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Monday, January 21, 2008

Enthusiastic Media 

David Nussbaum has been named chairman and CEO of enthusiast publisher F+W Publications. As long-time (and patient) readers of this blog will recall, I think a lot of David--his leadership at Penton saved that company. And this is a great move by ABRY Partners, which owns F+W, and which was backing David's most recent venture, Sundance Business Enterprises.

Folio:, in reporting the news, called the move "a bit of a departure for Nussbaum, whose career is overwhelmingly skewed to b-to-b media."

I don't think it's much of a departure. To me, the fundamental business models of b2b and enthusiast media are the same--both serve targeted communities of interest, with tightly focused editorial and circulation. Perhaps the biggest challenge enthusiast (or special interest) media companies make for themselves is thinking like general consumer media, using the metrics, marketing and mindsets of companies like Conde Nast or Hearst. That's a mistake, because the audiences of enthusiast publications aren't consumers in the sense that consumer media defines them. They're enthusiasts, passionate about the subject matter in a way that few readers are passionate about the content of, say, Vogue.

Because of the similarities, there's a lot that enthusiast media can learn from b2b, and a lot that F+W will be able to do with the benefit of David's experience and expertise fighting the b2b media wars: how to sell the value of smaller audiences to agencies who think in terms of lowest CPM, how to align a sales force to effectively serve smaller advertisers who may not have agencies, or even artwork, how to transition to web-based offerings, how to create successful events, how to create special projects and custom media offerings...the list of b2b weapons is a long one.

But as I think about this, I realize that there's also something that we in b2b can be reminded of by enthusiast media--and that's, simply, the power of enthusiasm. Enthusiast media attracts not just communities of interest, but communities of passion. You may read a b2b magazine because you have to to remain competitive and in the know. But if you also collect coins, you may read read F+W's World Coin News because you want to, need to. Because it's your passion.

Most b2b media does a good job of serving communities of interest, but gives little thought to creating communities of passion. In business, passion is often a mildly dangerous word, reserved for serial entrepreneurs who can't quite fit into the corporate mold. We all admire them, but wouldn't necessarily want to work with them, at least, for long.

And yet, without passion, business is, frankly, boring, and a lot of our coverage of that business is, as a result, boring. As is our selling, marketing and circulation promotion.

Let me give an example. One of the current buzz phrases for b2b media revolves around the need to sell "integrated media packages," as opposed to merely ad pages or booth space. The phrase itself resonates of spreadsheets, staff meetings and cookie cutter proposals (a page from column A, a web banner from column B, a conference sponsorship from column C...and if we're feeling really spunky, maybe a webcast). Most integrated media packages show all of the creativity of a cut and paste document file.

Or take a look at one of your own magazine's editorial calendars. If it's typical, it's built around product focuses, trade shows and maybe some regularly conducted research. And if it's typical, it looks a lot like the editorial calendar you published the previous year.

Re-read your last issue. Does it give you a strange feeling of deja vu? Is there anything in it that's not only must-read, but want-to-read?

As the coming year unfolds, with a slowing economy, and pressure on ad spend and costs, b2b media that's passionate, creative and enthusiastic both on the editorial and business sides will stand the better chance of surviving and thriving.

If you have the time, read this post on Starbucks, by Jesse Kornbluth. (Jesse runs Head Butler, a lovely little service which reviews and recommends unique and different books, music and movies). Jesse's take on the problems facing the coffee giant is directly relevant to my thoughts here. In transitioning from a group of coffee houses for coffee--and community--enthusiasts, to a mass market consumer chain, something's gone wrong. The passion, the soul, of Starbucks is missing:

The crux of Schultz's dilemma is that Starbucks was once a community play, and a community play touches the heart and the imagination. That's as it should be --- a store that brews coffee can veer, at any moment, from a caffeinated office to Match.com with froth to a poetry slam. Management, however, wants to define what community means. I understand that impulse; corporate executives thrive on order and control. But the simplest fact of American life, now and in the years ahead, is change. Some will be economic. Some will be environmental. Much of it will feel disruptive. Little of it can be accurately predicted.

It's worth a read.

So, congratulations David, and congratulations F+W. It will be fun to watch what happens as b2b business models and enthusiast business models meld. I hope we'll all be able to learn from the experience.

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