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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

You won’t see Angelina Jolie on their covers anytime soon. But like their consumer magazine counterparts, business-to-business (B2B) magazines bring in serious money, and have become far more than just print publications.

Consumer magazines get plenty of attention, showing up in everyday locations and featuring our favorite celebrities. Business-to-business magazines are also significant, if less well known, pulling in $7.5 billion of ad revenue in 2010. B2B magazines provide highly focused information on industry-specific topics. For example, United Business Media, one of the largest B2B media companies, publishes the specialized titles Packaging Digest and Air Cargo World. B2B magazines attract advertisers whose products and services are of interest primarily — and maybe only — to professionals in a certain field.

Information on such specific topics, of course, isn’t available only through print media anymore. Like consumer magazines, B2B magazines are working to prove their unique value to advertisers and audiences, and have found some effective ways to maintain their businesses during challenging times.

Redefining the B2B Media Business

Today’s successful B2B magazines have redefined themselves as multi-platform brands that provide a variety of information and services to their audiences and advertisers.

“We wouldn’t be here if we continued to say we wanted to be a traditional print magazine,” said Rich Reiff, CEO of Advantage Business Media, which produces a variety of technology-oriented B2B magazines and web media.

Publishers are now applying their B2B magazine brands to a variety of products that serve their already existing audiences in new ways. Some are developing webinars, sponsoring trade shows, and creating online databases of information related to their topics, in addition to the now-commonplace websites, social media outreach, and digital editions. For example, Reiff’s company is creating a “self-service digital directory” that will list industry-specific companies and the products or services they provide.

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MR Magazine, published by Business Journals Inc.

The role of actual print B2B magazines has shifted as well. Most of the news that these magazines once offered can now quickly be found online, so their publishers have had to focus on other kinds of content and find ways to play upon the unique strengths of print.

“We have to be very careful that what content we provide in the print property will stand the test of time and also be very valuable. It has to go in depth on something that’s going on in the industry,” said Reiff.

Case Studies, Better Print Design

Reiff’s magazines often feature case studies of improvements made in a particular workplace that provide models readers can use at their own jobs. He noted that readers also especially appreciate quality photos and graphics in the print magazine. (Some say, however, that design is an area where many B2B magazines have room to grow.)

The best uses of print might also depend on the B2B magazine’s target industry. In the fast-changing world of fashion, for example, the personality and tangible nature of a print magazine are especially appealing.

“Most of the people who advertise in the magazine are showing clothing of some sort,” said Stu Nifoussi, executive vice president of Business Journals Inc., and publisher of MR Magazine, which is focused on the men’s fashion industry. The company also produces custom-published magazines. For these advertisers, Nifoussi said, “the magazine is the right medium to show…what things look like and to create an aura or a mood or positioning for the product…[In contrast,] the web has become a much better medium for branding, getting your name to be seen and recognized.”

Nifoussi’s magazine also includes more feature-style stories to create lasting value for readers. Though its website is newsy, the print product is mostly feature stories, and is “more people-oriented — all the things people want from a magazine,” Nifoussi said.

Revamping Lead Generation

What advertisers want from B2B media is solid leads on potential customers for their products and services. In the past, these magazines could easily measure some part of their success in generating leads by using “bingo cards” in the magazine — those once-ubiquitous “Reader Service Cards.” If they wanted more information on an advertiser, readers could mail in the postcards after circling numbers shown in ads.

Though the cards are still around, B2B media companies that go beyond print now have to find new ways to determine how many readers took action because of ads on their various platforms.

“We no longer consider ourselves verifiers of circulation. We consider ourselves verifiers of the brand,” said Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of BPA Worldwide, one of two major auditing organizations in the magazine industry. “We’ve changed from providing what we used to call circulation statements. Now they’re being transitioned to brand statements or brand audits.”

Hansen said that this brand analysis process now includes all of the different forms of media and activities that a B2B publisher might produce: print magazines, website content, digital editions, e-newsletters, events, mobile apps, social media, among others. All of these platforms might create new customers for an advertiser, so publishers need to be able to demonstrate the value of their brand across all platforms.

“A salesperson for what was the magazine needs to go in and have a conversation with a marketer and design a solution using multiple channels,” Hansen said.

Uniting Small Communities with Focused Content

A reader looking for ways to improve a very specific kind of business may have a hard time locating specialized information about that business on the Internet. As Reiff points out, as compared to the targeted “vertical” content offered by B2B magazines and media, “you’re going to get a pretty horizontal view of how to run your business better if you type that into your search.”

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One of Advantage Business Media’s magazines

While the information is especially relevant to these targeted audiences, B2B magazines and online media offer more than just facts. “What makes any of these media go is their ability to immerse themselves in their businesses and become part of it,” Nifoussi said.

That close relationship between publishers and the industries they cover makes these magazines able to offer a “social aspect in print,” Reiff said, because readers feel that they’re “typically about people like me, doing what I do.”

Social media can provide some of that camaraderie, but finding people in your own specialty can be tough, since the magazines’ target audiences are often “pretty tight, enclosed communities. So they like the magazine. They consider it an old friend,” Reiff said.

Audience Participation

Some B2B media companies have created opportunities for their communities to participate in their content. Nifoussi’s MR Magazine had a video contest in which retailers and vendors submitted videos. Five selected videos will be featured prominently on the magazine’s website. While Nifoussi’s editors often use Flip cameras to produce short videos themselves, the demands of making both a news-oriented website and a print magazine prevent them from spending too much time on video.

“Figuring out how to use personnel effectively is much more difficult,” Nifoussi said, especially with the fashion industry’s demanding seasonal cycles. “During those two months when the magazine is very busy, either we go without on the website, or we put a lot of pressure on the editors. If we get participation from the outside…it’s a good thing.”

While their style and content might differ from consumer magazines, B2B magazines are doing the same kind of experimentation to continue engaging their audiences and being relevant.

“You still have to do what you do better than the next person, but have to be more open and flexible,” Reiff said.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.


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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

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