Where is B2B Media Going? It’s Anyone’s Guess
Dispatches from the 2017 Business Information and Media Summit in Ft. Lauderdale.
The B2B publishing and information industry, like the greater media ecosystem as we know it, is in the midst of an inexorable, irreversible, and unrelenting period of change.
That was about the only thing universally agreed upon over three days of refreshingly honest exchanges among several of business media’s most high-profile executives and strategists at Connectiv and SIPA’s 2017 Business Information and Media Summit, held this week in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
No one can truly predict when and where the next great disruption will occur, but there is ample work publishers can do to orient their organizations to respond swiftly and nimbly once it arrives.
Debra Walton — who, as global managing director of Thomson Reuters’ 4,000-employee-strong financial and risk division, was probably as qualified as anyone in attendance to predict the future — attempted to get close, outlining a handful of major trends her company anticipates will most impact the business information industry going forward.
Among them: companies must be prepared to handle ever larger amounts of data (by some estimates, Walton reported, as much as 20-times more by 2020); greater regulatory oversight of the way companies collect data, particularly from individuals (the upcoming implementation of GDPR, despite applying only to residents of the European Union, loomed like a shadow over many of the conference’s discussions); disruptive tech, like cloud computing and artificial intelligence; and “millennial ways of thinking,” such as the fact that young people hate paying for information they can access for free elsewhere.
Despite all of the change and disruption, Walton said, some universal truths remain.
“Content really is still king,” she said in her conference-opening keynote, before warning against the pitfalls of treating content as just another commodity, equal in value across a given market regardless of who produces it. Publishers need to understand the value of their content, and orient their distribution channels to best exploit that value.
One particularly illuminating panel, appropriately titled, “Where B2B is Going,” saw Northstar Travel Media CEO Tom Kemp interviewing ReedTech VP Ethan Eisner, IndustryDive CEO Sean Griffey, and Bloomberg BNA legal division president Scott Mozarsky.
The revenue mix — or just what type of company a B2B media firm is in 2017 — quickly became central to the discussion. Griffey, who in just five years has built Industry Dive into a 100-employee operation with brands in more than a dozen vertical markets, almost entirely supported by digital advertising, advised attendees to stick to their strengths, and said he has resisted the temptation to expand into new areas like events because they’re outside his company’s core expertise.
Eisner reported that ReedTech parent RELX Group (known as Reed Elsevier until 2015) now derives just 25 percent of its revenue from print and events, much of the rest presumably coming from data analytics and other tech-enabled services, adding that simply referring to itself as a media or publishing business presented challenges competing with flashier digital startups.
Asked how the panelists were adapting, the conversation shifted to skill sets, particularly when it comes to sales. Mozarsky said salespeople need to take on a more consultative role and be well-versed enough in data to sell products like visualization or segmentation tools.
“Every aspect of the organization needs to change,” added Eisner. “We’re now entering categories that didn’t even exist before. It’s a whole new way of selling.”
An intriguing exchange, perhaps highlighting a general lack of consensus across the business media space, occurred in a Tuesday morning panel ostensibly focused on M&A.
Carl Wistreich, CEO of AC Business Media, echoed Walton’s declaration that content remains a media company’s most valuable asset.
“We don’t like spending all of our money on that part of our business, but we do,” he said.
Pamlico Capital partner Scott Stevens, the panel’s private equity representative whose company has invested in B2B firms like Becker Healthcare and Winsight Media, was careful to point out that certain types of content are more valuable than others, saying Pamlico prefers to invest in companies that have “transitioned past print centrality. In other words, companies who drive 25 to 35 percent of their revenue or less from print media.
“We anticipate print to be flat or declining,” Stevens said. “And that’s okay, as long as the whole is growing.”
This prompted Tom Kemp, now an audience member, to ask if there was a disconnect between audiences who often times still value print and investors who view it as a universally dying medium.
“We still see it as a very valuable part of the brand,” replied Stevens’ co-panelist Tagg Henderson, who owns BNP Media. “It’s tactile and still very important for driving engagement. Without that print product in these markets, it can be a lot more difficult.”
Hanley Wood CEO Peter Goldstone, seated next to Kemp, said he views his company’s database as its most valuable asset, but noted that a similar disconnect seems to exist between marketers’ perceptions of print and the ways in which people actually consume content.
A time of disconnects and uncertainties perhaps heralds a return to fundamentals. Focus on culture before strategy. Prioritize your relationship with your audience, adapt to their wants and desires, provide them value, and they will return the favor.
“If you focus on providing great content,” said Brief Media CEO Beth Green in her Monday afternoon keynote, “people will give you all the information you want in order to access it.”
Beyond philosophical reckoning, the conference featured no shortage of useful tips for orienting most every aspect of a media business with the rapidly changing field on which publishers must compete, so check this page in the coming days for more from BIMS 2017.