BMA chairman breaks tradition

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Sheree Johnson brings a unique perspective to her new role as chairman of the international board of directors of the Business Marketing Association.

The senior VP-director of media services at NKH&W, Kansas City, Mo., is the first media professional to chair the board. Traditionally, the chairmanship has rotated between clients and agency account services professionals.

Johnson, who took the reins of the board in June at the BMA’s national conference in Tucson, Ariz., has 25 years of experience on the media side of the business, including stints at Cunningham & Walsh, Chicago; McCann-Erickson, Chicago; and Brewer Advertising, a division of Young & Rubicam, in Kansas City.

Working for clients including the local division of Sprint, Baldor Electric and Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, Johnson has developed new ways of analyzing campaign performance. She recently discussed with BtoB the critical issues facing marketers.

BtoB: How are BMA members marketing in a down economy?

Johnson: They are still using a mix of tried-and-true basics, such as advertising and trade shows, but how they do it is a little different.

You see more aggressive things on the Internet. They are realizing that in the b-to-b space, e-commerce has a very good potential outlook.

CRM [customer relationship management] is very important now. It’s always been a key component for b-to-b marketers in particular, but it gets more urgent in terms of getting a good CRM program in place. With more conservative budgets, you want to go to the prospects and customers that are the best.

BtoB: How are your b-to-b clients allocating ad dollars?

Johnson: Three years ago, most b-to-b clients wouldn’t have touched the Internet. Two years ago, consumer clients started to use it. In 2001, b-to-b clients are seeing the role of it.

Most clients are not going to invest a significant amount in it until they start seeing results. It’s too risky right now to invest much more.

Most of what I see going on is they’re shifting budgets to have about 3% to 5% allocation in online advertising. I don’t see anyone forfeiting a great deal of their trade advertising budget to replace it with online.

BtoB: Where do you see ad spending for the rest of this year and next?

Johnson: I think it’s going to be a flat year for b-to-b. I think 2002 will be more positive. A lot of clients have started having strategic planning meetings for next year. [Ad spending] will depend on the category. If they have new products to launch and if they have competitive situations, smart marketers will do what it takes to get the job done. If it’s a new category, smart marketers will invest in that.

BtoB: How is the economy impacting the media buying process?

Johnson: B-to-b marketers do not have the luxury of doing an annual plan, figuring out the trade schedule for the year, direct mail programs and what changes to make. Now, instead of an annual plan and an annual budget, there is a quarterly plan with a quarterly budget. With more measurement tools, we have to be flexible to change.

BtoB: What do you want to accomplish as chairman of the BMA board?

Johnson: I want to develop a platform for the new world of marketing communications. It’s changing so rapidly.

Clients have limited resources these days. They’re trying to do more with less. We need to let them know what’s available to their internal marketing departments, whether that’s white papers, industry surveys or certification programs.

We have to address the fact that people don’t have time to go to chapter meetings. Do we need to do more virtual meetings? How do we make local meetings and national meetings more dynamic and appealing?

There may be more things we need to do that are not as group focused, but more tailored to the individual.

BtoB: How do you balance the agendas of media buyers and sellers in your organization? The IAB recently kicked out media buyers because of conflicting agendas.

Johnson: It’s about relationships on the chapter level and being able to network. I think it’s a real positive thing to have buyers and sellers together. It further helps agencies understand and identify the priorities for marketers.

BtoB: What are the key priorities for b-to-b marketers now?

Johnson: How to position their products and services, how to deal with the ups and downs of the economy and the ups and downs of having smaller staffs. They have to be flexible to change. Our organization will be all about change.

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