How to keep our enviable position strong in the future

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Read any media columnist or blogger today and you'll probably find bad news. Traditional media companies are under siege from their own shareholders. Stock prices and valuations continue to fall. Once-powerful publishing franchises are being shuttered or sold for a song, while the values of others are being written down by hundreds of millions of dollars. Pundits, analysts and navel-gazers agree; these are trying times for generalist media companies.

Yet, at this same time, sales multiples for b-to-b media company acquisitions continue to rise, deals abound and private equity and strategic buyers are flocking to auctions. Targeted business information companies continue to produce the strong margins and cash flow that attract buyers.


B-to-b media has always been what general "mainstream" media is only now struggling to become: vertical, focused and community-oriented.

In fact, our industry has been uniquely positioned among our media brethren to meet the needs of today's demanding, self-screening information consumer. We offer a vast array of targeted content, built around an industry and interest focus. We provide the shortest path for readers looking to drill down to specific information that directly relates to their jobs and their work. We match up well with the requirements of younger professionals focused on career development.

And, for the most part, we are not dependent on traditional newsstand models to generate revenue; we can offer free content that is ideally suited to the Web environment.

Equally important, we have grown up with the industries and interests we cover, matching buyers and sellers for decades. By doing so, we have become an integral part of those communities.

Enviable as our position may be today, we have all learned how quickly things can change in the information industry. In order to maintain these competitive advantages, what do we need to focus on in the days ahead? Here are some thoughts:

  • Embrace targeted search. Within our worlds, we can compete and win in the vertical search business if we provide better, data-driven tools that deliver the shortest route to vital business information. Our ability to go beyond searching content by extending search technology to market data and sourcing information affords us a unique market presence with a value proposition the portals and search leaders can't duplicate. At the same time, we need to re-examine how we can create relationships and alliances with the search giants.
  • Restructure our revenue models to accommodate and manage online growth. This includes examination of our online pricing models to ensure that we can live with what we build over the long term.
  • Data, data, data. Data has always been at the core of the b-to-b business. It's not just about building and selling lists. Rather, it is the process of systematically collecting, assembling and organizing the rich data resources on current and historical industry pricing, valuation and inventory that is central to the transaction processes of our marketplaces. At Penton, our goal is simple: to create an information data product component for every major brand we own.
  • Maintain our first-mover advantage in community. By serving as an industry leader and active participant, not just a reporter, we can build even closer relationships with the sectors we serve and become even more central to the success of our customers. We can accomplish this by using the tools of new media to facilitate and host new direct communication among industry participants, enabling them to find jobs, build alliances and purchase products. In order to be considered a leader in a community, we need to listen to our constituents. We need to embrace user-generated content and community participation in our online products, as well as events. At Penton, for example, we recently launched Reel-Exchange, which leverages our strength in professional film and video production to bring together producers, directors, cinematographers and editors with prospective clients, partners and collaborators, through online postings of their video resumes or "reels."

There has never been a better time to be part of the b-to-b information industry. And as we grow each of the four components of our companies—print, online, face-to-face and data—we can leverage our roots to build an even more exciting future.

John French is CEO of Penton Media. He can be reached at [email protected].

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