BtB Marketing Communications' Burke sees first-quarter turnaround

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(Fourth in a series of executive outlooks.)

For b-to-b technology marketing agencies, the past year was a grim one, with clients cutting back not only on advertising but on other forms of marketing as well. Despite today's gloom, however, Chris Burke, president of BtB Marketing Communications, Raleigh, N.C., predicts an imminent turnaround.

In a recent interview with BtoB, Burke, an outspoken General Electric Co. marketing vet, also said that companies have learned valuable skills during the recession. These include taking a harder look at how to make the Internet a truly valuable business tool and, in his agency’s case, the value of retaining good employees.

BtoB: When do you expect b-to-b marketing agencies to pull out of the recession?

Burke: I would say in our particular business, mostly dealing with electronic components and systems clients, we'll start to see an increase in orders in the first quarter. And I think we'll be really back to business in the second half of the year.

BtoB: What strategy do you recommend b-to-b marketers take during these tough times?

Burke: Well, on our end, we've tried to keep as many of our folks as possible. We've tried to avoid layoffs. People are the hardest thing to get back when things turn around. If you can avoid hacking employees down to the bone, then you're much better positioned to bounce back. Also, many clients do the exact wrong thing and cut marketing spending during the recession, which is exactly what you shouldn't be doing.

BtoB: What good has come out of this recession?

Burke: It has made a lot of people look very carefully at some of their business strategies. A lot of people have looked hard at how to make the Internet a better business tool and not just something to do e-mail with. Another strategy is the whole thing of being able to use what people you have to maximize their efficiency. Also, I think you're starting to get some people questioning whether they have to travel as much. They're asking, “Is every single visit necessary?” You'll also soon start to see reduced travel for trade shows. But those funds could go to direct marketing and other marketing-related communications.

--Interview conducted by Philip B. Clark

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