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Reasons to feel upbeat about 2012

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Despite the spreading economic crisis in Europe and continued sluggishness in some U.S. markets, I see several reasons for optimism about the prospects this year for marketers and the media that serve them. Let's start with the findings of BtoB's own “2012 Outlook: Marketing Priorities and Plans” survey. Four out of 10 respondents to the survey, conducted in November and December, said they plan to boost their marketing budgets this year. While that was down from 51.9% in the previous year's survey, it's still robust, especially with memories of 2009 remaining strong. (For more survey results, see story, page 1.) Several advertising forecasters have downgraded their growth projections in recent months because of the growing unease about Europe. But, again, considered in light of the conditions of three years ago, these forecasts look good. IPG Mediabrands' Magna Global, for example, pegs this year's global ad spending growth at 5.0%. While down from an earlier, more optimistic forecast of 6.5%, that's still healthy. There's good news on the employment front. Last month the U.S. jobless rate fell to 8.5%, down 0.2 percentage point from November, and the lowest reading since February 2009. And a pair of recently released reports showed positive hiring conditions in the marketing and advertising sectors. First, according to the Direct Marketing Association's “Quarterly Business Review” for the third quarter, 38.7% of direct marketers surveyed reported staffing increases for the period, compared with just 11.8% that made cuts. And second, The Creative Group Hiring Index for Marketing and Advertising Professionals released last month showed that 18% of agency executives expected to increase full-time staff in the following three months, compared with just 4% who planned to make cuts. The report showed especially strong demand for specialists in account services, brand/product management and public relations. After a rough few years, there's also encouraging news on the media front. B-to-b media companies posted revenue gains across the board in the third quarter—in digital, print and trade shows—compared with the year-earlier period, according to data from American Business Media's Business Information Network. The magazine sector overall saw 239 launches in 2011, up from 193 the previous year, according to MediaFinder.com, an online database of U.S. and Canadian publications. Meanwhile, 152 magazines folded last year, down from 176 in 2010. I've even found a reason to feel good about the beleaguered newspaper industry, despite its wracking up 21 consecutive quarters of declining revenue, and that's last month's announcement that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway investment company had made a deal to buy Omaha World Herald Co. While sentiment may have driven Buffett's decision to purchase his hometown daily, I can't help but hope the “Oracle of Omaha” sees something that the naysayers are missing. John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at jobrecht@crain.com.
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