Of optimism and opportunity

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The Aug. 24 edition of BusinessWeek featured a compelling cover: an ostrich with its buried head emerging from the sand to ask “Is the worst over?” A clever illustration, and one to which many of us in media could relate, as we ask “When will marketers get their heads out of the sand?”

In the special report, a quote from noted management expert Paul Schoemaker of Decision Strategies stood out. “For businesses, the idea is to not get locked into the current reality but realize that the system is quite volatile and can quickly turn around,” he said. “You want to have strategies that can make you win, no matter what happens.” The BW report goes on to discuss “rational optimism” and how an “optimistic bias” can benefit both businesses and society as a whole.

Responding to the prevalence of negativity this year, our company chose to do something positive for our customers and the media business in general. This summer, we began plans to produce a daylong event for our advertisers—packaging machinery, materials and services suppliers—focused on media strategies to help their businesses grow. Presented on Sept. 1 by our flagship title, Packaging World, Beyond Advertising attracted more than 100 of our customers, many of whom have been pounded by this year's economy. Our objective was to plant the seeds of optimism and growth for 2010.

Given the event's theme of leveraging next-generation media to build sales, we created a Web site ( that pulled together a variety of sessions on the topics we believed to be top of mind for today's marketers. Just as important, we had no registration fee and scheduled our marketers' seminar at a convenient, first-class venue.

It was important to keep the sessions as educational as possible, and we achieved this goal. The worst thing we could have done was to use this event as a commercial platform. In our pre-event meeting with the Summit staff, particularly the sales consultants, we all agreed that we wanted the customers to have a nonthreatening learning experience. While we expected a mostly regional attendance, the event drew professionals from as far away as California and Canada. Although some of the attendees planned other business around their visit, many came to Chicago exclusively for our event.

The day began with an insightful video (courtesy of the Business Marketing Association) that offered a contemporary spin on the iconic McGraw-Hill “Man in the Chair” ad that debuted in 1958. This video, along with findings from an ABM/Forrester study on b-to-b media, set the stage for the day's agenda.

Beyond Advertising also presented an ideal opportunity to unveil The Network, Summit's new, integrated program for advertisers. From talking with customers over the previous several months, we saw an opportunity to reposition our product mix and introduce a truly innovative approach. The Network allows them to customize programs, access all our brands (print, online and face to face), generate leads, benefit from more affordable pricing and simplified payment options.

We featured sessions about our knowledge exchange for sustainable packaging and our involvement with Walmart on a database that links up with their sustainable packaging scorecard modeling software; an editorial panel where our editors discussed packaging trends in each of their respective beats; an update on social media for b-to-b; a look at online lead generation and lead nurturing; and SEO/SEM strategies. The day concluded with a very personal and historical perspective on b-to-b publishing, offered by Lloyd Ferguson, Summit Publishing president and my business partner.

Overall, it was an enormously positive, energizing day, and we received terrific feedback from our customers, one of whom wrote this in response to a post-event survey: “This is the first time a media channel publisher has shown what it is like to be a partner.” As with many publishers, 2009 has been a challenging year for Summit, yet we wanted to invest in an event like this to reinforce our commitment. We are already seeing benefits—it has opened up conversations for 2010, while giving our customers some solid takeaways.

As I write this column, some promising manufacturing news was just released from the ISM index that shows August business activity at manufacturing firms rose to 52.9, from 48.9. This bodes well for many of our customers, particularly those with capital equipment ... another reason for optimism.

To stay relevant, b-to-b media must be motivated by optimism to continue to offer new, integrated opportunities for marketers that are willing to get their heads out of the sand. Joe Angel is VP-publisher of Summit Publishing and Summit Media. He can be reached at [email protected]

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