ABM meeting focuses on 'hurricane of transformation'

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Pump up your sales executives with financial incentives so they can accelerate digital sales. Convince your editors and reporters to stop thinking that they're strictly "print" people. Develop a laserlike focus on the customer, as opposed to the media channel. And if you get blindsided by all of the upheaval in business media, you can't say you weren't warned.

That was the essence of American Business Media's Spring Meeting last month in Naples, Fla., which drew 350 business media executives, publishers, editors, media bankers and vendors.

"We are in the midst of a hurricane that is changing our landscape. And this year's annual meeting is all about that—the hurricane of transformation," said Gordon T. Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, during his opening remarks.

Compared with recent ABM spring gatherings, there was a greater sense of urgency throughout this year's proceedings. Many speakers during the three-day event stressed that the status quo will not suffice in such a volatile business environment and that business publishers have to start venturing outside their traditional boundaries.

"We're doing fine, but I'm not sure we'll grow in the future if we stay in the same silos," said Robert Merry, president-editor in chief of Congressional Quarterly, which publishes CQ Weekly and CQ Today.

Congressional Quarterly recently created a new consumer publishing division and hired a general manager to run the unit. Its mission, Merry said, is to target markets outside the Beltway. The unit has created a Web site with the hope of attracting some of the estimated 60 million people who followed the 2006 U.S. elections online.

The meeting hammered home that the biggest challenge for business publishers is building an online presence while simultaneously managing their print portfolios. Despite all the emphasis on the Internet, print still generally accounts for about 70% of business publishers' overall revenue.

But as Alex DeBarr, president-CEO of Naylor, pointed out, the challenge of growing electronic products and managing print products is not a zero-sum game.

"If we look a little deeper at our methodologies there are plenty of good ways to grow print without giving up the necessity of growing our online business," he said. "You have to ask your audiences what they want."

Bob Carrigan, president of IDG Communications, added: "You have to invest in print in areas where it makes sense, and not ancillary but places where advertisers can get real leads."

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