The State of B2B Publishing 2024: A Conversation with ASBPE Leadership, Cory Sekine-Pettite and Davide Savenije

This interview was written by Winslow Schmelling, Content Developer at Trade Press Services and originally hosted on their website. ASBPE reposts this content with permission.

Trade Press Services recently sat down with Cory Sekine-Pettite and Davide Savenije of the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). Industry editors and society directors, they have 37 years of B2B publishing experience between them. They offered insights essential for brands, professionals, journalists, and thought leaders looking to share thought leadership and establish their expertise in today’s constantly evolving marketplace. ASBPE is the professional association for full-time and freelance editors, writers, art directors, and designers employed in the business, trade, and specialty press.

Cory Sekine-Pettite is president of ASBPE and an award-winning, Atlanta-based editor with more than 25 years of experience in traditional news reporting and B2B publishing. He has covered everything from local politics to architecture and engineering, food service and franchise ownership, and the sports industry. Sekine-Pettite has been an ASBPE member for more than 20 years and has served on the national board since 2013.

Davide Savenije is ASBPE’s vice president and the editor-in-chief at Industry Dive. He is the leader of a newsroom with 130 journalists and sets the direction for the company’s 35+ market-leading B2B publications for over two million subscribers. Savenije was integral in building Industry Dive’s editorial strategy, culture, and team since he joined the company as an intern in 2012.

Sekine-Pettite and Savenije offer their expert perspectives on the trends shaping today’s evolving B2B publishing landscape, the technologies to expect, and the industry’s fundamental value proposition.

Q: How has B2B trade magazine publishing changed over the last 25 years?

Cory Sekine-Pettite: The core business of it hasn’t changed in terms of providing vital information; it’s just how we get it to people and how they consume it that has changed. People are used to tablets, phones, and laptops today versus a printed publication. Audience behavior has changed a lot in terms of how they’re consuming things, but not necessarily in terms of what is valuable to them.

Davide Savenije: The value of really good information, insights, and journalism and having an engaged, targeted audience hasn’t changed. As Cory mentioned, what has changed is how content is delivered, what formats people like to read, and what platforms and technologies they use to consume. There’s also a real trend of first-party data with your audience, digital in particular. Having first-party data and email newsletters has been a big part of the first-party data trend because you can have a direct relationship with that audience and therefore their data, as opposed to getting your audience from a search or social. Particularly in the last year, there’s been a diminishment of search and social in terms of their value and importance.

Q: Can you tell us more about the effects of consolidation in the B2B publishing industry and how it impacts contributors, brands, and publishers?

Cory Sekine-Pettite: From a writer’s perspective, there might be fewer opportunities. If you’re a career editor like I am, there may be fewer opportunities to move around and grow your career. On the other hand, it can hurt audiences if there are fewer places for them to learn about their industries and educate themselves.

Davide Savenije: After the 2008 crisis, there were a lot of bigger publications that got either spun out, unwound, acquired, or shut down. Over the last 10-12 years, some digital upstarts started to grow in that vacuum. Some of those have been acquired by bigger publishers that wanted to be better at digital. This has made it so there are some publishing companies that own some 30-40 publications: Endeavor, Informa, Industry Dive, Tech Target, and the like. I’ve also seen a lot of B2B freelance writers go into content marketing. There has been a real growth in B2B content marketing that certain publishing companies are doing. What people sometimes call native advertising, such as writing white papers, native articles, blogs, and things like that. There’s been a lot of growth and success in sharing insights in those areas, responding to consolidation and new technologies.

Q: Can you tell us more about the current trend of diminishing use of search and social?

Davide Savenije: B2B has seen a lot of volatility in search and social media traffic, particularly in the last couple of years. There’s also an increasing realization that the value of traffic you get from search and social may not be as valuable as we originally thought, especially if you’re not converting that audience. It’s a long-term sustainable audience that you want to have a relationship with, and we’ve seen a lot of publishers that relied on search traffic and social traffic start to struggle because they don’t have that kind of relationship with their audience.

Cory Sekine-Pettite: Right, to your earlier point about the value of newsletters, it’s email addresses that are valuable these days versus social shares or followers. It’s a direct line to that individual and contributes to that valuable first-party data. It’s also a way to convert. Social shares and followers don’t always mean a direct line to your audience.

Davide Savenije: Exactly. They may be constantly bringing in people every day from search and social, but if that’s where you built your audience, you don’t own the relationship. You don’t have any real data with them. Search used to drive a lot of audience directly to the publications but now they’re coming up with technology that you don’t necessarily need to go to the publication site to get the information. It’s pulled out. It’s right there for you in search or chat. It kind of disintermediates the publications from the audience, at least in terms of new audiences discovering publications.

Then there have been controversies around social, particularly with Facebook and Twitter. It’s gotten more polarizing on those platforms. There’s less reliable sustainable targeted traffic coming from those platforms and then converting, so we’ve gotten wiser. Generally, engagement is lower on those platforms, and I think all publishers are seeing something like that.

That said, for B2B, the most important thing is still the audience, a highly targeted industry audience. B2B businesses that built themselves off of SEO and search are going to potentially struggle with this. B2B businesses that have built more around email or mailing lists are not going to struggle as much because they own the relationship with their audience. This means you have the data, you know who they are, and you can rely on them to come in and out of their inbox every day, as opposed to constantly funneling people off of search, now subject to the whims of an algorithm that I don’t control.

Q: How do editors or stakeholders in the industry see B2B publishing evolving and changing in the next five to 10 years?

Davide Savenije: Things have always changed and always will. Those fundamental pillars regarding what is valuable to a B2B audience are going to stay the same: genuine depth of insight and information. Anywhere publishers are just skimming the surface, those publishers might struggle because it’s a thin value proposition. If you have a deep value proposition, a strong brand, and you adapt to how technologies are changing and how readers are consuming things differently, I feel like we’re handwringing over the fact that things just continue to change.

For example, our company has a lot of email newsletters, but I wouldn’t call us an email newsletter company. That’s just one mechanism through which we deliver and distribute value and have a relationship. If 10 years from now, email newsletters are going by the wayside, and there’s some other way that our readers are consuming information, we’re just going to meet them right where they are. Such as during the pandemic, business became more digitized so B2B publishing was further digitized, adapting to how business readers were changing their behavior.

Cory Sekine-Pettite: And that’s the key, right? You have to stay in touch with your audience and know what they’re interested in, what their struggles are, and how they’re consuming news, then bring it to them how they want it. We’ve mentioned AI briefly and there’ll be more technological changes that publications will be able to take advantage of and experiment with to see if it sticks with their audience. Broadly, technologies and platforms will continue to shift and advance while audience behavior will subsequently change. It’s a constant. It’s more about your attitude, agility, and responsiveness to change. If you are just good at that, you don’t have to be good at predicting what changes will come.

Q: What are the best practices for contributors to follow when submitting content to editors and for business leaders and industry publications to partner to accomplish mutual goals?

Davide Savenije: Just like with audiences, take the time to build relationships with the publication and its editors. Understand what their needs are. Understand where your skills could be valuable to what they’re looking for. It takes time, but without that relationship and without that understanding, you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Take the time to build that relationship. Understand how you can deliver on what they’re looking for. If you’re throwing pitches in the dark via email, the odds are not good.

Cory Sekine-Pettite: Know who you’re pitching to. In my experience, you don’t necessarily have to have written for that audience before, but it does help. If I can tell that work is well-researched, well-sourced, and that you’re a good writer, then I’m always willing to take chances on those people.

Davide Savenije: Again, there is the value of first-party data. In general, we have more data than ever on our audiences. That helps us to understand our audiences, what they care about, and their behavior more than ever, particularly in digital. Data analytics have come a long way as a powerful tool for editors to know what their audiences care about. Working with editors who understand their audiences and can leverage that data goes a long way.

Experts in Conversation: Key Takeaways

Sekine-Pettite and Savenije understand that the only constant of business and publishing is constant change. Their insights into B2B publishing give us a clear picture about what to expect now and in the future. The bottom line is that providing value should be at the center of all content.

The importance of search and social is diminishing, while sharing insights endorsed by industry experts is growing. In fact, the integration of AI in search engines has shifted the way content is written, according to the Content Marketing Institute. The research shows that 31 percent of content developers are sharpening their focus on user intent and answering questions, 27 percent are creating more thought leadership content, and 22 percent are creating more conversational content.

Understanding the audience is key, which includes publishers, their editors, stakeholders, and networks. First-party data is especially important for strategically defining buyer personas and converting audiences. Audience behavior will always change in tandem with technologies and trends. This makes adaptability one of the most essential skills for B2B organizations.

When it comes down to it, providing genuine value to your audience is still the heart of thought leadership. Meaningful content offers hard-hitting, data-driven insights founded in industry expertise that address the audience’s challenges and pain points.

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