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Streamlining sales behind Penton reorganization

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One year after Prism Media officially acquired Penton Media for $530 million and adopted its name, the company is undergoing a major reorganization with the aim of creating new marketing vehicles.

Reflecting a trend throughout b-to-b media markets, the changes are designed to sharpen the focus on customer needs, rather than what Penton's various media channels can offer. Penton serves 30 vertical markets, including agriculture, health care and information technology.

"Any b-to-b media company that isn't able to uniquely serve customers, that is commodity-oriented, will not remain in business," said Darrell Denny, who as part of the reorganization, has been promoted to the newly created position of chief revenue officer, from senior-VP.

Penton, with annual revenue exceeding $500 million, has made several other changes as part of the reorganization:

  • It has formed a Technology Media Group that combines its Windows IT titles, IBM Series titles, entertainment technology titles and telecommunication titles. Kim Paulsen, previously group publisher of the Windows IT Group, has been promoted to senior VP to lead the group.

  • All Penton events have been consolidated into one group, including those of New Hope Media Group, which targets the natural, health and wellness markets. The first new event to be introduced under the reorganization will be Healthy Foods International June 18-19 in Dallas. Penton is expecting between 200 and 400 exhibitors and 6,000 attendees at the event, said Fred Linder, who has been promoted to senior VP, from president of New Hope Media, and is in charge of the new group.

  • The company has created a new Agricultural & Food Group, combining such titles as Supermarket News with Beef, Hay & Forage Grower and National Hog Farmer. The group also includes Penton's printing, construction and electrical titles as well as Fire Chief. Dan Bagan, publisher of Supermarket News, has been promoted to senior VP and oversees the group.

As part of the reorganization, Penton is also expanding its Financial Services, Marketing Media and Custom Group to include its public service titles, and the Transportation, Aviation and Information Data Products Group to include its trailer publications based in Houston. The company will soon announce details of a reorganization of its New Media Group.

In addition to the Healthy Foods International event, Denny said that Penton later this year will introduce a media product related to technology that will have print, Web and event components. He declined to provide details.

The new Technology Media Group represents a venture into uncharted territory for Penton, which has historically served industrial markets. The company is betting that highly customized programs will attract b-to-b buyers from the technology industry.

"Readers of technology are the early adopters, and products we're going to be creating will be acceptable to all readers even though the group has different [trade] titles," Paulsen said. "We're not trying to sell what's in our bag but create programs that are going to meet customers' needs."

Mark Stanoch, business development director-Microsoft Alliance at Unisys Corp., welcomed Penton's new approach. "Let's face it, technology is converging and the [new technology media group] may open up channels that we haven't previously considered," he said.

Unisys primarily works with Penton on event marketing, but Stanch said the reorganization could extend the relationship. "As more rich media is introduced into IT, other [Penton] titles may become relevant to our buy," he said.

Kevin Ashram, trade media director at ad agency OMD, had a mixed opinion regarding the changes. "The upside is that [Penton] is being very proactive about integrating its properties," he said. "The worry is that there might be a loss of personal service for the various industries Penton targets." Arsham added that he is also concerned about fragmentation. "How do you run Supermarket News along with Fire Chief?"

Tom Kemp, a managing director of private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson and former chairman-CEO of Penton, said the test right now for Penton and other large, diversified b-to-b media companies is to manage such disparate portfolios. "The focus on top-line revenue is important, but the challenge is trying to manage a company with so many different verticals," he said. "Each vertical has its own market dynamics and customer base."

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