The State of B-to-B Media


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Some observers say the focus that Ramella is talking about is more important than size: Companies focused on a single market will thrive as b-to-b media evolves. Bahr said it's a return to an old idea in publishing, in which passion for a market was more important than understanding the technical aspects of the publishing business. He quotes the late Bill Ziff of Ziff Davis: “It used to be that our business was run by enthusiastic eccentrics—people who worked and lived, day in and day out, in their markets and hardly even realized that they were running a "business' in the classical sense at all.” With an emphasis on consultative selling and marketing services—creating custom content for marketers, helping them develop marketing communications programs, building Web sites for them—b-to-b media companies now need an even more thorough understanding of the markets they serve. “You want to have a narrower and deeper area of expertise,” Outsell's Richard said. He pointed out that Farm Journal Media's Corn College events have little in common with how a technology magazine might help Cisco Systems sell routers.

Farm Journal Media is often cited as a strong b-to-b media company focused on a single market. Hanley Wood is another, even though its single market is the battered construction industry.

The industry's woes have hurt Hanley Wood, which has made deep job cuts. Its credit rating was recently downgraded by Standard & Poor's, but the company has not yet had to resort to a financial restructuring.

CEO Anton said Hanley Wood's knowledge of its industry has helped it remain resilient in the downturn. The company generates revenue from advertising, events, data and marketing services. It has also remained aggressive in seeking new revenue streams. For example, its Architect recently entered an agreement to become the official publication of the American Institute of Architects beginning in 2011.

“I always thought that a single-market focus makes more sense. You can really dominate a market,” Anton said. “When you can go deep into a market, you can really mine a market.”

Being plugged into a single market also enables a company to anticipate changes, Anton said. “I basically know the CEOs of every one of our top 25 customers,” he said. “I can call them on the phone, not only to sell them something but to call these people and ask them, "What are you thinking about where the market is going?' ”

Anton said he remains optimistic about b-to-b media's future. He added he's confident that, when the construction market bounces back, Hanley Wood, because of its focus, will be on the path to becoming a $400 million company.

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