American Business Media's Top Management Meeting, held Nov. 15-17 in Chicago, had a conference agenda that focused less on selling advertising pages and more on developing new revenue streams.
The reason for this break with the past was simple: The business, according to many at the conference, has changed.
"How do you handle change?" Tom Cintorina, VP-digital media for PennWell Corp., asked during his presentation on electronic media. "The b-to-b media business has changed. Some get it. Some do not."
Despite these changes in the business-or maybe because of them-the mood at the conference was positive.
"It seems to me the most upbeat meeting since 2000," Gordon Hughes, ABM's CEO, said of the conference, which had the largest turnout in its history, with about 230 attendees.
The meeting made it clear that b-to-b media executives have stopped waiting for a recovery in trade publication ad pages. In part, that's because pages are returning to b-to-b magazines-and because publishers have spent the protracted downturn retooling their businesses to offer more than ad pages to marketers.
After the 1991 recession, many b-to-b media companies began restructuring their businesses by adding trade shows. In the current industry recession, which began in 2000 and is finally showing signs of abating, trade publishers have again broadened their businesses to embrace the Web, targeted events and subscription fee-based data.
"Don't judge our health by our ad pages but by our overall media offerings," said Stephen Davis, publisher of SRDS.
The past few years were not kind to b-to-b media as advertising pages plummeted almost 30% between 2000 and 2003, according to ABM's Business Information Network figures. Recently, however, ad pages have started to creep upward with a 3.7% gain in August 2004 compared with August 2003, although ad pages did dip again in September, according to the latest BIN figures.
Nonetheless, with the memory of the collapse still fresh, it's not surprising that the Top Management Meeting's agenda focused on generating revenue beyond the ad page. Presentations explored book publishing, e-seminars and digital-only magazines, and rich data.
One of the event's speakers, John French, exec VP-sales operations at Primedia Business Magazines & Media, summed up the prevailing philosophy at the conference when he said, "One of the things we've learned, especially in the past couple of years, is that it's more than selling a page, it's more than the magazine."
In a presentation titled "Advertising in the 21st Century," Margaret Douglas, VP-director of client service at Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett Worldwide, said that "sight, sound and motion" will become ever more prevalent not only on TVs and computer screens but on PDAs, mobile phones and billboards. B-to-b marketers and media companies will need to continually adapt to the evolution of media, she said.
Some b-to-b media companies are adapting quickly. At Wolters Kluwer Health, for instance, the Ovid Technologies database of medical journals is available via PDA, so that it is easily accessible for a key audience: doctors making rounds.
Still, the tracking of b-to-b marketing spending via PDAs, targeted events or Web sites has not kept pace. The only tracking mechanism of the health of b-to-b media remains ad page counts. "In 2005, ad pages will go up in the 3% to 4% range," Hughes said, "and that's only the small tip of the iceberg." M