Vertical Outlook: Manufacturing

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2005 YTD pages: 2,781

2004 YTD pages: 2,961.2

% change: -6.08%

Bright spots: Manufacturing growth has been fairly steady, as companies continue to rebound from the 2001 recession. Manufacturers are investing in new technology, which should open up new advertising avenues.

Challenges: B-to-b publishers need to better understand how manufacturing is changing and that marketing budgets tend to lag well behind expenditures for manufacturing materials.

If the mainstream media are to be believed, the U.S. manufacturing sector has been on a downward spiral for years, as industrial companies continue to outsource jobs overseas. But talk to trade publishing executives and the conversation gets a lot more complicated.

The media are "quick to talk about plant closings but no so quick to cover the [manufacturing] jobs that need to be filled," said Teri Mollison, group publisher of Penton Media's manufacturing, supply chain and metals groups. U.S. plants "have machines that are 20 or 30 years old, so they have to buy equipment that is more high tech to keep up with equipment in Asian plants that is brand new."

But because marketing budgets among manufacturing companies tend to lag behind increases in sales, 2006 could be a tough year for publishers that operate in this sector.

Overall, Mollison expects marketing budgets among manufacturers to be flat in 2006. She added that manufacturing trades that ramp up their high-tech coverage could expect a "moderate lift" in advertising.

Bob Vavra, editor of Reed Business Information's Plant Engineering, is more bullish about prospects for this year. "We had steady growth in 2005 and expect steady growth in 2006," he said, declining to provide specifics.

Vavra said the U.S. manufacturing sector grew 5% in 2004, with projections for 3.4% growth in 2005 and 2.5% growth in 2006. Reflecting the digital march in manufacturing, Vavra has several plans to enhance Plant Engineering's Internet products this year, including a comprehensive redesign of the magazine's Web site this month and the launch of "Maintenance," an e-mail newsletter, in March.

"We need to drive readers from print to the Web and back to print again," Vavra said. -M.S.

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