ABM Executive Forum attendees thirst for advice on monetizing digital platforms

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American Business Media's Executive Forum, which took place Monday and Tuesday in Chicago, was Clark Pettit's first marquee event as the association's president-CEO. He took over the job this past summer.

Pettit has spent the first months of his tenure traveling the country, listening to ABM members and trying to prioritize their concerns. He used the forum to continue generating feedback from ABM members. In this case, he took an electronic poll of the audience of about 110 attendees on 14 different questions.

The results of the polling were displayed immediately on stage and showed that more than 85% of attendees were very or extremely interested in having ABM identify ways to help them monetize various platforms.

A number of the Executive Forum's speakers offered advice on how to approach launching new digital products and how to embrace change. Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, identified social media and mobile as key changes that b-to-b media must address, as they may be as disruptive as the rise of search. He said currently generates 18% of its page views from social media and just 9% from Google searches.

Gordon said this change is occurring quickly and that social media and social networking accounted for 15% of the average users' time on the Internet last year. This year, he said, it will be 23%.

To keep pace, media companies must be forward-looking and open to new ideas. “Your staff needs to keep trying new platforms, technologies and tools to understand their value to users,” Gordon said.

He added: “You can't just look at the mainstream. You have to look at what the extreme users and early adopters are doing.” With this approach, a business can anticipate how the bulk of users will use digital products in the future, he said.

Perhaps the most sobering presentation of the forum was by Doug Webster, Cisco Systems' senior director of worldwide service provider marketing. He described how the company introduced a new router by using social media and by producing its own events. Cisco largely bypassed traditional trade shows and trade publication advertising, with the exception of running online ads on vertical sites and renting e-mail lists from trade publishers.

Webster also lauded experimenting. “Test, test, test,” he said, noting the example of a video game Cisco developed to aid the router's launch that didn't take off with users until the company instituted a $10,000 contest around the game.

Another speaker, Gord Hotchkiss, president-CEO of Enquiro, a unit of Mediative, said the Internet and other digital platforms offer the perfect scenario for experimenting with potential money-making initiatives.

Noting Google's 20% rule encouraging employees to spend one-fifth of their time experimenting with new ideas, Hotchkiss advised media company executives to try new digital ideas but quickly abandon those that fail. “Success is 99% failure,” he said, quoting Sochiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Co.

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