ABM’s Chicago conference emphasizes Internet challenges, opportunities

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American Business Media held a regional conference in Chicago last week, and it didn’t feel much like an event hosted by a group whose members make most of their money from print publications.

First of all, the event was held in Google’s Chicago offices. Second, Google Managing Director Jim Lecinski gave the keynote address. And finally, every panel dealt with some aspect of the Internet: There were sessions on social medial strategies, search and content optimization strategies, and content development strategies. There wasn’t much talk about printing, paper and postage.

The focus of Lecinski’s talk was how to do more with less. Not surprising, his focus was on the power of the Internet, search in particular, to deliver measurable return on investment. He mentioned five ways to turn less into more. One of the ways, he said, is to “start basing every decision on data,” which is certainly readily available when assessing Web site performance.

Lecinski also advised that marketers in a downturn focus their spending on converting potential buyers already in the sales funnel—not on driving potential buyers to the funnel.

The panel on social media discussed options such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Tom Chaffee, CEO of ePublisher, said the main way publishers can use social media sites is for audience development.

Mitch Speers, COO of Vital Business Media, said being a part of the conversation, both as a participant and a listener, on social media sites is important for publishers. “We need to be a part of that conversation, because that conversation will happen with us or without us,” he said.

The next panel focused on how to create a Web site so that people will find it—and like what they see when they get there. Kelly Cutler, CEO of Marcel Media, touted the advantages of proper search engine optimization, and Cia Romano, CEO of Interface Guru, promoted systematically analyzing how your target audience views and uses your Web site. She emphasized clean, uncluttered sites. “People don’t read paragraphs on a screen,” she said.

During the panel on content development strategies, Bruce Plantz, VP-director of content at Watt Publishing Co., said his company has embraced a “Web-first” content model. The title of the PowerPoint that introduced this new content strategy, which moved away from Watt’s previous printcentric model: “Change or Die.”

All these discussions prompted one publisher to ask: “Is print dead?”

Plantz’s answer: “I don’t think that print is dead, but the role it plays will change dramatically.”

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