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Friday, February 11, 2005

What Blogs Can Do 

Read this interesting piece from The Economist on Robert Scoble, Microsoft blogger extraordinaire.

Typically great Economist reporting; interesting issues raised; telling anecdote tying overcoming fear of flying with blogging.

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Lessons in Leadership 

Interesting LA Times article (reg. required) on Michael Eisner's post-Disney life. I found this quote to be compelling:

"The last person in this world that I'm ever going to worry about is Michael Eisner," said retired agent Sue Mengers, who has known him since his early days in the industry. "Michael has to deal all day with idiots, or certain people not up to his level. How many people is he going to miss?"

If Eisner himself feels this way, that may be the root of his problems. Who wants to follow someone who thinks and acts as if they're idiots? Who wants to follow someone who looks at you as not up to his level? You have to pay big money to retain 'followers' if you carry that attitude. And they'll perform about as well as you expect.

As a small Disney shareholder, I offer my thanks to Eisner. But don't let the door hit you on the way out.

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Relationship Media 

This is from Rafat Ali's blog:

Grab: Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext, quoted someone in offering this advice to media companies: "Replace the word information (or content) with relationship." Also: "You have affinities in your community that just haven't been realized yet."

Exactly! See my recent rant on b2b media companies which mistakenly identify themselves as information companies.

I can't find the origin of the quote, but did enjoy reading Mayfield's blog, which has much in it that addresses core media issues. Especially check out this post, which features the following:

He provided a framework for how media is transitioning from lecture to conversation, with journalists (the least interesting group, also includes PR/Marketing functions that need to find a new role), newsmakers (now bypass the funnel) and the former audience (who rolls their own media and participates in it).

I disagree with this--journalists, or editors, are crucial in this information-overloaded environment. The audience does make more active choices, though usually not from raw data. Thought-provoking nonetheless.

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Scam of the Week 

One of our clients, Directors & Boards, is on the receiving end of a damaging subscription scam. D&B is a paid ($325 per year) journal which serves board members in public companies. Some smart thief decided to send out 'past due invoices' to a variety of companies, listing their board members by last name, and claiming that the company owes anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 in subscription fees. Of course, the invoice is going direct to the accounts payable department.

Keep your eyes open for K B Services, Inc., PO Box 30396, Winston-Salem, NC 27130-0396.

Some companies have been smart enough to call D&B questioning the invoice; others have accused us of shoddy business practices (thinking we're sending these things out). And who knows how many have simply paid the invoice?

Our efforts to stop this scam have been frustrating. The FTC apparently doesn't care (even though this seems like consumer fraud, and a felonious fraud at that). We're still tracking down the US Postal Service's relevant inspector. The North Carolina Dept. of Justice (very cooperative) sent a letter to the PO Box, asking them to cease and desist. But I don't think THAT will work. And we've posted a scam notice to the website...but that's not going to build a lot of confidence among our potential subscribers.

It's hard enough to maintain a paid circulation these days, without some idiot out there working hard to ruin the reputation of a class-leading journal. D&B has a legitimate subscription renewal effort in process as I write this--which should be nice and confusing for our customers.

Anyone out there have experience with scams like these? I'd appreciate any insight and ideas. And, of course, we'll fulfill the sub of anyone who got caught in this scam.

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Uh, Oh...More Dangerous Quotes, and Dangerous Thinking 

Publishers ask: Is it time for a new business model?

I like Reed and Roland a lot, and think DeSilva & Phillips does a fine job. So my insistent harping on some of the dangerous thinking brought to light in the media coverage of their M&A Conference isn't meant as a slam. (And again, since I didn't attend, I have no clue whether the soundbites--this time from B-to-B magazine--that I'm going to slam hide a more well-thought-out position or not).

But let's assume I'm a b2b marketer, reading this article. Am I getting the right message about the value of b2b media for my message?

But here are a few grabs: "We’re not a b-to-b publisher," Goodenough said. "We’re an information company."

And

Nancy McKinstry, chairman of the executive board at Wolters Kluwer, told the conference that her company’s goal is not simply for professionals to read the information in the company’s products but to "embed our content in what our customers do."

Ah, where do I begin? You're an information company? Really? Isn't that a bit broad? Can I look to you for information on quantum mechanics and who served as Pope in 1492? Or do you provide specific information about a market or technology? Or submarket or subtechnology?

And let's take it a step further. You're an information company? The web, searched by Google, is the product of an information company. Are you going to sort through the 3,880,000 returns you get from a broad Google search on quantum mechanics to find what you're looking for? Information is everywhere, and almost entirely useless in its raw form to a busy human being. Imagine a library without a cardfile system (computerized, of course) and no organizational methodology to its shelving. Just stacks of books on miles of shelves. There's a heck of a lot of information there. But how do you find it? And how do you benefit from it?

Instead of positioning yourself as in information company, you might want to be a knowledge company or an understanding company. Knowledge and understanding (and foresight and intelligence) all have value. Information by itself is just so much noise.

I don't know Mr. Goodenough, and don't know if he was 'underquoted.' He does refer to deep databases: deep databases are good. B2b publishers with strong databases win. But a database, by definition, isn't a pot of information. It's information organized, and further organizable. Out of which emerges the potential for knowledge, insight, understanding and action.

So I'll move on to Wolters Kluwer. Do you really want to 'embed content,' or do you want to embed understanding, in what your customers do? Content, a word I misuse as much as anyone, isn't good enough for a successful b2b media business. What b2b does or should do is present information, tastefully selected, along with analysis and opinion about that information, intelligently sought, in order to foster understanding and potential action or inaction from its audience.

Without the two latter parts of the equation, there are no barriers to entry. I can publish press releases (which contain information) just as cheaply as you can. But the b2b media company which creates knowledge, understanding and intelligence is much harder to compete with. They'll have the loyal audience, which they can monetize in any number of 'ancillary' ways.

Splitting hairs? Maybe. But if you believe mission statements should mean something, then you should look at your mission statement--your philosophy of doing business--and ensure it's right. More important, you should ensure that your output and actions support and enhance that philosophy. Our once and maybe-future advertisers are watching.


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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"My Wal-Mart" (Great B2B Media Thinking) 

Dutch VNU Launches News Service For Wal-Mart Suppliers

VNU is narrowcasting via the web all of its Wal-Mart stories and data for suppliers who do business (or want to do business) with Wal-Mart. Here's the website. This is the kind of ancillary that helps build brands, and loyal audience relationships.

It's a terrific idea. And it requires a paid subscription, monthly or annual.

Even better (sample grab from the link above): "This is a test," the spokesman added "but there's a good possibility that if the news on Wal-Mart is successful we could do similar spinoffs for Carrefour ( 12017.FR), Ahold (AHO), Metro (MEO.XE), and Target (TGT)--the largest retailers in the world," he added.

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Jump! Sir, Yes Sir, How High? 

Flossing and startups

I used to work for a wise man named Dick Moeller, who was president of Advanstar Communications, and its predecessors (Edgell Communications, HBJ Publications.) Dick, and our chairmen, the great Bob Edgell and the great Dick Swank, taught me a lot about b2b media.

Back in the bad ol' Edgell/Advanstar days, when we worked like dogs to service crushing debt created by a failed MBO, and celebrated when our $20.2 million in net compared favorably with our $20.0 million in annual debt payments, we talked a lot about 'raising the bar.' As in setting higher and higher goals for our teams, so that we could earn some financial breathing room.

Dick Moeller, in his quiet way, said something that has stuck with me ever since. "If you keep raising the bar, and your people try to jump over that bar, but they keep missing because you've set the bar too high, they'll eventually stop jumping."

Read the post linked above for some cogent thinking on setting goals and dental hygiene. Sample grab: "Don't ask me why, but that line, 'just floss the teeth you want to keep', got me thinking about goal-setting inside companies." The five minutes you take to read the whole thing will be worth your while.

For the record, at Advanstar, we were guilty of setting absolute goals as opposed to goals relative to competition (and market conditions, and the ability of our people to keep jumping long after their hearts had gone out of it). We did floss, though.

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Budgets As Moral Documents 

Call to Renewal: Policy Updates

Whether or not you agree with Jim Wallis or Sojourners (whom I follow on behalf of my client Religion News Service*), I was struck by this statement: "Budgets are moral documents that reflect the values and priorities of a family, church, organization, city, state, or nation"--especially in relationship to my recent post on shrinking trade magazines.

This blog is not the place to debate Bush's budget, as Wallis intends to do. Or religion.

How many b2b media executives think of their budgets as a moral document that reflects the values and priorities of their businesses? Or put better, as a document which clearly supports a pro-b2b media philosophy, a strong customer service orientation (for both audience and marketers) and as an outline for healthy employee relationships? I didn't think so.

Take a good look at your budget, and the process you go through to create that budget. What does it say about you, your company, your products, your customers, your employees? Is that what you really mean?

*Religion News Service is the only secular news syndicate focused exclusively on religion and ethics. It's owned by Newhouse News Service and Advance Publications, which itself owns the fourth-largest newspaper chain in the country and Conde Nast, among others. Look for RNS' syndicated content in everything from The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News, to a variety of consumer and religious publications and media of all sects and persuasions. I'm very proud that GRID Media has provided management services to RNS for the last four-plus years, and counting.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Amazing Shrinking Trade Magazine 

B2Blog: How to save the shrinking trade magazine

In digging back into the B2Blog, I found another great post, again from the b2b media customer's perspective. As ad pages shrink, folio sizes drop, and editorial wells dry up, trade magazines--and their relevance--are shrinking magically right before the eyes of our customers.

The folks at Circuits Assembly magazine caught B2Blog's eye with a solution, which you should read: More editorial content, and a wider variety, in each issue. But not all of it will be in print--instead, mini-articles in the magazine will point readers to full-length versions on the website, along with additional content, including a home for technical paper abstracts.

Sample grab from B2Blog: 'He [the editor of Circuits Assembly] echoes what I've said is the continuing job of trade publications: "Our role is to act as a filter, screening the noise from what's truly crucial."

So a shout out to a creative b2b editor, who is committed to serving his readers, regardless of folio size.

But I'll continue to address in this blog what I think are the underlying issues here: letting finance instead of audience drive editorial decisions, neglecting to sell advertisers on the core value of b2b media, and so on. If we can fix those, we can fix a lot of things in b2b media.

If we can't fix them, we'd better see how transferable our skills are to, say, selling insurance.

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More About About.com 

paulconley: About.com for sale

Interesting insider insights into the pending sale of About.com by Primedia, from fellow blogger Paul Conley. Click the link above, and please also insert Paul's RSS feed into your reader.

There are a number of subtexts in Paul's post about corporate cultures, "professionals versus entrepreneurs" and more, which I'll address at greater length in this blog soon.

And sorry for the delay in posts--I've been traveling. I need to come up with something along the lines of Rex Hammock's "Blog Lite" advisories, when he's on the road. I think I'll try "Out to Lunch," which should capture the feeling that some readers may have of me when they encounter this blog.

Anyway, back from lunch now, and more posts to follow.


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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Way to Sell! 

B2Blog: Tis the season...for solicitations for trade show services

A few show daily advertising salespeople, making b2b look good. Sample grab: "Glad my instinct was to say no to these clowns."

From b2blog, which is well worth a read, if you'd like to know what a b2b customer is thinking.

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Branding and B2B 

Michael Crichton? He's Just the Author

Very interesting article from the NYT, unrelated directly to b2b, but definitely related to my thinking about some of the issues we in b2b media should be addressing. When I rant about my thinking that ancillaries and trendy 'non-core' offerings to our advertisers can and do hurt us, I'm not arguing against creatively solving the problems of our customers. But I worry about ignoring the fundamentals.

Perhaps HarperCollins' approach to branding the book publishing house (explored in the article linked above) gets to the heart of the matter. Disney can spin off myriad things to sell kids and parents (perhaps less effectively recently than in the past) because the Disney brand represents something. It's a guarantee of quality, built over years of delivering quality.

How many of us in b2b have a true brand, built the same way? When you have that, you can spin off many ancillaries, without much risk (unless the ancillaries stink and don't ultimately support the brand). When you don't have a true brand, you're just hiding that lack with a smokescreen of new ways to extract cash from your advertisers--the same advertisers who eventually question the value of trade advertising or b2b media in general, for example.

I've been lucky enough to be associated with a few true brands in my career. min, The Media Industry Newsletter, was one. As far as I could tell from the subscriber list, everyone who was anyone in consumer magazine publishing got their copy of min every week. When I visited the Conde Nast building, and excitedly watched the elevator zip past the New Yorker floors, I was even more excited to watch a fellow-elevator-rider reading her copy of min. So it made sense to see if we could expand the brand, first with a magazine, then with a b2b-focused newsletter. The team which runs min has done an excellent job of continuing that expansion, with events, advertiser-focused news products and more.

We had the same luck with CableFax, a daily (then-faxed) newsletter which was being read by the big dogs of cable (and the wanna-be big dogs). Ted Turner would speak at conferences and mention CableFax in the midst of his other 'I'm a billionaire so I know I'm right' ravings. This little newsletter generated a lot of advertising money--faxed banner ads. It then generated an annual magazine. And it now brands a magazine (CableFax's Cable World). Who cares that it's not faxed to anyone any longer? The value of the brand transcends the meaning of the name.

In both cases, these newsletters started with a brand, built over time. They were read and valued by the most important decisionmakers in their businesses. They were, and are, brands.

Brands help people make choices. If HarperCollins succeeds with its branding exercises, it will help consumers make choices of books to buy and read, and should make the company some more money.

Does your b2b media company have true brands? Must-reads? Have-to-attends? Or do you have middling products which struggle to achieve their revenue goals, and are surrounded by a swarm of offshoots and ancillaries which aren't supported by a brand, and do little to help build one? (You may have both if your company is large enough).



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