BUSINESS PRESS: The re-invention of the business press

Nicole Dickenson finds the dowdy reputation of the business press among agencies is wide of the mark. When it comes to innovation and client service, business titles leave consumer magazines way behind

Nicole Dickenson finds the dowdy reputation of the business press among

agencies is wide of the mark. When it comes to innovation and client

service, business titles leave consumer magazines way behind

The business-to-business press suffers from an image problem. Business

magazines aren’t perceived as particularly glamorous, sexy or effective

by advertisers and agencies. But the good news is that their readers

love them. A recent survey by Carat showed that the business press was

one of the most loyally read press sectors.

In an effort to correct what it sees as the ad community’s

misconceptions, the Periodical Publishers Association is currently

undertaking a survey into readers’ perceptions of the strengths and

values of the business press.

‘We’re not out to demonstrate the effectiveness of the business press as

an ad medium, but to show advertisers and agencies how much value is

attached to business magazines, so by inference, the ads will be

effective,’ Peter Dear, deputy chief executive of the PPA, says.

The survey comes at a time when the business-to-business press is facing

tough competition from other media - from direct marketing to the

nationals and new media. But one of the strengths of the leading

business publishers is their uncanny knack of spotting new opportunities

(look at magazines like Fundholding and Utility Week, which have taken

advantage of government-inspired upheavals in their marketplaces), and

companies such as VNU, Reed Business Publishing and Miller Freeman all

insist that the challenge from other media is an opportunity rather than

a threat.

Most business publishers have, in the past few years, expanded into the

direct-mail rental business, information services and exhibitions. As

Alan Smith, marketing director of Miller Freeman, says: ‘We see

ourselves as broad-based providers of business information and media.

Magazines will continue to be an important part, but other areas, from

exhibitions to database marketing, are growing in importance.’

Reed Business Publishing is also exploiting its valuable subscriber

lists and set up an inserts service last year which sells across the

whole RBP portfolio. The service brought in new advertisers and helped

to push up revenue from inserts by 14 per cent to pounds 3 million last

year. ‘The dynamics of our industry - it’s very fragmented and there are

so many diverse niche markets - would seem to mitigate against offering

a uniform inserts service, but there is a common thread: the readers are

all business people. It suits advertisers wanting to target a horizontal

business audience,’ Denis Hart, director of corporate com munications at

Reed Business Publishing, says.

Business publishers have also responded to the extra competition by

becoming more consumer-oriented, which has meant a blurring of the

distinction between the business press and consumer press in sectors

like finance and computing. The Economist is the best example of a

business title with a distinctly consumer bent. Also, more computer

titles have gone on to the newsstand; most recently, VNU’s Computing

followed the lead of Reed’s Computer Weekly in January this year.

Erik Hoekstra, head of corporate marketing at VNU, says the reason for

chasing newsstand sales is to boost recruitment advertising by reaching

those professionals who don’t qualify for a free subscription to their

trade magazine.

While Hoekstra dismissed the additional revenue from copy sales as

insignificant, Alistair Ramsay, managing director of Dennis Publishing

which, alongside VNU, dominates the computing press, says that the extra

revenue source is the reason why half of its computing titles are sold

on newsstands.

‘The big growth recently has been in computer magazines on the newsstand

in terms of ad volume and profitability, while controlled-circulation

titles have been in decline. Only seven magazines make serious money and

I’ll wager a lot of IT publishers are suffering negative equity, but

they’ve invested huge sums to gain market share, so they’re not about to

pack it in,’ Ramsay says.

One of the most dramatic signs of business publishers’ increasing

consumer orientation was VNU’s January launch of Easy PC, its first

totally consumer product. Aimed at the home market and first-time users,

it sold more than 200,000 copies of the first issue.

Most recently, business publishers have fixed their sights on new-media

opportunities. Last year, VNU launched a MacNet site and Reed set up a

new unit, E.Media, to develop online products. It has already launched

an online market information service for the chemicals industry and an

auctions results database in a joint venture between its leading

property magazine, Estates Gazette, and information provider, Faxwise.

‘We are developing and have launched various new-media products. The

challenge is getting people to pay for them. Advertising is another

issue, but it’s not straightforward,’ Hart says.

The PPA’s Dear neatly sums up the incentive for going on the Internet.

‘More and more advertisers are using a range of media to address their

different marketing problems and the Internet is another way of offering

clients an integrated media solution.’

A lot of business publishers have also invested in Internet sites to

ensure their recruitment service is up-to-date and boost recruitment

advertising, which is particularly buoyant at the moment.

Increased revenues from recruitment advertising helped to push up total

business press ad revenues by 8.7 per cent to pounds 1 billion last

year, according to the Advertising Association. In spite of the

recession, business titles have enjoyed increases in ad revenue every

year bar one over the last decade and the number of titles has grown by

over 40 per cent.

The computer press, the largest business-to-business sector, continues

to welcome new arrivals. Recent launches include Network News and

Network Week by VNU and Emap Business Communications respectively. But

there have also been closures: Reed’s Windows User was the latest

casualty in that ephemeral niche sector.

Although computing is regarded as one of the best-performing business

press sectors, ad revenue growth slowed from a high of 29.5 per cent in

1992 to 3 per cent last year. Electronics is also doing well, while the

medical, retail and construction sectors continue to suffer.

Despite the difficulties in some sectors, business publishers are

generally in bullish mood. ‘We have been accused of not being as

glamorous as consumer titles, but there’s a revolution going on. We’re

much more innovative. We were ahead of the consumer side in knowing the

value of brands and we provide tailor-made solutions,’ Reed’s Hart says.

Dear agrees: ‘The business press is very well placed to exploit

opportunities provided by new media and brand franchising. Our biggest

task is to convince advertisers and agencies of our ability.’