Brill, others offer encouragement for b-to-b publishers

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New York—Several speakers gave what amounted to pep talks Wednesday for a beleaguered b-to-b media industry at the American Business Media Executive Forum.

Tom Haas, CMO of Siemens, provided some good news for the publishers in the audience when he revealed that his company's new branding campaign, which was launched in September, amounted to a “fourfold” increase over last year's corporate advertising spending.

For the campaign, Siemens is using a variety of media, including television, radio and print. Haas said that about one-third of the campaign budget will be spent in digital media.

Steven Brill, a co-founder of Journalism Online, an organization designed to help newspapers and other publications get paid for their online content, also had some good news for b-to-b media companies. He estimated that 10% of the users of a typical publication would pay for online content and that publishers could likely maintain more than 90% of digital ad revenue.

Not everyone, however, bought into Brill's assurances. From the audience, Mitch Rouda, managing partner of the Business Media Consulting Group, questioned the assumption that paid digital content was an attainable or even desirable goal for controlled-circulation publications. Brill responded, “I think controlled circulation, by and large, is dead.”

The next speaker, Jeremy Miller, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, returned to the theme of positive messages for b-to-b media. He said that his students remained very upbeat about entering journalism. “They are excited,” he said, adding that the next generation of journalists has grown up in a wireless world and views online social networking, tweeting and creating video reports as parts of their job. He cautioned, however, that they have also grown up in a world that rewards “participation” and doesn't demand excellence.

Rick Segal, CEO-North America at advertising agency GyroHSR, offered the most comforting view of b-to-b media. After pointing out that McGraw-Hill Cos.' Engineering News-Record has been around since 1874 and survived many recessions, including the Great Depression, Segal said the fretting about the future of b-to-b media has been premature.

ENR has survived, Segal said, “because it never lost sight of the only reason that anyone ever valued a media brand—because of its twin powers of observation and connectivity.” B-to-b media brands still possess the ability to observe and report on the industries they serve and connect buyers and sellers, he said.

Segal offered several ways that publishers can harness the Internet's power. For instance, he suggested that b-to-b brands hire the best bloggers in their industries and host them on their own Web sites.

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