"It seems to me the most upbeat meeting since 2000," Gordon Hughes, ABM's CEO, said of the conference, which had the largest turnout in its history with about 230 attendees. Additionally, the organization announced 28 new members at the meeting, bringing its total to 253, the highest in the ABM history.
The meeting made it clear that B-to-B media executives have stopped waiting for a recovery in trade-publication ad pages. In part, that's because pages are returning to B-to-B magazines-and because publishers have spent the protracted downturn retooling their businesses to offer more than ad pages to B-to-B marketers.
After the 1991 recession, many B-to-B media companies began restructuring their businesses by adding trade shows. In the current recession, which began in 2000 and is finally showing signs of abating, trade publishers have again broadened their businesses to embrace the Web, targeted events and other revenue streams such as subscription fee-based data.
"Don't judge our health by our ad pages but by our overall media offerings," said Stephen Davis, publisher of SRDS.
a rough few years
The past few years have not been kind to B-to-B media as advertising pages plummeted almost 30% between 2000 and 2003, according to ABM's Business Information Network figures. Recently, however, ad pages have started to creep upward with a 3.7% gain in August 2004 compared with August 2003.
Nonetheless, with the memory of the collapse still fresh, so it's not surprising that the Top Management Meeting's agenda focused on generating revenue beyond the ad page. The Smaller Publishers' Seminar discussed book publishing, e-seminars and digital-only magazine titles. Other presentations included: "Maximize your revenue electronically," "Rich data" and "The power of events."
One of the event's speakers, John French, exec VP-sales operations at Primedia Business Magazines & Media, summed up the prevailing philosophy at the conference when he said, "One of the things we've learned, especially in the past couple of years, is that it's more than selling a page, it's more than the magazine."
This kind of multimedia approach is a response to the increasing preference of B-to-B marketers for integrated-marketing programs that produce leads in addition to improving brand metrics. Many at the Top Management Meeting expect this trend to accelerate.
In a presentation titled "Advertising in the 21st Century," Margaret Douglas, VP-director of client service at Arc Worldwide/ Leo Burnett Worldwide, said that "sight, sound and motion" will become ever more prevalent not only on TVs and computer screens but on PDAs, mobile phones and billboards. B-to-B marketers and B-to-B media companies will need to continually adapt to the evolution of media.
The meeting indicated that some B-to-B media companies are adapting quickly. At Wolters Kluwer Health, for instance, the Ovid Technologies database of medical journals is available via PDA, so that it is easily accessible for a key audience: doctors making rounds.
Still, the tracking of B-to-B marketing spending via PDAs, targeted events or B-to-B Web sites has not kept pace. The only tracking mechanism of the health of B-to-B media remains ad-page counts. "In 2005, ad page will go up in the 3%-4% range," Mr. Hughes said, "and that's only the small tip of the iceberg."
Mr. Callahan is media editor of BtoB and Media Business