Web main focus of ABM meeting

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Developing more sophisticated online sales programs took center stage at the American Business Media Spring Meeting last month in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The annual conference, which drew about 350 attendees, presented several programs that showed how publishers can capitalize on vertical search, blogs, podcasting and other new media.

B-to-b publishers were urged to learn more about how to integrate new media platforms into their existing portfolios because that's where their future revenue growth is expected.

B-to-b ad revenue increased 5% in 2005 compared with 2004, while ad pages grew nearly 4%, according to ABM's BIN numbers. In contrast, overall U.S. Internet ad revenues for 2005 totaled $12.5 billion, a 30% increase from 2004, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Similar trends in b-to-b media spending are expected this year, according to Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, which represents 2000 trade titles, more than 2,500 Web sites and thousands of trade shows.

Growth predicted

ABM has forecast that print b-to-b ad pages will grow around 3% this year, while print ad revenue is expected to increase about 4% to 5%. Trade show revenue is forecast to grow 6% to 7%, while b-to-b online revenue is expected to rise 22%.

What's more, in a report released in early May investment banker Merrill Lynch said U.S. online ad spending will total around $16.2 billion this year, up 28.7% from 2005.

With more ad dollars starting to flow to the Web, it's little wonder that one of the more popular seminars during the ABM Spring Meeting was titled, "Making the Digital Promise a Reality."

During the discussion, Bob Maund, VP of BusinessWeek's westerns sales operation, shared a statistic that demonstrated the dramatic shift in media spending among b-to-b marketers.

"About 75% of our advertisers that previously spent money on print will now only advertise in the magazine leading up to product launches," he said. "Our best advertisers are demanding that we be where their users are." (Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM Corp. had decided to move advertising out of BusinessWeek for the foreseeable future and invest more of its marketing dollars in electronic advertising.)

As marketers push for more integrated advertising packages BusinessWeek is taking pains to break down traditional sales silos. "We have to make sure we're doing things differently. Sales in the past have been an individual sport, but now it's a team sport," Maund said. "People are still in silos, but we're slowly evolving the structure."

BusinessWeek has made several operational changes to facilitate online ad sales. These include altering the company's sales compensation plans, enhanced training and a new initiative called Raising Your Digital IQ that is designed to help sales executives be smarter about digital sales.

One accelerating trend, Maund noted, is advertisers' efforts "to get embedded in our brand's attributes." For example, Sun Microsystems regularly buys ads that run below the BusinessWeek cover story. The ads direct readers to go to BusinessWeek Online, where they will find additional ads for Sun products.

"It's incredible how many ways the tail wags the dog," Maund said. In mid-May, he was working on 12 integrated advertising programs, up from four in 2005, worth roughly $20 million.

B-to-b media's crucial role

Michael Marchesano, the 2006-2007 chairman of ABM and president-CEO of VNU Business Media, stressed in his opening remarks that b-to-b media companies must play a crucial role in the new media landscape.

"We are truly at a crossroads," he said. "As an industry we can resist these changes and let our editors play the role of `parent-knows-best' by dictating content. Or we can empower them to think differently and to be part of the process of creating communities [and] building networks."

Marchesano also said b-to-b publishers are well-suited to take better advantage of online search, which is still in its infancy. "We can all take a page from the Google playbook and build a better search mousetrap," he said. "We can focus on customer demands better than an algorithmic formula."

The ABM unveiled a two-year strategic plan, Building the Next 10 Years, at the meeting. One of the strategic plan's central tenets, emphasizing the role of editors as "brand stewards" across multiple content platforms, attracted special attention.

"The good guys will recognize this; those who don't will fall behind," Hughes said.

Bob Carrigan, president of IDG Communications and a member of ABM's executive committee, said some b-to-b publishers are still largely focused on their print products and need guidance on how to properly invest more in digital media and other media platforms. M

BtoB Editor Ellis Booker contributed to this article.

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