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Web plays, trade shows take center stage at ABM

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The current mantra for American Business Media's constituents is "in print, in person and online." But it was the last two elements that drove the agenda at the group's annual Top Management Meeting last month in Chicago.

The conference attracted 310 people, a new record, up from 280 attendees last year. Many of the work sessions featured hands-on advice on how business publishers can boost their digital presence and enhance their trade shows. B-to-b trade shows have surged following a few down years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The focus on the Web and trade shows was apt considering trends in b-to-b media spending.

Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, said in his opening remarks that print ad pages would grow 1% to 2% this year, print revenue would increase 2% to 4% and event revenue would grow 6% to 8%. In 2007, he added, face-to-face revenue will be "at parity" with print. Magazines now generate about $10.8 billion a year in revenue and events about $10.4 billion.

Digital revenue, Hughes said, will continue its double-digit growth, increasing 22% to 25%. For ABM members, the average revenue contribution currently coming from e-media is roughly 14%.

The custom media business, an increasingly attractive option for business publishers, is projected to grow 18% to 20% in 2007.

Most of the buzz at the two-day meeting revolved around how business publications can build a better mousetrap online.

Take the workshop titled "How Editors Are Embracing the Digital Age." Wyatt Kash, editorial director of Government Computer News and PostNewsweek Tech Media, said b-to-b editors need to take ownership of their readers' "total online experience" if their media properties are to stay viable in an increasingly digital age.

"We're used to words and layout, but I realize that my audience gets a lot of copies [of GCN] in a PDF and, if I'm not where they are, I'm going to lose them," said Kash, who created a mobile edition of GCN for fear of losing the 15% of his subscribers who receive e-mail newsletters on their cell phones.

Kash added that GCN has taken advantage of electronic publishing by finding granular aspects of stories that with proper research can be turned into new products and offering audio versions of every story posted on its Web site.

There are also relatively inexpensive ways for business publishers to capitalize on online video. "I don't see our journalists going out with hand-held cameras just yet, but you can take advantage of events that have video feeds," Kash said.

James Mathews, editorial director of Aviation Week, said editors must work to find ways to integrate data and analytics into their editorial thinking.

For example, Aviation Week recently launched the MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) Prospector, a Web-based suite that includes benchmarking and business development trends.

"All you're doing by embracing digital is expanding the scope of journalists who can become powerful journalists by bringing information to people who need it, [in] whatever form they need it," Mathews said.

In a session on face-to-face events, Don Pazour, CEO of Access Intelligence, said the events process has gotten considerably more demanding in recent years. "Marketers who want to be able to measure their return on investment are looking for more and better ways to interact with the audience," he said.

Margaret Pederson, president of Prism Business Media's exhibitions division, added: "Because events are face-to-face, everything is out in the open. If it's a success, it's brilliant; but if it fails, there's no way to hide it."

?Marie Griffin contributed to this report

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