B2B Media Business on the Recovery: A Sneak Preview

This article was originally written for BtoB Media Business at BtoBonline.com.

We have been in the middle of the perfect storm since last September. Beginning with the demise of Lehman Brothers through February of this year, all of the markets were in free fall. The only other period that I can compare this to is after 9/11 in the fourth quarter of 2001, when the economies of the world ground to a halt and Herculean efforts were required to jump-start the world stock exchanges. While the wheels of commerce ground to a halt during both of these periods, this recession has been much deeper and cut a wider path of destruction.

After the collapse of Bear Stearns and the demise of Lehman Brothers, all eyes turned to Merrill Lynch. As we have recently learned, Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke were not taking anything for granted, and Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, could not walk away from the Merrill Lynch deal even after he learned the extent of their losses in December.

While the bailout of the financial industry was getting underway, all attention then turned to the automotive industry. Could anyone have predicted that the American automotive industry would be brought to its knees, or that two of the Big Three, Chrysler and General Motors, would end up in bankruptcy and need to be bailed out by the United States Treasury?

We were not looking at run-of-the-mill businesses, but rather American icons that once were the envy of competitors around the world. The events of the past year will have a lasting impact on how we conduct business and will shape our information industry for years to come.

What will the markets we serve look like in 2010 and 2011? I sense that we will initially emerge as a smaller and more focused industry. Many of the venerable B2B names will not survive intact. Some of these have been part of the industry since the beginning of the 20th century, but they have not evolved and have lost focus with unwieldy portfolios, serving too many markets. Others that were acquired when money was cheap are now overleveraged and will need to go through a deleveraging process. In many cases their new owners will be their former lenders.

As the recovery accelerates in 2010 and beyond, the debate will intensify over branding vs. lead generation. Over the past several years we have become expert at developing lead-generation programs that meet our clients needs. Lead generation will remain a high priority for B2B marketers and will continue to fuel the growth of all vertical sectors. We will continue to refine how to package and deliver those leads in a format that works best for our clients. The best marketers will restore the equilibrium between branding and lead generation. The difference now, though, compared to how we emerged from the 2001 recession, will be that the majority of branding dollars will be spent online. Print will be continue to be a part of that mix, but it will represent a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall marketing budget as we accelerate into the digital world. In addition, live and web-based events, together with rich data and analytics products, will command a larger share of marketing services budgets. Companies that have not invested in content management systems (CMSes) or had their editors tagging content for easy repurposing will not survive as strong competitors. There will also be less competition from our old competitors, many of whom have made deep cuts to stay afloat. However, nimble all-digital competitors will emerge very strong during this period. Many of these companies still reside in the portfolios of venture capital companies, where they have been nurtured during the downturn and are now positioned to grow quickly during the recovery. There is another Google waiting to emerge, as they did during the last recovery, demonstrating that the marketing and advertising spend has not disappeared, but that technology has provided more efficient solutions that will meet market demand.

I would love to hear from you which venture capital backed companies you believe will become the new market leaders in our industry. You can reach me at: jcasella@assetinternational.com.

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