Much did change, and to their credit, b-to-b media companies adapted. The mantra became "online, in print and in person." It was an effective rallying cry and a poignant message to the market of advertisers that we were indeed "modern."
Still, it was a period of uncertainty, and one that seems to persist. We look at ABM's print media BIN reports and hear comments like, "The new `up' [in terms of pages of advertising] is flat." We wonder how much market share has really been diverted to search engine advertising. We even see industry conferences that ask questions like, "Is the b-to-b media model broken?" Ouch.
No, the model is not broken. However, after spending a decade focused on new channels-channels that continue to proliferate-we seem to have lost sight of that business model. Basically, we have focused so much on the means (the channels) that we have stopped talking about the end-the value we ultimately provide to those who pay our way.
And just what is that "end"? It is the same as it has always been for sponsor-supported b-to-b media: We provide advertisers access to attentive audiences of people who buy their goods and services, or influence those who do, and we do it better and more efficiently than anyone else.
To illustrate this point, picture a football stadium filled to capacity. Instead of football fans, though, imagine it filled with all the people you serve in a particular industry through all your available channels. They came to the stadium because of the team of editors, writers and opinion leaders you have assembled on the field below. This team provides the content that commands the attention of the market of buyers and influencers in that industry. In fact, the content is so valuable that most, if not all, of those in attendance have provided personal information-what they buy, how much they buy, what their authority is-in order to gain admittance.
What has changed over the past decade is the number of entrances to the stadium. Whereas there previously was often only a single entrance marked "magazine," we now have other entrances marked "Web site," "trade show," "e-newsletter," etc. Building these new entrances has been a challenge in terms of time and investment. And far too often we have focused more on the availability of these new entrances than on what goes on inside.
To further compound matters, those coming in through some of the new entrances, most notably the Internet, leave an easily measurable trail behind them. This development-and the questionable conclusion that just because something is easily measurable means it is ROI-has diverted attention from the benefit we are really providing our advertisers. You see, every so often the team on the field pauses to announce, "We would like to introduce [insert name of advertiser] to you to share a few words we believe you will find of interest." This opportunity to address the audience in a credible forum is the basic "R" in "ROI," and b-to-b media continue to offer the best bargain available for accomplishing this.
Organizational and operational implications flow from this view:
The various channels of a b-to-b media franchise should fall within an overall brand that matches the market, industry or profession it serves.
Yesterday's publisher is today's brand manager, including all the various channels through which the market is reached.
Yesterday's circulation manager is today's database manager, because not everyone in the market may come in through the magazine entrance to the stadium.
Today's salespeople must be able to effectively sell and integrate all available channels that reach the market.
Yes, much did change since 1994, but the basic b-to-b media business model remains the same. We just have to start talking more about the "what" we deliver-powerful, attentive audiences of entire industries-and a little less about the "how" of the individual channels.
Guy Wendler is chairman of Stamats Business Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.