LA QUINTA, California—American Business Media’s Spring Meeting 2008 concluded with the usual fanfare Tuesday night, including a dinner dance and golf awards to a group of perhaps just more than 100 remaining attendees. The dinner ran the curtain (an environmentally-friendly curtain to match the “green theme” of much of the conference) down on an event that was successful on several levels.
The content (especially on the second day, but also presentations on the first full day by Nielsen CEO David Calhoun and IBM vice president of marketing Edward Abrams) was strong. Sessions on events, on the industry’s new financial owners, and from the CEO perspective, provided real value, if not a lot of audience interaction.
The turnout seemed strong, with 290 attendees (including spouses) on the pre-event attendee list. Both the outgoing chairman, Frank Anton, and the incoming chairman, Gary Fitzgerald, gave insightful and inspiring opening presentations.
ABM announced that it has signed up a record number of new members (although—and I say this in all sincerity—that’s what ABM CEO Gordon Hughes has said every year for at least the last six or seven).
A Transition from the Old Guard
At the same time, though, it was a meeting that reflected an industry—and an association—in transition. In the old days, that Tuesday night dinner was the highlight, with everyone in black tie and everyone still there. In the old days there would have been a live band (sometimes a big-name band), not a DJ. In the old days, all the big players in the association were CEOs and owners of their own print publishing companies.
That’s not true anymore, but it’s unclear who the new leaders are. Is it the private-equity firms? The online-only publishers? The “Web-first” companies? The suppliers? The answer is probably all of the above, but a lot of the private-equity firms that were so anxious to get into this business four or five years ago are now bruised by bad media-industry investments and unfavorable lending terms, making them an unlikely prospect for association leadership—even though they’re a stated target for association expansion.
And the new guard leaves out the core print-centric b-to-b publishers that form ABM’s base and dominate its board of directors. But some of the most prominent companies are struggling through a recession in the overall economy and a life-threatening decline in print b-to-b media.
In fact, board member John French of Penton Media registered, but was apparently not at the meeting. Nor was Tad Smith, CEO of Reed Business Information. Or United Business Media’s Scott Mozarsky, although TechWeb CEO Tony Uphoff (a non-board member) was there. Other board members not at the meeting were Randall Reilly’s Mike Reilly and Ziff Davis Media’s Jason Young.
Maybe they didn’t miss all that much, as one publisher said at Tuesday evening’s dinner, "There wasn’t one word about how to successfully run a print publishing business in the last three days."
Some of those companies have been in the news lately for layoffs, freezes, bankruptcy—or, in the case of Reed, being on the block.
FOLIO:’s Spring Meeting Coverage:
Nielsen’s New Corporate Values: ‘Integrated, Open, Simple’
The New Must-Have Skills for B-to-B Media: Project Management
Publishers on Redefining the Role of Print
Hanley Wood Moving Toward Becoming a ‘Web-First Company’