This year’s ABM Top Management meeting featured some of the best content I’ve heard at the annual event (which I’ve been going to on and off since the late Nineties), thanks in large part to the refreshing openness of many of the speakers, particularly ABM chairman and Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton and Hanley Wood Business Media president Peter Goldstone, who not only acknowledged the challenges they are facing in developing multimedia platforms but also offered detail on how they are addressing those challenges. Anton made the point that going digital won’t be a cheap and easy fix and that publishers need to take the offensive. "Since 9/11, this is an industry that’s played defense," Anton said, noting Hanley Wood has invested $2 million in personnel and another $5 million in Cap Ex for its online ramp-up.

However, ABM has featured an increasing number of vendors as speakers during both its Spring and Top Management meetings (at least 10 vendors appeared on panels this week). On one hand that makes sense-video and online events are new territory for most of the publishers in attendance and who better than the vendor to explain how they work? However, few of the vendors cited specific examples of how they’re working with publishers or appeared on the same stage with their publishing clients. One session titled "Expanding Your Event Offerings Digitally" featured three vendors (John Grosshandler of eComXpo, Guy Piekarz of Unisfair and consultant Gogi Gupta), some of which also exhibited at the show, and just one publisher in Vincent Polito of Reed Exhibitions.

Google was on hand to deliver its "We come in peace" speech to b-to-b publishers, touting services such as AdSense video units, where partners can upload content to YouTube in an effort of "hypersyndication." "Users want your content but don’t necessarily want to go to your site to get it," advised Google manager of publisher solutions Gavin Bishop. Publishers remained skeptical. "The guy from Google gave the same speech the guy from VerticalNet gave five years ago," quipped Randall-Reilly Publishing president and CEO Mike Reilly. "’They’re going to take our business’ but they can’t take it because they don’t have our relationships."

It’s always the behind-the-scenes meetings and deals that are the real appeal of these types of association events but the sessions are a big part of it. Vendor content is useful and welcomed but not if it comes across as advertising. "I can appreciate them needing [to have vendors speak]," one publisher told me. "It’s tough trying to pull off an event like this. But it’s tough to find time to attend events like this and I want to know what publishers like me are doing."