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War journals

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The dispatch began, "Missile salvos darted up from the horizon beyond our position near the first berm on the [Kuwait-Iraq] border last night, beginning about dusk. Often, in groups of twos or threes, they were first seen as large, bright, red-tinged balls of light erupting from the horizon, followed by a clean white sheet of flame shooting skyward for about five seconds before disappearing."

That is not the kind of reporting people generally expect to read in the trade press. But that dispatch, which appeared on Engineering News-Record’s Web site, came from Tom Sawyer, an associate editor who is embedded with the U.S. Army’s 130th Engineer Brigade for the McGraw-Hill Cos. publication.

Sawyer is one of several b-to-b media reporters who have traveled to the Persian Gulf region to cover the war in Iraq. ENR also sent Andrew Wright, managing senior editor, who is embedded with Navy Mobile Construction Battalion Seven, a Seabees
unit. Another McGraw-Hill publication, Aviation Week & Space Technology, sent Robert Wall, senior Pentagon editor, to cover the air war.

Additionally, PennWell Corp.’s Oil & Gas Journal has a correspondent in the region and plans to send staff members to cover the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

Scores of other U.S. trade publications have editorial staff on the homefront reporting about the impact of the war on the industries they cover.

"This is the story of the year, and we should be covering it," said Janice Tuchman, editor in chief of ENR, who pointed out that the publication has covered every U.S. war for 125 years.

"We’re a news magazine, and this is news," Wright echoed.

Right environment for ads?

As some trade publications have aggressively filled their pages with war stories, the question arises: Do b-to-b marketers want their advertisements appearing next to such coverage? On television, particularly on the cable news stations, marketers have balked at running ads during continuous war coverage.

For instance, Chicago-based Boeing Co. pulled its corporate advertising on television. "We’ve had a plan in place since last fall that said if there was going to be an Iraq conflict, we would pull our corporate branding messages," said Anne Toulouse, Boeing’s VP-brand management and advertising. "It goes back to the questions: Is our target in the right frame of mind, and is our message on target? We decided that wasn’t appropriate." However, Boeing is continuing its schedule in defense industry magazines.

"Overall, clients are definitely maintaining their 2003 schedules," said Katie Taplett, U.S. advertising sales director for Jane’s Defence Weekly. "Certainly they had plenty of time to anticipate contingencies."

Aviation Week Exec VP-Publisher Ken Gazzola agreed that defense contractors are continuing schedules but may be fine-tuning their messages. "Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have shifted to more of a patriotic creative as opposed to ads for the specific weapons platform," he said.

Raytheon recently introduced an ad with the headline: "We support the troops through our work and through our hearts." Similarly, Boeing is running what Walt Rice, director of external communications for Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems division, called "tribute" ads to the four branches of the U.S. military.

The continued advertising in the defense trades could be interpreted as marketers’ tacit approval of the magazines’ war coverage.

"For Aviation Week to cover this makes a ton of sense," said Robert Crosland, managing director for AdMedia Partners Inc., a New York-based media investment bank. "This is the only time you get a true test of a [defense] product under field conditions. For ENR, the immediate benefits might be more tenuous."

ENR’s Sawyer said the publication’s readers have a compelling business reason to learn about what military engineers are doing in Iraq. "Every time the military comes out to fight a new war it is equipped with new tools and techniques that indicate an ability to adapt to change and incorporate new technology across the enterprise," Sawyer wrote in an e-mail to BtoB from Iraq. "Nurturing such abilities should be of interest to many private-sector corporations."

So far, Sawyer has reported several engineering stories from Iraq, including a piece about a pipeline that Army engineers were constructing through Kuwait and into Iraq to keep frontline equipment fueled and ready for battle.

"I didn’t see that reported anywhere else," Tuchman said.

Wright has filed stories about the Seabees’ disappointment that retreating Iraqis had not blown up more bridges, because intact bridges do not enable the group to "strut its stuff."

He is convinced his presence in the war zone is necessary. "Military construction, engineering and technology are often put into practice on the battlefield first," he wrote in an e-mail. "It then makes its way into civilian applications. Two examples would be GPS [global positioning system] hardware and software and high-performance concrete."

Both Wright, 54, and Sawyer, 51, have families and are older than most of the soldiers they are covering. Both are aware of the dangers.

"I’m a little scared," Wright acknowledged. "Anybody that says they aren’t probably qualifies for a Section 8 discharge."

After downplaying the danger, Sawyer said, "I will say, though, that I have never set on a journey with less pleasure and more apprehensions in my life."

Covering b-to-b subjects

Not every trade press reporter covering the war is in the Persian Gulf. A U.S.-based reporter for CMP Media’s CRN, for instance, wrote a story about how VARs (value added resellers) were supporting the military’s information technology systems. Reed Business Information’s Broadcasting & Cable covered how the networks were using their embedded reporters.

Additionally, Penton Media’s Supply Chain Technology News is at work on a story about how RFID (radio frequency identification) systems are tracking materiel. The magazine’s editor in chief, Dave Blanchard, said corporate America’s focus on logistics stemmed, in part, from the first Gulf War. "The word logistics up until then pretty much was limited to military operations," he said. "Nowadays, logistics is applied throughout businesses and industries everywhere."

Oil & Gas Journal, which has a correspondent in the Middle East, currently publishes some non-bylined war coverage. But for it, the real story won’t begin until the shelling stops.

The magazine’s editor, Bob Tippee, explained: "The oil is shut in at the moment. It’s the postwar Iraq that will be an enormously important story. It will be a huge business story.

"I intend Oil and Gas Journal to cover the part of that story that is important to the oil and gas space for a long time to come," he added. "I hope to have our own staff people get off to Iraq when it’s safe. … I hope to get over there myself." M

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