"I think we're in a recession," said James P. Dolan, chairman-president-CEO of Dolan Media Co., who participated in a panel discussion of trends in b-to-b media. "The service part of our business is doing well. Advertising and circulation are doing well, but it will be a tough year."
Joe Loggia, CEO of Advanstar Communications, agreed it will be a tough year. He said Advanstar is focusing on events, which are "much more recession resistant" than traditional print advertising.
Loggia added that while ROI is easier to demonstrate with events and digital media, there is still value in print properties. "You have to arm your team with tools so they can go out there and position what a product can do not as a supplement but [as something] complementary," he said.
Publishers need to drive their business according to what the customer wants rather than what the media channel can provide, Loggia said. "Customers need to get information from us 365 days a year, not eight."
Added Dolan: "Our job is to build community—we get our customers in a room and do everything we can for them."
For example, Dolan Media, which targets professionals in the legal, credit, finance and construction markets, owns Counsel Press, which helps attorneys prepare and file appeals. "You have to think in a much more expansive way about your market," Dolan said. "Forget what you know how to do and think about what your customers need."
Indeed, b-to-b media companies have to go beyond their traditional products and services if they want to stay competitive, particularly if they have any designs on eventually putting themselves up for sale.
"We're looking for stickier businesses with a service model to customers," said Peggy Koening, managing partner of ABRY Partners, a private equity company that owns Cygnus Business Media, among other assets. Koening, a panelist in a session titled "Blockbuster Dealmakers," added: "You have to provide the information however the customer wants it."
With regard to b-to-b media deals, Loggia said if the asset "is in the right market, there's a lot of attention to the product and it has the right team, we'll go after it pretty hard."
Last week, Advanstar acquired CBI Research, which provides live and online conferences for senior-level executives in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. CBI Research dovetails with Advanstar's life sciences portfolio.
Dolan pointed to what he sees as the difference for b-to-b media companies between growing organically or through acquisition. "Growing organically is like farming, so don't let operators get involved in M&A," he said. "M&A is hunting and killing."
Charles E. Engros Jr., a managing partner in the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who handles the firm's M&A practice and moderated the discussion on b-to-b media, quickly shot back: "But who you're hunting could end up killing you."