Over the past five years, business-to-business publishers have
taken on a range of activities outside their traditional remit. With
their immense databases of business contacts, wealth of information, and
editorial authority, they are well placed to extend brands to include
exhibitions, online services, directories and conferences.
Last month, Reed Business Publishing relaunched itself as Reed Business
Information, reflecting the broadening of its activities and the fact it
no longer wants to be regarded exclusively as a publisher. Similar
rebranding and expansion of activities has taken place over the past
five years at other companies. In 1993, Emap merged its business
publishing and exhibitions divisions to form Emap Business
Communications. And in 1995, Morgan-Grampian reinvented itself as Miller
Freeman, taking the metamorphosis one stage further in 1996 with the
pounds 200 million acquisition of Blenheim Exhibitions.
Nowadays, many business magazine publishers prefer to see themselves as
business information providers. The information they disseminate remains
the core value and resource but the method of transmission has
In today’s market, few business publishers can afford to concentrate
solely on the traditional magazine format.
’There was a time when producing a business magazine was the be-all and
end-all, but now it’s only one part of the communication mix,’ says
Andrew Shanks, European development director of Miller Freeman. Reed
Business Information’s electronic publishing director, Jim Muttram,
agrees: ’In today’s environment we cannot allow ourselves to become too
worried about one media type versus another.’
However, this is not to say publishers are abandoning their heartland
completely. They might be investing heavily in electronic media and
other brand extensions, but business magazines are still their main
source of revenue.
A recent survey by the Periodical Publishers Association of the
attitudes of business publishers revealed that from 1991 to 1996 the
number of magazines produced by the survey’s participants increased by
48 per cent. It also predicted a 30 per cent growth in the total number
of titles to the year 2001. Publishers clearly have no plans to give up
on magazines in favour of electronic or any other media.
Neil Thackray, director at Miller Freeman, sums up what is a familiar
story across the business press: ’Around 70 per cent of our revenue
still comes from advertising, but now we’re in the process of increasing
our revenue and profit from other product strands.’
Where did the impetus for this shift come from? Some people say
publishers are merely answering the demands of the market and protecting
themselves from a migration of clients’ budgets from display towards a
broader range of marketing tools.
Other sources suggest the trend is driven by publishers searching for
alternative profit centres as the magazine market shows signs of
Most publishers accept their interest in alternative media is driven by
both the requirements of the market and those of their investors. Tim
Brooks, managing director of Emap Healthcare, says: ’Exhibitions have
been much more resilient in the 90s than magazines. Display revenues
have come under pressure from other media, such as direct marketing, and
we’ve had to respond to that.’
With so many different marketing options now available to them, clients
often prefer to opt for a more easily- quantifiable medium than display
advertising. This is one of the main reasons for the direct marketing
boom over the past five years.
To stay ahead, publishers have been forced to become more flexible.
’We’re absolutely agnostic about the media we use to supply our clients’
If they decide to produce their own booklet for customers rather than
invest in display, we need to be media-neutral and offer to create that
product for them. If not, they’ll take their money elsewhere,’ explains
There’s no denying these alternative products do represent lucrative
opportunities for publishers operating in an increasingly competitive
and mature market. ’The business magazine world is mature and many
sectors are full of magazines that have reached their limit in terms of
profitability,’ says Thackray. Where competition is tough, it makes
sense to take advantage of the strength of the brands we’ve worked hard
to establish and spawn them into new sectors to generate new kinds of
revenue. Without new media and other ancillary products it would be
difficult to find significant new profits.’
How much publishers have been hit by a migration of clients’ marketing
budgets away from display advertising depends on individual markets.
Tony Read, managing director of Carat Business, which deals with clients
as diverse as Apple, ERF Trucks and Philips, says: ’Funds have been
diverted away from display in favour of other media in the building and
construction, and media markets, but in the IT and financial markets,
advertisers have increased their display budgets.’
Given the nature of the IT sector, online services and CD-Roms are
readily accepted, but it’s a very different story in traditional markets
such as catering.
Ian Fearnley, communications planning director at specialist agency,
Clark and Taylor, believes publishers are more concerned with paying
lip-service to progress than actually changing the way they work.
’I often have clients who want to do something outside display, such as
distributing sample packs. Although publishers will tell you they want
to serve the advertiser’s needs, it’s a very different matter when you
try to get the ad sales teams to do something out of the ordinary for
you,’ says Fearnley.
The catering market has seen clients cut back on display in favour of
direct marketing and exhibitions. ’The fact that leading groups such as
Reed have both exhibitions and publishing covered means that they get
our money one way or another,’ says Fearnley.
The ups and downs of the economic cycle have played a significant role
in moulding Britain’s business communications industry. The growing
strength of the economy through the second part of the 90s has enabled
publishers to firm up rates, producing an uplift on yields as high as
500 per cent in the computing sector.
This trend, combined with the burgeoning pagination of IT titles such as
Computer Shopper, which usually has more than 1000 pages, has prompted
many advertisers to look elsewhere to establish a stronger presence in
George Shaw, managing partner of the specialist IT agency, Joslin Shaw,
says: ’Because of the increased ’thud’ factor, I’ve taken to buying more
outside back covers for my client Kingston Technology. Where we can’t
get the OBC, we’ve dropped the title from the schedule.’ Joslin Shaw has
doubled Kingston’s spend in the national press for 1998 and is running
campaigns on the London Underground, on the outside of taxis and in
Dennis Publishing’s consumer titles, Maxim and Stuff.
From publishers’ points of view, the economic recovery might be
producing a huge upturn in advertising revenues -both classified and
display - but the ravages of the last recession are still at the front
of their minds.
At the height of the recession in 1989-1990 recruitment advertising
revenues dropped to such an extent - falling 50 per cent in one year in
the nursing market and 80 per cent in the architectural market - that
publishers set about expanding their ancillary revenue streams to avoid
the same thing happening again.
However, with the economy at a ten- year high, things are looking up in
the recruitment field. Emap’s Brooks declines to reveal any figures but
says: ’In all our markets with significant recruitment business -
nursing, local government, media, fashion and construction - this year
will be the best for some years.’
With the fortunes of the recruitment and display market so closely tied
to economic fluctuations, it’s no wonder publishers want to establish
themselves in other media. The difficulty for business publishers is
predicting from which direction their future profits will come.
Fearnley fears business-to-business publishers’ tendency to bury their
heads in the sand could be their downfall over the next few years.
’We’re pushing them to consider the future. Publishers have got to start
looking at their products as brands with unlimited potential, like
Manchester United, not just as magazines. It’s now 1998 and we’re on the
verge of a massive digital explosion. The first people to normally
accept new technology are business people, yet they still appear to be
To survive the new media environment, business-to-business publishers
will have to be adaptable and not hamstrung by emotional ties to
DIRECTORIES AND CD-ROMS
Electronic media has revolutionised the directory business. Not only do
CD-Roms offer greater search facilities, speed and flexibility than
their printed counterparts, but new products are continually coming
on-stream, such as the new-look Conference Blue Book, which will be
available this October on a ’hybrid’ CD-Rom. The directory, which is
Miller Freeman’s most profitable, has been available on CD-Rom since
February 1996, but the new edition will allow users to switch from the
CD-Rom to the Internet to check up on continually updated conference
The flexibility allows CD-Roms to avoid the most common complaint
levelled at directories: that they’re out of date as soon as they’re
printed. George Shaw, managing partner of Joslin Shaw, calls yearbooks
’dust gatherers’, a description that falls in line with the view of many
agencies, although his criticisms are levelled at the IT market in
particular, which is too fast-moving for directories.
Another often-heard criticism of directories concerns their sales
Sarah du Heaume, director of Just Media, says: ’Directories/yearbooks
are the bane of most media buyers’ lives. They are normally sold very
hard by commission-based sales people who have been in the job ten
minutes and read a script over the phone.
The directories rarely have audited circulations and are normally
That said, the PPA’s Media Convergence and the Business Press report
predicted a 55 per cent growth in the number of directories over the
five years to 2001.
Business-to-business publishers have realised that in order not to be
left behind in the new-media revolution, they have had to become part of
They’ve invested millions of pounds and the best part of three years
trying to establish how to package their expertise on the Internet and
CD-Rom, with mixed successes. Despite the widespread enthusiasm for the
Web, there is little evidence of profit so far.
Estates Gazette Interactive, which launched in June 1996 and is one of
the first online services offered by a business publisher, has 1,300
subscribers and is expected to be profit-making by 2000.
One of the main problems with online advertising is the difficulty of
measuring its effectiveness, particularly compared with off-the-page
advertising or direct marketing.
Ziff-Davis is trying to alleviate this problem by commissioning MAGtrack
to develop NETtest, an electronic equivalent of the media research
company’s hard copy reports. NETtest provides advertisers with
information on the type of people who access publishers’ Websites, what
they read and how long they spend online. Most media owners quote number
of hits using their own figures.
Neil Thackray, director of Miller Freeman, says: ’The trick to making
money out of Websites is to understand what information the users
require to help them make a better decision. Many sites fail because all
their creators have done is repackage existing content.’ Used properly,
the Web’s interactive nature provides advertisers with a forum to talk
to their clients and target them accurately with messages tailored
towards a specific audience. For the moment, online investment is
strategic and most definitely long term.
LIST RENTAL AND DATABASE MARKETING
Client awareness of the value of customer data has increased rapidly
over the past five years, producing unprecedented interest and growth in
direct marketing. The direct marketing boom has largely been driven by a
desire by clients to find a more easily-quantifiable medium than display
At the same time, leading business-to-business publishers have realised
the value of their expensively compiled databases and are now drawing
significant revenue from them.
Costs vary depending on the size and detail of the database, whether
it’s an original creation and how much on-going support the publisher
provides, but most publishers deal off a ratecard, offering 1,000 names
for around pounds 150.
The biggest hurdle in database marketing is ensuring the list is up to
date, which is costly.
Tony Read, managing director of Carat Business, says: ’Direct marketing
can provide excellent direct targeting opportunities, with less wastage
than display advertising. But you have got to be really confident that
the publisher has kept the list up to date, which in the past they
haven’t been too hot on, and it has to be part of a wider marketing
EXHIBITIONS AND CONFERENCES
Business-to-business agencies generally regard exhibitions as
Sarah du Heaume, director of Just Media, says: ’Exhibitions give you a
chance to demonstrate the value of your products. You don’t get that
from an ad. But you need to make sure you have the right traffic on your
stand.’ They also allow manufacturers to meet clients face-to-face,
which often throws up new business leads.’
Along with direct marketing, expenditure on trade shows is growing
faster than business-to-business advertising. Business publishers have
been swift to take advantage of this trend, prompting Miller Freeman’s
acquisition of Blenheim Exhibitions in 1996, and the launch of a raft of
exhibitions such as Emap Business Communications’ new engineering event,
Civils 98, this May.
Conferences can also form a valuable role for clients, providing they’re
attended by a certain level of delegate and the issues under discussion
are well researched beforehand.