B2B is a good port of call, not just in a storm

The business-to-business publishing sector likes to play up its advantages in hard times, but effective operators are a good bet at any time

Whenever the UK goes into economic decline, the business-to-business publishing industry is the first to start shouting about how good it is at reaching customers during a recession.

But is the industry right? Are business-to-business magazines really more effective in a recession than at any other time? Why should a reader take more notice of an ad when times are tough than they would when business is booming?

Last year the Periodical Publishers Association published a report into the attitudes of advertisers towards business magazines. When asked to choose only one medium through which to advertise, 40 per cent of respondents chose business-to-business magazines.

This suggests that business-to-business advertisers would look more to business-to-business magazines when times are hard.

But the reality is more complex. An examination of how pagination has changed across 12 of the major sectors reveals that less money is being spent now in the business-to-business press than was the case a year ago. In fact pagination is down by 12 per cent year on year.

One of the strengths of the business-to-business press is its ability to keep readers up to date with industry news. During the foot and mouth outbreak, for instance, farmers got up-to-the-minute information via the various trade magazines’ websites, and weekly via the magazines.

However, advertising in this sector was severely affected, resulting in the demise of Farming News, a weekly title which had been around for 18 years.

The key point is that business-to-business magazines have an important role to play in their readers’ lives regardless of whether or not a particular sector is in trouble, or whether the economy is in freefall or going through the roof.

Although the farming press suffered, publishers do not necessarily have to lose out in a difficult period – they can actually profit from it. And the same is true for advertisers.

Take the weekly IT market for instance. According to MMS, between November 2000 and October 2001, pagination was down by 12 per cent. However, Reed’s Computer Weekly has actually grown by three per cent over the period. It is VNU’s titles that have taken the hit and dropped by over 19 per cent.

Reed has prospered by adapting to the needs of its clients – advertisers and their media agencies – and by offering value beyond simply cutting rates. The company has decided to be innovative and is working closely with media agencies to create “stand-out” advertising and therefore a better return for advertisers.

The business-to-business press is a good choice for advertisers in a recession, but the industry cannot afford to rely on that fact. Only publishers which are able to offer advertisers original ways of reaching their customers will thrive. In this sense, business-to-business advertising is a useful opportunity whatever the climate.

Tony Read is business-to-business managing partner at MindShare

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