How to plot for success in an ever-changing world

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Once again, we are honoring the Best & Brightest B-to-B Media Strategists, the men and women who have done an outstanding job in the last year to further and promote their clients' messages. This marks a milestone for us: It's the fifth year we've honored the business-to-business media strategists. You'd think that after a year or two, we'd start to see the same strategies and plans over and over. But to our surprise, each year the competition keeps getting better and the strategies more innovative. This year's winners are aggressively looking for new opportunities for their clients. From Veteran winner Laura Bracken of Saatchi & Saatchi, San Francisco, to Up & Comer Nathan Woodman of Interactive Strategies, Natick, Mass., they're moving beyond the traditional media, or at least serving it up with a twist. They're exploring new technology and how to make it work for them. The key to the success of many of this year's winners is their mental flexibility and quick reflexes in dealing with a changing advertising environment. They have no qualms saying: "This traditional marketing method isn't working for my client. Let's try this instead." At the same time, the so-called new marketing tactics aren't necessarily some newfangled interactive, beyond-the-edge techniques no one has attempted before. No, the cutting-edge strategists are often turning to the tried-and-true trade show. Or they're going with the old-fashioned outdoor board--even walls, in the case of Joe Bihlmier, VP-planning director for Young & Rubicam's Mediaedge, New York, who filled a wall along a business travelers' walkway in London's Heathrow Airport with insignias for Andersen Consulting. And they're buying print ads like they're going out of style, not just in the trade press, but in the general business press and consumer press. Along the way, they're spurring new publications, and successful ones at that, judging from the sheer size of Business 2.0, Red Herring, Industry Standard and Fast Company. One strategist, Erika Spence, VP-associate media director of Citron Haligman Bedecarré, San Francisco, is even credited with raising the bar for the whole .com category with her innovative and massive media plan for client CNET. Yes, the b-to-b marketing world is changing rapidly. I know, from my mail, phone calls and even e-mail, that many companies are still struggling with the basics of marketing and advertising, and haven't even gotten as far as the Internet, or at least past using their site as brochureware. But the sad truth is, these companies have run out of time. They must make the leap now and give up that comfort zone they've created by never solving those basic issues, like successful companies do, and finally move on. They need to accept the fact that progress and survival mean taking risks, living with change rather than security, and spending money to make it happen. It means not only marketing with the basics, but stretching those basics to do more than you can even imagine right now. It means leaping onto the Internet, learning as much as you can about new technology and what it can do for your marketing efforts. And it means figuring out innovative ways to meld the old and the new. For those of you who think you can avoid the new-technology movement, think again. As Sean Callahan's Page 1 story on the plastics industry makes obvious, it takes just a few big players to force an entire industry to embrace the Internet. The b-to-b world is moving forward, adopting new marketing techniques and focusing on creative ways of doing business. Companies can either move with it, or face extinction as the middle ground drops out from under their feet. But what does this mean to you in real terms? Where do you start? Reading the profiles of this year's Media Strategists is a good place to begin. See how some of the best people in the b-to-b arena are marketing their goods and services. Then start watching out for b-to-b ads in unusual places, areas where you don't expect them. Ask yourself what you pay attention to and where's the best place to capture your attention. In the words of Media Strategist Sarah Fay, exec VP-managing director for Carat Freeman, Newton, Mass.: "We encourage clients to recognize that their prospects are out in the world, their noses aren't stuck in the tech books. They're watching TV, they're reading different publications, that there are tremendous opportunities to catch them in different and unexpected ways. The impact they can make is so much greater when they can see and hear your message in new and different ways."
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