This year marks our fifth year as a news publication titled BtoB, and next year we celebrate the 90th anniversary of Class—the predecessor of BtoB, Business Marketing and Industrial Marketing—and of Crain Communications Inc.
The last five years, I contend, have been more tumultuous than the first 84. When my Dad, the late G.D. Crain Jr., started Class in 1916, the challenge was to raise the standards of industrial advertising, and thereby raise the stature of the industrial advertising manager.
So the stock-in-trade for Class, Industrial Marketing and Business Marketing was how to produce more polished and effective ads in business publications (and later how to integrate trade ads, direct mail and trade shows into a seamless marketing campaign).
But by the end of the 1990s, things were moving too fast for us to stay with our how-to-do-it formula: Business marketers embraced dot-com solutions, where nobody knew how to do it.
So we switched to our current editorial format and started giving readers our take on news developments affecting b-to-b marketing.
It's nice to hear so many readers say our coverage of high-tech advertising and other b-to-b marketing moves has made us a "must read." What's more, our NetMarketing Breakfasts and other events are packing 'em in, a sure sign our reinvigorated publication is on the right track.
You know it's a brave new world when Forbes.com says its Web site will overtake ad revenue of the print version in 18 to 20 months. Our own dot-com revenue isn't growing that fast, but we now generate more business from our Web sites than from events and conferences.
In many ways, the Internet is the perfect match for b-to-b marketing. And with the arrival of broadband, it won't be long before b-to-b companies are running long-form video on Web sites run by b-to-b companies and on Internet portals specializing in b-to-b topics. What's more, consumer Internet travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz will introduce trade versions of the sites with information on the business side of lodging and travel.
B-to-b marketers have been slow to adopt consumer marketing tactics, but broadband Internet will give them the flexibility to tailor their message to b-to-b markets that are so much in flux. The Internet now commands just 7% of b-to-b budgets, but look for that percentage to double in the next three to five years.
Business publication Web sites such as Forbes.com would seem to have a leg up on Web sites without a complementary print component, but what worries me is that most of the business publication field seems to be in play, with investment bankers about the only buyers left. So I'm not sure how long they'll be able to maintain that advantage.
Stability, in my opinion, is an absolutely essential ingredient in the welfare of any business enterprise, and I fear that the way business publishers are going from one owner to another (Hanley Wood owner Veronis Suhler Stevenson is selling the construction industry media company to another investment firm) business publishers will be sold every five years or so. Emphasis is on improving the bottom line, and it's difficult to take a long-term view of business cycles when your company will be on the block again in a few years.
In the eyes of these new owners, keeping a strong and vital trade press (with an equally strong Web presence) might not be the highest priority-data and information produce a more even flow of profits than advertising-dependent trade papers.
The b-to-b field, we have always believed, requires robust and editorially strong business publications. In 1966, on the occasion of Industrial Marketing's 50th anniversary, my father stated that as the job of b-to-b marketing becomes more important, "we can expect to see manufacturers experimenting with other media, and therefore I think it is up to the business press to make sure it is doing the very best job in terms of editorial service, in terms of circulation coverage, in terms of market research and in terms of other services to advertisers to make sure that manufacturers continue to regard the business press as their primary medium."
Today, 39 years later, his words hold equally true, and b-to-b marketers need business papers and their cyberspace offspring more than ever.
Rance Crain is president of Crain Communications Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com