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'Comfort zone' sets in for online publishers

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It was something of a surprise when technology publishing giant IDG Corp. shuttered the print version of InfoWorld late last month and shifted all the publication's content online. After all, InfoWorld, which debuted in 1980, was one of the first b-to-b technology trade titles and, along with PC World, considered an IDG flagship.

The decision to eliminate the print version of InfoWorld "reflects where our readers are going and where media consumption is going," said Paul Calento, senior VP-strategic development at InfoWorld.

IDG plans to beef up InfoWorld's online presence with blogs, podcasts, webinars and other programs to cater to mainstay sponsors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

"Advertisers increasingly want to buy online programs in some way," Calento said. "Online is the growth business, and publishers have to focus not only on what they're doing online today but branch out into new brands, which can take on lives of their own."

It's not just technology publishers that are repositioning themselves for the digital age. B-to-b media companies of all stripes are preparing for what's expected to be more dramatic changes in the delivery of business information.

"I see the publishing community much more prepared to handle larger online budgets," said Jeff Lanctot, senior VP-general manager at Avenue A/Razorfish, one of the biggest buyers of online media. "Things seemed to start to stabilize in the second half of 2006, and publishers are bringing much more thought-out proposals and better delivery of their inventory."

As online marketing gets more sophisticated, campaigns will take on more unique characteristics.

For example, earlier this year United Parcel Service of America had a "24-hour roadblock" on Yahoo.com in which a UPS banner ad was placed atop Yahoo's home page for a full day. The ad linked to the UPS Whiteboard, which features online video touting the company's products and services.

"Publishers have gotten the wake-up call that online advertising is really about integration," said Larry Bloomenkranz, VP-global brand management and advertising at UPS, which this year boosted its online advertising budget to 20% of overall media spending, up from 9% in 2006. "They need to approach the client more holistically and not focus on any one medium."

Intel Corp. this year bumped up its global online budget to 30% of its overall marketing communications budget, up from 20% in 2006.

"There are so many different online channels coming to fruition," said Sandra Lopez, business integrated marketing manager at Intel. "Business publishers know it's a cluttered environment online. They need to help marketers deliver ROI and optimize those programs to achieve the desired online objectives."

Still, emerging media such as blogs and podcasts have yet to translate into significant ad revenue, observers say. It's a twist on the mid- to late-1990s, when b-to-b publishers and advertisers were simply trying to figure out how they could take advantage of Web technology, said Scott Berg, worldwide media director at HP. "[These days] we're trying to figure out the correct way to fashion our ads online," he said.

HP has bumped its online budget to 28% of its overall media spending, up from 22% in 2006. "Video is going to be a major focus for us in the coming year," Berg said, adding that HP has also doubled its online budget devoted to search.

The New York Times has been one of the beneficiaries of HP's shift in media spending. The Times "has bent over backward to drive messaging online," Berg said, adding that HP ads are prominently placed on NYTimes.com's home page, business section and a special photography section. "The Times has realized that it is no longer a newspaper company but a content provider, which is driving ad revenue. All media companies have had to adjust."

That philosophy is rapidly being embraced by business publishers that, in some cases, are shedding decades of print sales practices to become more Web-savvy.

"The challenge for any publishing company is dealing with media that haven't historically been in their DNA," said Peter Spande, VP at CMP Technology's TechWeb, an aggregate of 12 CMP properties, including Informationweek.com and Networkcomputing.com. "The evolution of our online offerings has gotten better at delivering brand messages and is giving larger clients a comfort zone with branding online."

CMP recently launched three online programs: "3 Takes," which tackles a technology subject from three angles; "CIOs Uncensored," video Q&As with top CIOs; and "The Friday ITch," sort of "The Daily Show" cum technology coverage.

Spande said that while video is a growing element in online advertising, it should not be included in ad campaigns just for the sake of doing so.

"We're committed to delivering video content but we're not going to try and cordon video off from other elements online," he said. "And if we don't have something to say in an audio format, we're not going to do it. You have to keep things simple and ultra relevant."

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