What are the most likely wild cards?

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Media Business asked b-to-b executives to identify some situations that might throw all their careful planning and predictions out the window.

With the U.S. involved in a war in Iraq, there’s always the potential that something unusual could happen-like a major terrorist attack-to disrupt business, said Gordon T. Hughes II, president-CEO of American Business Media. "That’s just a wild card we have to learn to live with now."

"The fear of another terrorist attack is always lingering," said Andy Goodenough, president-CEO of Highline Media. "On the flip side, a good wild card would be improvement in Iraq or a rise in interest rates. For the insurance business, that would actually be healthy."

"The economy is probably our greatest worry," said Norman Kamikow, president-editor in chief of MediaTec Publishing. "That’s something that’s totally out of our control. We know printing costs will go up in 2006, and paper prices, of course, are a real wild card."

"For the remainder of 2005, paper prices could be a significant wild card on the expense side," said William L. Pollak, president-CEO of ALM. "For 2006, interest rates will be a question, especially when [Federal Reserve Chairman Alan] Greenspan retires on Jan. 31. A new Fed chairman is a real wild card. Low interest rates are good for our business, because commercial real estate and corporate deal-making are big areas of legal practice."

Pollak raised concerns about the rising cost of health care benefits for employees. "Like many smaller-to-midsize businesses, we don’t feel we have much control of these costs at ALM," he said. "We don’t know how much these costs will increase in 2006, but we know the trends have been 10% to 12% increases. We can’t really say no when it comes to health care benefits, but we talk about it a lot with our staff. We educate them so that they can make the best choices for themselves."

"Vendor consolidation is always a wild card in the IT industry," said Bob Carrigan, president of IDG Communications, which publishes such tech titles as Computerworld, InfoWorld and PC World. "Hardly a quarter goes by without a major merger or acquisition. When a big account goes away, it’s never a good thing."

"The wild cards are always the same for us," said David Greene, president of PostNewsweek Tech Media. "First, we always hope that we’re playing in a good economy and we’re playing with good competitors. Second, we hope the economy is doing well and our customers are doing well."

—Marie Griffin

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