Abe Peck on Navigating the New Editorial Environment

By Pete Wiltjer, principal, PWMG, Inc.

In an era where long-time B2B publishers have rebranded as data and information companies, how has the role of the B2B editor changed?

Abe Peckabe_peck_mugshot, a senior director at Medill’s Media Management Center at Northwestern University, spoke at the ASBPE Chicago Chapter Spring Bootcamp to shed light on how the revenue model of B2B publications has shifted, and how journalists and other creatives can embrace the changes to find continued success.

For nearly 20 years, the ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award winner has audited a variety of B2B publications as part of his work as an editorial brand consultant. Peck showed charts indicating how the B2B publishing industry continues to evolve into a business featuring event, data and marketing even as it provides online and, with some diminishment, print platforms.

Related to this, Peck said the key ingredients in a successful B2B journalism career in today’s digital world include an astute understanding of the publisher’s audience, as well as an ability to embrace disaggregation for the overall benefit of a publisher’s growth targets and opportunities. This includes a shift in defining and managing core publishing departments, such as:
· “Editorial” now being defined as “content”
·  Advertising being defined as marketing
·  Circulation being defined as reach and audience development

Changing B2B publishing revenue pie

Peck also cited one of B2B publishing’s longtime strengths as a continuing asset: the ability to recognize and be first on the scene to industrial, professional and technological changes in business today. This ability to nimbly identify new topics and markets for editorial coverage plays into the growing trend of disaggregation, the rise of social media’s impact for B2B journalists today and low barriers of entry that enable new competitors such as industry associations to quickly compete against established publishers with their own quality editorial products.

Peck also outlined some of the changes he sees successful B2B journalists and publishers making today. In terms of editorial content, Peck said a variety of B2B publishers today are using it for multiple purposes beyond supporting the ‘bread-and-butter’ print editorial brands, including:
·  Must read features that are pushed through digital channels (to draw readers into websites and into paid-only content)
·  Lever to engage online communities
·  Lever to engage mobile users
·  Tool for promoting social media activity
·  Topics to form basis for live and online events
·  Path to premium content that is only available to paid subscribers

Despite the shift to multiple distribution channels, Peck said publishers will struggle unless they have a clear idea of their audience. He cited the Association of Business Information and Media’s Toni Nevitt, who said “Audience is the product; content is the bait on the hooks.”

He also cited some specific examples of publishers that have successfully pivoted away from a central print editorial focus and toward a multi-channel focus, such as Hanley Wood. Peck said this Washington, D.C.-based publisher made a strategic shift to a digital/data/events focus, despite running two successful 100,000 circulation print magazines. As B2B editors evolve into strategy partners for their publishers, Peck said they will be counted on to recognize and communicate the value of their work in terms of audience needs, data marketing, and even the ability to recognize new, transformative markets that would be worthwhile to report on.

ASBPE, which is a free organization to join, offers a variety of continuing education and professional networking opportunities like the Spring Bootcamp in Chicago.

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