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With the bear market putting the squeeze on b-to-b advertising budgets, it's become critical for marketers and media buyers alike to be especially selective when choosing where to place their marketing messages.
As our Media Power 50 list for 2001 demonstrates, several of the media properties from last year's list remain. These are the stalwarts that dependably deliver key business decision-makers and influencers.
However, there has been some attrition in the ranks, especially among business and IT publications, leading to the rise of new, promising vehicles. These innovators range from a Web site that slices up the IT sector into 23 narrowly defined markets (TechTarget.com Inc.) to one that literally delivers a captive audience in office tower elevators (Captivate Network Inc.).
This year's Media Power 50 is broken down into seven categories: newspapers, business publications, Web sites, outdoor (or out-of-office) properties, vertical trade publications, IT magazines and TV/radio programs. And from the 50 properties we've selected, BtoB's editorial staff has put together an overall top 10—those most commonly named by media buyers and advertisers as their top buys during both good times and bad.
Few b-to-b executives can argue, for example, that The Wall Street Journal, BtoB's choice as the most powerful media brand, remains the gold standard for marketers wanting to reach an exclusive and extremely loyal business audience. And we'd be remiss without including WSJ.com, one of the few business Web sites with a paid circulation, as an integral part of The Journal's widespread appeal.
A newcomer to the top 10 list, but hardly to the ad schedules of the industry's biggest b-to-b players, is The Economist, which covers the global economy from soup to nuts and whose ads often read like the latest b-to-b directory. In dark times, it's nice to piggyback on the weekly magazine's 158-year history and devoted readership.
The two TV offerings rated in the top 10 are CNN's "Moneyline News Hour," still a haven for b-to-b advertisers despite sagging ratings and musical anchor chairs, and CNBC's "Business Day." Both cable programs reach top management as well as the investor audience.
All the current anxiety about the economy "plays right into the hands of the most trusted brands," said Sarah Fay, president of Carat Interactive, the online arm of Carat North America, one of the country's largest advertising agencies. "Bad times work out for media agencies in the sense that value is much more apparent."
Crawling out from under the tech wreck
While the above b-to-b marketing venues remained in the top 10 list from 2000, others have fallen out of favor this year, mainly because of the tech wreck.
With the Internet revolution now in retreat, we decided to scratch International Data Corp.'s The Industry Standard and Imagine Media Inc.'s Business 2.0 from such rarified air. Both publications rode the dot-com wave to phenomenal ad growth in 1999 and 2000, only to have been subsequently flattened by the crash. In the first quarter, ad pages for Business 2.0 were down 38% from the same period last year, while ad pages for The Standard plunged 65%. The Standard remains in our Power 50 list, but Business 2.0's uncertain future has dropped it from many media buyers' preferred status.
But as anyone will quickly tell you, the so-called Net economy is not going away. Tech companies' ad budgets are projected to increase about 10% this year, according to a survey of 125 tech companies by BRG Research, Provo, Utah.
Remember the past, but look ahead
Recent figures from CMR, formerly Competitive Media Reporting, also help explain why it's important for b-to-b companies to remember the past while going full-throttle into the future. To wit, in 2000, the medium with the highest percentage increase in ad sales was network radio, up 105% to $952.89 million from $463.48 million the previous year, according to CMR. Internet advertising had the second-highest percentage increase, up 53%, to $2.89 billion from $1.89 billion in 1999.
"The Internet is an increasingly important medium for b-to-b marketing," Fay said. "IT professionals spend more than five times as much time on the Web as they do with print products."
In making the selections for our Media Power 50 list, BtoB editors employed both objective and subjective criteria. We looked at such data as ad revenue and audience, and polled more than a dozen top media buyers and advertisers for their opinions on the most powerful and targeted b-to-b advertising venues.
A panel of editors, reporters and media buyers then chose the Media Power 50 and the overall top 10. Crain Communications Inc. titles and those of its direct competitors were excluded from consideration.
In the new millennium, media buyers are increasingly attempting to think outside the box for new placement opportunities. And, ironically, in the case of Captivate Network, No. 5 on our list, thinking outside the box (and the home and office) brings us back inside another box—specifically, a high-rise office building elevator.
"Out-of-home [advertising] is getting much more creative," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-corporate research director at New York-based Horizon Media. "[Placements] are much less expensive than other media and offer the advertiser an opportunity to brand in an uncluttered environment."
The key to b-to-b advertising today is finding the vehicle that matches the personality of the brand regardless of the platform, said Vicki Szombathy, VP-media director for StarLink Worldwide, a Chicago-based ad agency. That could mean blowing an entire marketing budget on one medium or touching customers via every link in the media chain, Szombathy said. On the other hand, with ROI running the show, b-to-b marketers "also have to think about going back to basics," she said.