B2B Panelists on the Economy: “Cautiously –Very Cautiously – Optimistic”

Even after the ups and downs of the last few months, at least one of the industry and B2B media figures who spoke at ASBPE Boston’s State of the Industry panel in January still holds out hope for an economic turnaround this year.

“Now that the new government has taken control, there seems to be a sense of new beginning,” said panelist and Managing Automation reader Dr. Steven Vidakovic in a recent email. Vidakovic is associate research fellow in technology and knowledge integration at Pfizer Inc. Back in January, he described himself as “… cautiously – very cautiously – optimistic that in the next six to12 months we’ll start coming out of this.” Now, he says, “I am still cautiously optimistic that we are soon to be on the mend. The trick will be to keep the businesses afloat for the next 12 months. If you survive that, you will probably prosper in 2011 [and] onwards.”

Financial Crisis = Opportunity for B2B Media

Tim Reason, editorial director of CFO.com, believes this is a period of opportunity for B2B journalists. In January, he said: “The mainstream media has done an abysmal job of reporting on this crisis. There's a tremendous opportunity for us to do really, really good work.”

Recently, he reiterated this sentiment via email. “‘The worst financial crisis of our time’ remains, for us, the greatest journalism opportunity of our time,” he wrote, “particularly for service journalism, as we seek to help companies understand how their peers are coping.” During January’s panel, Reason observed that page views on career-related stories had soared. “ [That] reinforces to my mind that in difficult times people seek information. … There is no room for fluff or topics that are driven by an advertising need.”

Operating Priorities: Employees and Customers

During the January panel, Gary Beach, publisher emeritis of CIO magazine, said there were two main operating priorities for B2B publications. “Number 1: Have happy employees,” he said. They'll be more productive and creative. “Number 2: Listen to your customers.”

He said CIO expected to make most of its profit from online and events. Profit margins are greater for online banner ad campaigns, even though print ads might gross more, he explained. He said page yields were down 10 to 15 percent.

Encouraging Signs

Representing the advertiser perspective at the January discussion, Mark A. Davidson, VP of global marketing at software vendor Wonderware, said, “We’re cautious, but not pessimistic – and not totally optimistic.” He pointed out that there is continued investment in necessities like food and beverage. And, he said, “There’s a little bit of resurgence of sourcing goods closer to home because of oil price volatility –and high transportation costs.” That resurgence could bring more business back inside U.S. borders.

How Advertisers Are Reacting to the Downturn

Isabelle Kane, media director of PJA Advertising & Marketing, provided the ad-agency view at the panel discussion. “Even though budgets have been cut in some cases of 25 to 35 percent, there's a feeling that the advertising won't look like it's cut because it's cheaper, and there's less noise in the market,” she said. “Clients are concerned about the number of magazines going out of business, but kind of glad because then they can focus their marketing in one publication.”

She said PJA was advising clients to stick to the fundamentals. “I can have the most killer, amazing thing going on in YouTube, but that doesn't matter if I don't also have something in the Wall Street Journal or Time.” Kane advised asking clients what you can give them as a value add so they will come back with their whole budget next year.

Changing the Online Product Mix

During the panel, Reason noted that CFO was paring down product offerings. “We killed video. We were spending 40K a year on it, but it wasn't getting sold,” he said. “Also, readers are coming [to CFO.com] for the quick-hit story,” not to watch video. CFO.com does have the capability to start offering video again very quickly if needed, he said.

Panel moderator Dave Brousell asked the marketers on the panel whether they were seeking to be in control of online initiatives.

Davidson’s reply: “It's a partnership. We’re interested in those media that work with us and really understand the different marketing techniques and how they will serve us.” He said he’s also looking for publishers who know how to measure results – whether it's lead generation or demand generation.

The Holy Grail for Advertisers: Qualified Leads

But mere measurement isn’t enough. Both Tim Reason and Gary Beach pointed out that online, advertisers are now looking more for the quality of the lead than for a high click-through number. “We’re moving off focus on lead- and demand-generation. [Advertiser’s] sales people are getting frustrated chasing down supposedly qualified leads that aren't qualified,” said Beach.

The Outlook for Events

When it comes to events, both readers and marketers are likely to be more selective. Kane said during the panel that her clients would look for “ Totally integrated, customized events” with measurable goals in which “everyone knows what's coming out of it before the contract is signed.” Vidakovic said he’d be more selective about the events he attends, leaning more toward webcasts. He commented that a typical reader probably can only justify attending one conference per year.

Other topics discussed by the panel included:
  • why being a good feature writer alone might not be enough to help your publication to survive;

  • what the implications of the downturn are for web site design;

  • how to engender advertiser loyalty; why magazines might have more success with advertisers if they decrease the frequency of publication; and

  • CIO’s approach to getting advertisers to loosen the purse strings.

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