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`All we hear is `leads, leads, leads.' Advertisers are so bent on generating leads that they won't consider a lot of other programs that also have value." This comment, from one frustrated publisher, reflects a perennial problem for b-to-b publishers.

Increasingly, though, publishers are taking it on themselves to address this challenge in new, creative ways, not only in the case of live events and online programs but also with print advertising.

Kevin Vermeulen, VP-group publisher of ALM, is responsible for print advertising sales for ALM's national magazines. As he goes into the 2006 budgeting process, Vermeulen is in the process of setting up programs to continue to give print advertisers a good ROI, he said.

The company is doing something that a lot of consumer magazines do, Vermeulen said. "We're setting up panels of 2,000 to 4,000 readers" who have agreed to answer questions from the publisher, he said. "It's a good way to get better information to our advertisers quickly."

He is also budgeting for phone workers who will contact readers on behalf of advertisers to help generate sales leads. "We have already done something similar through the mail," Vermeulen said.

Ziff Davis Media recently launched a new corporatewide program called Score that is designed to ensure consistent lead quality across titles and across media.

Using Ziff Davis' vast database of publication subscribers, live event attendees and leads generated from online activities, the company is now employing what it calls a real-time, business rules segmentation methodology that qualifies leads and then prioritizes them for the client.

Although the program is a corporate initiative, a lot of the work is done by the teams within each department that are closest to the market, said Randy Zane, VP-corporate communications. "They know the people and the companies, and they constantly interact with them," he noted, declining to be more specific as to how the leads are qualified.

"Our customers can get a lot of leads from our events and online and print programs," Zane said. "We're taking the time to do some additional qualifying so that they know which leads to act on most quickly."

Michael Grossman, publisher of Pennwell's Electric Light & Power and Utility Automation and Engineering T&D, told Media Business of a service he uses called Lead Advantage, from a b-to-b research company called Litchfield Research. "We offer Lead Advantage as an added value to advertisers a couple of times a year in each of my publications," he said.

According to Litchfield Research President Tim Britt, "This is a proactive way to go out and get the leads advertisers are probably expecting."

Litchfield Research contacts a random sample of a publication's subscribers by phone or e-mail and asks them about their future purchasing plans in any product and/or service category in which there are one or more participating advertisers. "If the person says they have no buying plans, we don't continue," Britt said.

If the reader does have a purchase in mind, the researcher continues and confirms basic subscriber details. The caller must also inform the respondent that the results of the survey will be shared with advertisers. "It's clear to the subscriber what we're doing," Britt noted.

The typical advertiser will get approximately 100 to 125 leads, with the number varying by industry sector. "The differences among audiences are just amazing," Britt said. "The people in the industrial waste water industry, for instance, are just fantastic." In medical fields, by contrast, the professionals are used to being bombarded by manufacturers and they are much less receptive, he said. In such cases, the advertiser's expectations must be lowered.

"Anything you can do as a publisher to help your advertisers get leads is going to help your sales," Grossman said, adding that salespeople must teach advertisers how to use the leads properly.

"The advertisers have to call promptly. They have to explain to the person how they got his name. They have to present themselves properly or it might as well be a cold call," he said.

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