budget limitations. But going online, in itself, is not enough to guarantee future success.

The long-term viability of any business publishing enterprise ultimately has been driven by its relevance to and relationship with the market being served. Improving that relevance and strengthening that relationship will be the key to the future.

One way to do so is by launching an industry association. Many traditional, nonprofit associations operate as trade show producers and magazine publishers for two simple reasons: They have access to and credibility in the marketplace.

It's only logical that the stream can flow both ways.

Three years ago, Hoyt Publishing Co. launched the In-Store Marketing Institute, a for-profit trade association for marketing professionals in the field of retail marketing. This was a risk?although financially not as daunting as the launch of a new publication would have been.

After more than 18 years in the industry as the publisher of two leading publications (P-O-P Times and P-O-P Design), two trade shows (the In-Store Marketing Expo and the Total Retail Experience) and a host of ancillary properties, the company had a wealth of content and a vast database of potential members.

The first step, of course, was the Internet. The institute's official site, instoremarketer.org, has succeeded in being a "pure Web play" by providing enough relevant content to make it a must-have business tool for marketing professionals. All content gathered elsewhere?from magazine articles to seminar lectures to award program entries?are fed into the site, which also offers unique content from a dedicated editorial staff and submissions from numerous outside sources.

But the institute is far more than a Web play. In just three years, it has emerged as a driving force for the marketplace, providing educational opportunities and other resources for individual members and guidance for the industry at large. In short, it has become a respected association with thousands of members worldwide. It has also allowed our company to deepen its relationship to this market in ways that would not have been available to a trade publisher.

One recent example is a groundbreaking research project for Albertsons, Miller Brewing Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Wal-Mart Stores, Walt Disney Co. and others that saw our staff working in direct collaboration with industry senior-level managers and executives who simply were not a part of our audience three years ago. As a trade publisher, we never would have had an opportunity to spearhead such a major project. But as an association with a for-profit, entrepreneurial mind-set, trade publishing properties through which to publicize the project and the nimbleness to avoid bureaucratic red tape, we were ideally suited to make it work.

The institute has become an elegant kimono that envelops our existing shows, conferences and magazines. It has significantly elevated our existing properties by exposing them to new segments of the marketplace. And it has made it easier to launch new products and initiatives by effectively leveraging our franchise.

Establishing a for-profit association was the ultimate roll-up that tied together everything we already did as a publisher and provided more opportunities to deliver content, make contacts, add value and, ultimately, derive more revenue from our core market.

It takes the highest level of passion and industry expertise to make it work. But those are two resources that good b-to-b publishers have in abundance.

Peter W. Hoyt is executive director of the In-Store Marketing Institute and president of Hoyt Publishing Co. He can be reached at peter_hoyt@hoytpub.com.

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