Pursuing new people

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One enticing challenge for business media companies is selling nonendemic advertisers. After all, pharmacists, truckers, accountants and network specialists also buy office supplies, use financial services, select cell phone networks and ship packages.

But in spite of that, b-to-b publishers usually don't benefit from this kind of business because advertisers have plenty of options among general business media that allow them to reach these audiences efficiently. Plus, b-to-b media companies won't take valuable salespeople off tried-and-true accounts to hunt for business they believe they have little chance of getting.

But, at a time when the Internet is siphoning off print advertising, more media companies are owned by private equity firms with strict financial goals and many b-to-b titles are battling industry-specific slumps, top b-to-b media executives say a new level of creativity is required now.

Carr Davis, co-CEO of Cygnus Business Media, said, "We are focused on innovation. I really believe times like these call for exceptional creativity; and we have to go out there and create new businesses."

Eighty-six percent of the total audience of Cygnus' media products—almost 1.7 million people—are owners of small and midsize businesses, in markets as diverse as aircraft maintenance, farming, jewelry retailing, kitchen and bath design, and machine shops.

While many b-to-b publishers have created special lists and database products for the SMB market, Cygnus went a few steps further. To make it easy for advertisers to place ads across multiple publications and Web sites, Davis developed a corporate rate card. Then, to let media buyers know of its new SMB offering, Cygnus placed advertising with SRDS.

Finally, rather than giving yet another job to Cygnus salespeople, Davis hired an outside rep force to execute the program. Although rep firms take a percentage of the sales in return for their services, Davis said, "I'd rather own 50% of a dollar than 100% of a dime."

Since the SMB program debuted in April, Cygnus has landed such major national advertisers as American Express Corp. and FedEx. "We will have our first full year in 2008, and we're expecting very high growth," Davis said.

Steve Morris, exec VP at Advanstar's Life Sciences Group, is wrestling with three years of diminished new drug approvals from the FDA. This has put a huge damper on advertising in most of the medical market. "If you like fast-paced change, this is an exciting market," he said without sarcasm.

For the past three years or so, Advanstar's RN magazine has been offering a credit card to its nurse readers. "We get deep and specific purchasing data from 20,000 credit card holders," Morris said. "We know, for instance, if nurses are shopping at Lowes [Home Centers] more than Home Depot or if they are using Wal-Mart [Stores] more than Macy's—or visa versa."

With the data, Advanstar's in-house sales team can then reach out to the suppliers of various products and services to create customized direct-marketing promotions based on the nurses' actual buying patterns.

Similarly, Advanstar's Pharmaceutical Executive is expanding beyond its usual market to target financial firms. "We go to the CEO level, and we're stretching the envelope to include banks and highly secured facilities where top executives can meet to discuss mergers and acquisitions," Morris said.

In some cases, b-to-b media companies have been able to take advantage of products and services their audience use, even if there's no innate connection to the industry.

Alan Robinson, group publisher for Reed's EDN, Electronic Business and Electronic News, said electronic engineers tend to use shipping services to move components that are small, fragile and valuable. "We have built a microsite for Federal Express," he said. "A lot of designers here have manufacturing facilities in China, for example, so Federal Express uses the microsite to talk about logistics and international services."

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