B-to-b media players search for more revenue

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If someone asked her three years ago to participate in a panel titled "Best New Revenue Growth Ideas," Maryfran Johnson, VP and editor in chief of Computerworld, probably would have politely declined. "Editorial didn’t have to use to worry about that," she said. "That’s the job of the [business side of the] magazine."

But Johnson participated in just such a panel discussion at the annual Folio:Show late last month in New York. The three-day event, which drew approximately 2,500 publishers, marketing managers, advertising sales reps, circulation directors and publishing vendors, featured seminars on subjects ranging from circulation profitability to public relations.

Many sessions offered tangible examples of what publishers can do to help distinguish their brands in b-to-b publishing, where ad pages were down 20% this year through August compared with the same period last year, according to the Business Information Network.

Johnson said the ad recession, resulting in the loss of 24 jobs at Computerworld in three rounds of job cuts, forced the magazine’s editorial team to be less shy when it comes to the publication’s business concerns. One successful idea was to extend the magazine’s annual editorial supplement, Premier 100 IT Leaders, which runs in January, into an annual conference of the same name.

"It doesn’t recognize and exalt technology," Johnson said of the event. "It’s fundamentally about people getting together to talk about their [IT] problems." The conference, launched in 2000, broke even financially its first year. Sponsors for next year’s meeting, scheduled for Scottsdale, Ariz., Feb. 23-25, include Avaya Inc., BMC Software Inc., Cognizant Technology Solutions Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Johnson is expecting between 350 and 400 attendees, 90% of them senior IT executives involved in the decision-making process.

"We found that a conference created by editors would be attractive to readers, sponsors and advertisers who want to be around the big buyers in IT," she said. "We ended up with a real franchise."

‘Matter of survival’

Also at the Folio:Show was Mark Hickey, publisher of Telephony, who said that generating new revenue ideas is paramount in this ad climate. "It’s beyond a mission; it’s a matter of survival," he said. "The people who will be in business in a few years are the ones who are doing new things today."

Hickey said Telephony is producing a growing number of "Web-inars" because he found that they deliver measurable results to clients. "The challenge is to find a partner," he said.

Bill Reinstein, president-CEO of Accela Communications, which specializes in producing Webcasts, observed that many b-to-b publishers are skittish about using Webcasting as a tool for their advertisers. "Most companies have embraced the medium, but publishers are behind in terms of how they work with Webcasts to reach their audiences," he said. Accela’s clients include Primedia Inc., VNU Business Media USA and various International Data Group properties.

At a session called "Selling Magazine Advertising: The Agency Perspective,"the three panel members, all agency reps, were rendered speechless when asked by an audience member how publishers fare at negotiating ad rates with media buyers.

Lee Doyle, managing partner-client services for Mediaedge:cia, a New York-based ad agency with clients such as Accenture, AT&T Corp. and Xerox Corp., finally took a stab at it.

"Most publishers are uncomfortable with the negotiating process and more comfortable with the sales process," he said. "The challenge before us is to understand all the different channels that can impact the client. … My clients want to see all of their options before they hold my feet to the fire."

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