GUEST COLUMN: Gordon T. Hughes II

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The bursting of the advertising bubble in 2000, and the ensuing economic repercussions, posed a monumental challenge to most industries and forced a period of corporate introspection and re-examination that still reverberates through the media. Many companies were caught fat and somewhat flat-footed after feeding off the healthy climate of the mid-to-late 1990s; but even lean companies found themselves forced to reassess their business models.

When a similar market malaise stalled business in the early 1990s, media companies became creative in the development of new revenue streams, a collective move of new offerings that benefited b-to-b customers as well as brands. The principles of "value added" entered business models; companies boosted their intellectual strength by building robust databases; and custom publishing, trade shows and events emerged as strong brand extensions of established titles.

As in the economic struggles of the early 1990s, the first five years of this century have forced the b-to-b media to think creatively and boldly-to develop new tools and leverage established ones in new ways. Though only the latest in the ongoing global economic ebb and flow, this recent period has been unique in that it spawned groundbreaking advances driven by technology. Without jeopardizing our print products, b-to-b e-centric offerings (e-newsletters, RSS, blogs, digital delivery), rich data/business information and continuing education have emerged as building blocks of tomorrow's business.

All these new tools are additive to b-to-b brands and create potential revenue streams. But just as exciting is the fact that these tools enable b-to-b media to reach new audiences and deliver knowledge through new vehicles. We are now in the age when information is delivered on demand nearly anywhere across the globe and is quite often interactive-empowering readers as well as our titles. This new era will bring media and their users closer together and will help build the b-to-b community.

An integrated media model becomes de rigueur for b-to-b in light of this expanding repertoire. And so b-to-b media companies have become more consultative about their responsibilities and accept greater accountability for results. It is no longer the ad budget, but the marketing budget and the success of concerted campaigns that matter most. These days, media companies must guide clients through the use of complementary platforms reaching a broad, ever-evolving audience. And with the advent of electronic metrics and an enhanced ability to audit shows, conferences, custom media, etc., the success of this navigation-the ROI-becomes more accurately measurable than ever before

This integrated approach is boosting the strength of the b-to-b industry, and the tangible results are testament to this. Print revenues and trade show revenues are at parity, generating about $8 billion each. The fast-growing e-centric sphere is catching the pair quickly, growing at a rate well beyond 20% a year and complementing the others in seamless fashion.

While print remains the cornerstone of all b-to-b brands, the newest tools born of economic necessity add strength to the b-to-b structure that will prove unique in history and will continue to refine the industry in ways we have yet to comprehend.

Gordon T. Hughes II is president-CEO, American Business Media. He can be reached at [email protected]

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