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Internet influence felt at all levels

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Last week, the Commerce Department revised down its estimate for first-quarter expansion in GDP to a 0.6% annual rate. A month earlier, it estimated the rate at 1.3%. It was the slowest quarterly growth since the fourth quarter of 2002.

Nevertheless, most economists quoted last week said the report contained mostly good news, and they projected moderate growth in the coming quarters. And as I write this column, stocks in the U.S. are racking up additional gains, just a day after the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 closed at their best levels ever.

Recent surveys of marketers point to increased spending, especially related to online efforts. Last month, the Interactive Advertising Bureau reported that online ad revenue in the U.S. reached $16.90 billion in 2006, up 35% over 2005. This ongoing focus on Internet marketing has had another impact: an employment gap. Plenty of surveys and anecdotal evidence indicate these specialists are getting harder and harder to find—and more expensive to hire once they're found.

The pervasive impact of the Internet applies to direct marketing, as well. Asked about big trends in database marketing, Kristin Micalizio, VP-direct sales at Office Depot and one of the four participants in the direct marketer roundtable in this issue, said: "[It's] faster and more online-driven analytics. We are seeing that people are using [these] tools with much more frequency to rapidly provide insight about how different customer segments and demographics think."

Another panelist, Doug Ziewacz, marketing director at Everon Technology Services, made a similar point about online data: "You get real-time measurement on customer activity, and then you can trigger activities and actions according to their behavior." Our database marketing special report starts on page 29.

Speaking of online platforms, marketers are turning to a relatively new one in their quest to satisfy the informational needs of their customers and prospects. See Reporter Matthew Schwartz's interesting page 1 story on the use of corporate wikis. (For those who don't already know, a wiki is a Web page that allows visitors to add, remove and edit content.)

Keith Pigues, VP-marketing at cement and concrete products company CEMEX U.S. and incoming chairman of the Business Marketing Association, has it exactly right, I think, when he says: "The role of the CMO is probably experiencing greater change now than at any time since the inception of the role. All CMOs and senior marketing leaders are being asked to contribute to the strategic growth of the company now more than ever before, which is a departure from the historic role of the CMO, which was a more narrow role in communications and branding."

The first client-side marketer to lead the BMA, Pigues spoke with Senior Reporter Kate Maddox about the challenges facing his counterparts and about his plans for the BMA (see page 3).

I'll be attending the BMA's annual conference June 13-15 in Las Vegas and look forward to wide-ranging conversations with many of you.

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

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