Traditional publishers face plenty of competition

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Considering the huge growth in custom publishing revenues over the past several years, it's not surprising that traditional b-to-b media companies face numerous competitors when angling for projects from b-to-b marketers.

Custom publishing houses, advertising and PR firms, as well as b-to-b marketers themselves, all produce custom publications, Web sites and events. Each of these kinds of companies has its strengths and weaknesses in generating custom content.

Richard Creighton, principal of the Magazine Group, which specializes in custom publications, is, not surprisingly, partial to his type of company. "Custom publishing is our only business," he said. The Magazine Group produces advertising-based custom publications for b-to-b marketers such as Pitney Bowes and b-to-b associations such as the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute.

A drawback that custom publishing houses may have, however, is a lack of specialization in particular vertical markets. "Pure play custom publishers tend to be generalists and work in all fields," said Mark Dowden, president of Dowden Health Media's consumer group. "We have a concentration in health care, and that has given us an understanding of the business world of health care and the clinical world of health care, which a generalist wouldn't necessarily have."

In creating custom publications, advertising and public relations firms have the advantage of being populated with marketing professionals. Hammock Publishing, a firm that specializes in custom publications, was started by Rex Hammock, whose background includes stints at marketing communications firms.

"All of these custom publications are marketing tools to some extent, and editors that come from a traditional publishing background can have difficulty adapting to a custom publishing environment," Dowden said. "You do need to accept the reality that it's not a journalistic product."

At the same time, Dowden said that marcom firms have their weaknesses, too. "We're producing long-form communications and editorial features, a form that a lot of ad agencies aren't comfortable with."

Marketers often create custom publications in-house. But while they may have unbeatable knowledge of their market, they usually lack publishing as a core competency.

Many companies start in-house custom publications with furious enthusiasm that quickly wanes, and the venture is soon abandoned. A notable exception is Deere & Co., which has produced The Furrow, a custom publication aimed at farmers, for more than 100 years. (See sidebar, page 12.)

With publishing as a core competency, traditional b-to-b media companies tend to have little trouble generating enough stories to fill issue after issue of custom publications. The typical media company also offers a strong database of potential customers. And perhaps most important, b-to-b media companies often feature magnetic brands that draw marketers and readers alike.

"We know how to make these things work," said Mark Hickey, group publisher of Primedia Business Magazines & Media's Telephony. "We have a powerful connection with the market." M

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