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No hunkering down, not just yet

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"Talk of recession means companies have to get very creative," Clive Over, director of corporate marketing and communications at chip maker Atmel Corp. tells Senior Reporter Kate Maddox in our page 1 package of stories about the slowing economy's impact. "Companies that continue to promote themselves during a recession will come out stronger."

Amtel has pared down its marketing budget for this year from a planned increase of 18% to 22% to an estimated 8% to 10% boost.

However, our exclusive survey of 684 b-to-b marketers, conducted during the last week of January and the first week of February, reveals a majority (58.3%) of respondents say they have not revised their original 2008 marketing budgets.

Of the 29.4% of respondents who said they have revised these earlier budgets downward, nearly half (45.3%) said print will see the greatest decline. This finding should worry some, but not all, media companies. (More on that in a bit.)

Interestingly, our survey finds that events will take the second biggest hit, with 17.3% of respondents saying they will make cuts in this category. In our annual "Marketing Priorities and Plans" survey, conducted late last year, there was a notable spike in event marketing, with 49.5% of respondents saying they planned budget increases in this channel in 2008.

My gut feeling is that events, especially smaller and regional ones, will remain strong in 2008. Face-to-face gatherings can be a powerful way to capture attention, and engage customers and prospects, in what has become an increasingly fractured online media space. (Tip: Remind your audience to shut off cell phones and BlackBerrys.)

Local and SMB markets are intrinsically interesting, and where innovation will continue, even if national brands hunker down. Publishers gathered at the annual Alliance of Area Business Publications last month in Key Largo, Fla., were surprisingly upbeat about their sector, which is even seeing a bit of merger and acquisition activity in secondary markets.

"There's a lot of opportunity in the local markets," said Mark M. Edmiston, managing director of media investment bank AdMedia Partners.

To be sure, businesspeople are taking a careful, wait-and-see attitude about the economy. Take this result from a poll, conducted last week by infoUSA- Poll.com, which asked a half-million U.S. businesses, "Will you cut back on your expenses with the expectation of a recession?"

While a majority (63%) said yes, nearly a third (30%) said it would not cause them to cut back.

Speaking of spending—and despite the tightening of venture capital and credit, and the wobbling international financial system—big plays by big players will continue this year.

Take Microsoft Corp.'s surprise bid of $44.6 billion for Yahoo, the subject of a page 1 story by Senior Reporter Carol Krol. Read this story to see what the mega-deal could mean for search marketers and Microsoft's titanic battle with Google.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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