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ABM Top Management Meeting Recap: A Refreshing Focus on Products



By Bill Mickey
11/16/2006

American Business Media's Top Management Meeting concluded in Chicago this afternoon with the approximately 300 attendees heading back to their own businesses pondering the era of transformation that is engulfing b-to-b media and how to stay ahead of the fast-changing environment.

Interestingly, at a meeting that has traditionally been focused on mergers and acquisitions;there were more than 20 non-publishing bankers, lenders, brokers and private-equity players on the attendee list;the event produced no blockbuster deal announcements. What's more, there was little on the rumor mill either, as companies and their sponsors and owners seemed to be gearing up for a renewed period of buying and selling in 2007.

Instead, the focus was on a refreshing topic: Product quality. From editorial to events to digital, publishers have been largely successful with their new product initiatives and are now dealing with the organizational and cultural implications their progress has created. Here are some observations about what was on the minds of b-to-b publishers for three days in November in 2006:

Organizational Structure and Responsibilities Sessions ranged from the usual suspects - event production and development, new digital business models, and vertical search - with some new and interesting topics centered around recalibrating the workforce to properly accommodate the new business opportunities publishers are going after.

In a session entitled "How Editors are Embracing the Digital Age," panelists addressed the difficulty publishers are having with getting their magazine staffs to effectively adapt to online. Publishers are scrambling to pressure editors to take on more responsibilities - from knowledge of every delivery platform to the labor-intensive tagging and content indexing. The panel advised letting editors be editors, tempering their involvement in digital development and allowing them to take on a more policy-driven role where online edit policy is in line with corporate business policy.

The sales paradigm shift from separate to integrated sales efforts was addressed by a panel in "Organizing and Structuring Your Workforce in the New Digital World." Jason Young, president, consumer and small business group, Ziff Davis, said the advantage of working with a hybrid system of integrated print and digital teams is having the ability to "think wholistically about the total presentation of information and then attaching the advertisers to that." The downside to this structure, he said, is lack of speed and the inability to act quickly on digital initiatives without worrying about resource allocation within the larger set-up. "It was much quicker when it was separate," he said.

Similarly, in a session called "The Digital Statement: What's the New Business Model to Increase Your Revenues?" Heather Mikisch, publisher, Managing Automation, Thomas Publishing Company, revealed that a previous emphasis on creating custom integrated packages was like "reinventing the wheel." As a result, she and her team have dialed back custom integrated packages to focus instead on several predesigned integrated ad solutions to allow her team to spend more time selling.

And, at the close of the event, a CEO roundtable directly addressed their organizations' transformation challenges and opportunities. Throughout, Peggy Walker, CEO of Vance; Neal Vitale, CEO of 1105; Jeff Lapin, president of Farm Progress; and Harry Sachinis, president, business information group, McGraw-Hill, repeatedly touched on the imperative of altering their corporate cultures to accommodate the new platform initiatives each are undertaking.

Events Still on the Rise
While digital for many publishers is gaining revenue share the quickest, events are emerging as the revenue stream to watch next year. ABM president and CEO Gordon Hughes is projecting 1 to 2 percent growth in ad pages for member publishers next year, with 2 percent to 4 percent growth in revenue and 6 to 8 percent growth in events. "In 2007, events will be even with magazines at about $11 billion each," he said during the meeting's welcoming remarks.

Hughes went on to add that digital initiatives will pick up 22 percent to 25 percent growth, with a 14 percent member average, and custom publishing will continue its growth with revenues up 18 percent to 20 percent.

New Members Announced
ABM also announced that it has picked up 24 new members, with one notable return to the fold. Cygnus Business Media had been an ABM member before but dropped out when Paul Mackler became CEO. Mackler left Cygnus in August, and was replaced by co-CEOs Carr Davis and Anthony O'Brien. Other new ABM members include Yahoo, BZ Media and Grandview Media.

By Bill Mickey
11/16/2006







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