As the weak economy has pushed b-to-b marketers to focus on lead-generation products that produce ROI, webinars have held up well for b-to-b media companies, which have suffered dramatic declines in their other revenue lines, notably print.
“We're doing better than ever,” said Danielle Hartley, VP-associate publisher at MedTech Publishing, which publishes Healthcare Finance News and Healthcare IT News. Before Hartley arrived three years ago, MedTech had produced just one webinar; in 2009, it will do more than 40. “Webinars are our No. 1 lead-generation asset,” she said.
Nielsen Business Media has enjoyed 50% growth in the number of its Web seminars this year compared with 2008, said Eric Biener, VP-business development. Although most of that increase centers on Nielsen's burgeoning virtual trade show business (which includes three or more webinars), the prospects for freestanding online events look good, too. “I'll definitely have a lift in freestanding Web seminars in 2010,” Biener said.
At Cygnus Business Media's CPA Technology Advisor, the number of webinars will be up 10% or more in 2009 compared with 2008. Cygnus' events have tangible benefits both for sponsors and attendees. Sponsors get leads and attendees receive CPE (continuing professional education) credit, said Publisher Rachael Monroe, adding that this combination has been resilient even with the poor economy.
For United Business Media's TechInsights division, the webinar business is about even with last year. “Flat is the new up,” said CEO Paul Miller. “We tend to focus on vendor-driven webinars, and they have held up quite well as lead- generation vehicles.”
At Hanley Wood Business Media, webinars “haven't been growing wildly, but we haven't lost any ground,” said Alec Dann, general manager-business media online. Noting that Hanley Wood's brands primarily cover the battered residential construction market, “which has lost 75% of its activity in the last three years,” Dann said, “that's not so bad.”
At Reed Business Information, webinars are “tracking to be down less than 10%” this year, said Kevin Maloney, VP-sales and marketing for RBI's RB Interactive unit. “Lead generation overall is still growing despite the economy,” he said, adding that webinars, the most mature offering among RBI's lead-gen products, are softening.
“The area where we have seen the most growth is multisponsored editorial webcasts. The biggest decline has been in single-sponsored editorial webcasts, but that decline is minimal,” Maloney said. “RBI produced and sold over 200 editorial webcasts in 2008, and we're pacing to be over 200 again this year.”
The relative health of media company webinar products has required effort and some changes to earlier business models.
For instance, RBI's multiple-sponsor webinars have taken the place of some that would have had a single sponsor in the past. “Like everyone, we've had customers tell us their budgets have been cut and they can no longer afford to sponsor a webinar,” Maloney said. “So we've put some editorial webcasts on the calendar, and we'll accept up to five noncompeting sponsors—and they share the leads. This has allowed us to save some business we might have lost.”
RBI has also built a business marketing webinars its customers have produced.
Nielsen Business Media has more customers using webinars and virtual events in 2009 than 2008, “but sponsorship and exhibit pricing for our digital events products has decreased slightly because of shrinking budgets,” Biener said. “However, because we're doing a better job of packaging our digital events within fully integrated programs, we're not losing revenue as a company—even though my portion of the total package might decrease.”
Dann adjusted webinar pricing for the 2010 selling season, which began in September. After introducing a new offering called a “product showcase”—a Flash-based, on-demand catalog that's 100% vendor-driven—Dann noticed a falloff in editorial webinars. Even though the products are not the same, Dann reviewed the pricing and lowered the webinar price to be closer to the product showcase. “That rekindled interest,” he said.
At CPA Technology Advisor, webinars offering CPE credit do allow some sponsor involvement, so Monroe is expanding with a series of purely editorial webinars. “The CPE webinars are technology-oriented, and sponsors have experts who can speak on the topics,” she said. The new webinars are developed through the editorial department and “the sponsors have no say.”
TechInsights also is moving toward professional education, although attendees at its new, on-demand product, Fundamentals, currently do not receive continuing education credits. “These are very in-depth studies that editors put together independently, but the sponsor is able to provide examples,” Miller said. “Our idea is to move further into education in the future.” M