Special Report: High-tech blueprint sends 'Business Week' soaring

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Jorma Ollila, chairman-CEO of Nokia, sat down to lunch in Helsinki last year with David G. Ferm, who was then the president of the Business Week Group. Mr. Ollila opened Business Week to the table of contents.

According to Mr. Ferm, Mr. Ollila leaned over and said, "Even when I don't read the magazine, or if I don't have time to get through the issue, I look at the table of contents. You're putting the week behind and the week ahead in context for me -- and telling me what I should know."

Business Week has been telling captains of industry what they should know for 70 years.

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In 1999, the McGraw-Hill Cos. weekly experienced its best year ever with a 23% growth in revenue; revamped its Web site; and expanded its niche publications.

Now, Business Week aims to extend its platform to other areas.

Stephen B. Shepard, Business Week's editor in chief since November 1984, is not about to rest on his laurels after being inducted last year into the American Society of Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame and recognized with the Gerald M. Loeb Award for excellence in business journalism by the Loeb Foundation.

Mr. Shepard now will have greater oversight for the content developed through the international bureaus and Businessweek.com.

The capital for the franchise expansion is bountiful as a result of the influx of advertising revenue generated by the high-tech category. Last year's increase came primarily from the dot-com advertisers, Mr. Shepard says.

LENGTHY CULTIVATION

Last year may have been Business Week's most successful, but it was not simply the result of a beneficent economy; the magazine's executives say it was the culmination of a long-standing effort to develop new technology as an advertising category. BW has been carefully cultivating the category since 1979, when the publication called it information processing.

The category matured in the last few years as the publication gained advertising commitments from Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies, Sun Microsystems and other architects of business on the Internet.

Publisher William P. Kupper says he sought to boost the title's brand and refocus its direction to places where previously it had been outflanked, such as personal finance, import auto marketers and TV.

"Our financial category was up 64% over last year, and the majority of that came from discount brokers," Mr. Kupper says. "We decided to put it together in one area of the magazine called `Business Week Investor' to better compete against the personal magazines."

Mr. Kupper replaces Mr. Ferm, who left his post at Business Week Group on Feb. 29 to become president-CEO at Primedia Business-to-Business Group.

"They've done a good job of adapting to trends in the industry, such as the section on e-business, so it's a natural place for us," says Kent Miller, director of advertising and brand management for Lucent.

As the economy continued to pick up speed in 1999, so did Business Week's move to enhance its global presence on the Internet and with its supplement sections and demographic editions.

NEW DEMOS

Last year, the small business niche supplement Enterprise was recast as the monthly 36-page section frontier. The other demographic editions, Elite, a periodical for affluent subscribers, and manufacturing-focused Industrial Management, saw increases in frequency.

Business Week e.biz, started last March as a quarterly covering e-commerce, will be published 10 times this year. The magazine's executives note the head start on Fortune's spin-off eCompany Now, which won't be out until May.

Also, Business Week will continue to produce with ABC network radio a weekly syndicated show hosted by Ray Hoffman. The show also is available on the BW site.

"What has happened at this magazine over the last five years is that we've transformed it from a magazine into a franchise," Mr. Shepard says.

With the core and its constituent parts fine-tuned, the next step involves the metamorphosis of Businessweek.com into a one-stop business information resource by creating an alliance with the other gem in McGraw-Hill's crown, Standard & Poor's.

PROSPECTS ONLINE

Created in December 1994, the Business Week Web site currently has nearly 600,000 registered users, 70% of whom have never subscribed to the magazine.

Mr. Ferm sees that as a plus for the publication.

"The real excitement in this venture is that it will now be easier for us to attract the 35-and-under professional who ordinarily would not be the typical subscriber of the magazine," Mr. Ferm says.

"The strategy behind this is what we call `channelization,' " Mr. Shepard says. The site includes a careers business channel, which has stories on jobs, trends and such, and the other channels include information on education.

He offers "The Best Business Schools" issue as an example of how content can be transferred to the Web and expanded. The print version lists the top 25 business schools. The Internet version lists 200.

GROWTH TARGETS

The potential to reach beyond the magazine's typical reader and steal the thunder of rivals such as TheStreet.com and Bloomberg.com is considered crucial for the franchise's growth, Mr. Ferm says. Therefore, McGraw-Hill is investing $10 million to bring the BW Web site and S&P's Personalwealth.com together to provide one site with financial advice, stock tips, company reviews and market commentary.

"Everybody's doing deals with everybody else, so we looked around a couple of years ago and realized that within our own house we have the opportunity for a tremendous partnership, since we have in S&P one of the great repositories of financial data in the world," Mr. Shepard says.

EVOLUTION NOTICED

BW's evolution has caught advertisers' attention in a big way.

According to Publishers Information Bureau data, Business Week ranked No. 1 among all publications in 1999 with 5,121.81 ad pages. That represents a 22.9% rise over the previous year.

Paid circulation for the same period was 923,786, a 1.6% jump over the previous year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

In terms of ad revenue, Business Week came in seventh on PIB's top 10 magazine list with $444 million, behind Better Homes & Gardens; more importantly, it beat Forbes and Fortune.

The proliferation of media, old and new, makes the job of persuading advertisers to direct finite dollars to a particular publication more difficult. However, it also makes an authoritative voice that can cut through the clutter even more imperative, Mr. Shepard says.

"The point of differentiation between Business Week and its closest competitors is the frequency of which it's published and the depth of its insights," says Page Thompson, media director for DDB Worldwide, New York. "If you want to be associated with a business audience, one that is hungry for up-to-date news on a consistent basis, Business Week is a very credible place to be."

When 4-year-old Moai Technologies, an e-commerce solution provider, decided to launch an ad campaign in September, it wanted to reach its target via out of home, print and the Internet.

"We only went with two business publications, The Wall Street Journal and Business Week," says Michelle Messina, Moai VP-marketing.

"When we did the analysis of Business Week in relation to its competitors, we recognized the value was there from the perspective of cost-per-thousand and the ability to reach our target."

Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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