American Business Media's Executive Forum, held Nov. 3-4 in New York, showed clear evidence the b-to-b media sector is in a deep hole.
But the event also offered the 200 media executives in attendance some methods—such as virtual trade shows and forays into paid content—to climb out of that hole.
Just how dire are things for the media business industry? For most of this year, b-to-b print ad pages have been down 30% on average from 2008. This falloff in advertising has hurt a number of companies. Most prominent, Questex Media Group and Cygnus Business Media entered bankruptcy protection this year. Advanstar Communications restructured its debt, and Penton Media is currently exploring a financial restructuring.
Industry observers expect a number of other b-to-b media companies will enter bankruptcy or restructure their debt in 2010.
According to ABM President-CEO Gordon T. Hughes II, b-to-b media revenue numbers are expected to improve slightly next year, but not much. Print ad pages should stabilize, with pages expected to be flat to down 3%, but that's compared with a historically dismal 2009. Trade show revenue is expected to plummet 20% next year, Hughes said. Digital revenue will provide something of a bright spot, rising a projected 3% to 6%. Custom content revenue is forecast to be up 5% to 8%.
The forum didn't dwell on the negative but instead focused on new ways to generate revenue. Many of the guest speakers presented a positive outlook for the b-to-b media industry.
The first session of the forum was the Virtual Events Workshop. The two-hour session was packed, with many attendees standing in the back of the crowded room. They wanted to hear the speakers—John Failla, CEO of Tesoro Events; Bob Felsenthal, VP-publisher of BtoB; and Michael Kushner, director-streaming media at Nielsen Business Media—reveal how to generate revenue from virtual trade shows and other online events.
Kushner said Nielsen held a virtual trade show affiliated with the Photo District News brand in May for the photography industry. The event, the PDN Photographers' Virtual Show, generated more than 15,000 leads when first presented and another 3,000 leads as the show site remained available on-demand.
Other speakers provided more good news for the industry. For instance, Michael Mandel, chief economist at BusinessWeek, said the Internet's impact, although disruptive, has positioned b-to-b media companies for strong performance in the near future. “If I'm here two or three years from now, we could be talking about a media boom,” he said.
Mandel noted the Internet has dramatically lowered the cost of distribution for the media sector compared with legacy print production and mailing. “In the long run, lower costs are good for any industry,” he said.
Tom Haas, CMO of Siemens, provided some good news for the publishers in the audience when he revealed that his company's new branding campaign, which debuted in September, amounted to a “fourfold” increase over last year's corporate advertising spending. For the campaign, Siemens is spending in a variety of media, including television, radio and print. Haas said that about one-third of the campaign will be spent in digital media.
Another speaker, Rick Segal, CEO-North America for advertising agency GyroHSR, offered the most comforting view of b-to-b media. After pointing out that McGraw-Hill Cos.' Engineering News-Record had been around since 1874 and survived many downturns, he said the fretting about the future of b-to-b media was premature.
ENR has survived, Segal said, “because it never lost sight of the only reason that anyone ever valued a media brand—because of its twin powers of observation and connectivity.” B-to-b media brands still possess the ability to observe and report on the industries they serve and connect buyers and sellers, Segal said.
The Internet hasn't changed that, but Segal offered several ways b-to-b media companies could harness the medium's power. For instance, he suggested b-to-b brands hire the best bloggers in their industry and host them on their Web sites. He also encouraged b-to-b brands to become experts in the social media serving their industries.
Another way b-to-b media companies, which historically have given away their content, have considered coping with the growth of digital media and the drop in print advertising revenue is to explore paid content options. Steven Brill, a co-founder of Journalism Online, an organization designed to help newspapers and other publications get paid for their online content, provided more good news for forum attendees. He estimated that 10% of users of a typical publication would pay for online content and that publishers could likely maintain more than 90% of digital ad revenue.
Freelance reporter Marie Griffin contributed to this report.