Publishers mobilize to drive more traffic to their Web sites

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B-to-b publishers' ongoing march to monetize their Web sites—and still keep print products as the backbone of their brands—was the central theme of American Business Media's annual Top Management Meeting last month in Chicago.

The meeting attracted 280 attendees, the largest turnout ever, and focused almost exclusively on how b-to-b publishers can develop innovative ways to drive traffic from their print products to their online properties.

For example, Humphrey Tyler, president-CEO of NTP Media, discussed how he has been able to build the online audience for CM Cleanfax magazine, which covers the commercial carpet cleaning industry, by introducing "The Great Debate." The point-counterpoint article is teased in the print product, with the entire debate appearing online.

Advertisers sponsor the debate for $3,000 each month. The site cost $3,000 to build, "so it's already paid for itself," Tyler said, adding that the article is "a marriage between print and the Web that engages the audience."

The focus on the Web was apt considering the large shifts in media spending. Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, said in his opening remarks that he expects b-to-b online revenue to grow 20% to 22% in 2006, trade show revenue to increase 6% to 7% and print revenue to rise 4% to 5%. Ad pages are expected to grow just 3% next year. Through September, ad pages were up 2% compared with the same period in 2004, while overall ad revenue was up nearly 5%, according to Business Information Network figures.

Nevertheless, Hughes insisted that print products remain the heart of b-to-b publishing companies but was quick to add a disclaimer. "Magazines are our brands and must be enriched," he said, "but other products create [new revenue] opportunities."

Vertical search was a particularly hot topic during the three-day meeting. There seemed to be a consensus that vertical search represents a significant opportunity for b-to-b media companies as they go up against mainstream search engines—such as Google, MSN and Yahoo!—in the quest for advertising dollars. Two months ago, ABM created a search committee, chaired by James Casella, vice chairman of Reed Business.

"We're beyond `Google—friend or enemy?' " Casella said, referring to the ongoing debate about whether major search engines siphon online advertising revenue away from media companies. "Now, it's how to use search and how to monetize it," he said, adding that the goal of the committee was "to open up the membership's eyes to search."

Aside from vertical search, there was a good deal of talk about blogs. In a session titled "Blogs: Extraneous or Integral," Steve Ennen, director of communications at ABM, who handles the group's MediaPace blog, said b-to-b publishers embrace blogs for several reasons. These include providing more in-depth information about the brand, enhancing the company's message and reach, expanding the dialogue with readers and creating new revenue streams.

Ennen also discussed why some publishers choose not to blog. "You're opening up your company to the entire [wired] planet," he said. "And you may stir the lair of the lion that you don't want to stir; and the lion is uncontrolled public opinion."

While most of the discussion at the annual gathering focused on the dizzying changes in business media, ABM Chairman Hugh Roome, president of Scholastic International, said core values have remained constant. "Our principal focus has not changed in 99 years, but everything else has," he said. "The principles of integrity in journalism, circulation and research standards remain." M

Editor Ellis Booker contributed to this report.

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