ASBPE, Medill release preliminary results of Survey on Digital Skills and Strategies

Survey of B2B editors shows gaps in corporate digital training, editorial skills, and publisher leadership even as titles become cross-platform brands.

Even as their titles plunge into the digital space, B2B editors have been left largely to their own devices to gain the skills necessary to do their jobs across platforms.

So finds a recent survey of 273 B2B editors by the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the Medill School at Northwestern University. Eighty-eight percent of editors who identified themselves by job function were at the executive or senior level.

Four of five editors who answered the ASBPE/Medill Survey on Digital Skills and Strategies participated in one day or less of corporate-sponsored digital training during 2009. The median amount was less than a half-day, and 36% said they had no corporate digital training whatsoever.

Moreover, two-thirds of survey respondents found what training was offered to be very or somewhat inadequate for an array of digital tasks, making training satisfaction the lowest-ranked of a dozen leadership initiatives taken by their publishers.

“The lack of company-sponsored training, let alone adequate training, is a major concern,” said ASBPE associate director Robin Sherman. “Apparently, what skills most senior-level editors do have were learned and paid for on their own.

“Why would organizations place editors and publications at risk as a result of so little training?” Sherman asked. “Or put it another way: How much more revenue might a publisher generate with an editorial labor force better skilled in digital technologies and publishing strategies?”

Conducted over November 2009, the ASBPE/Medill survey captured the platform shift in editorial work across B2B publishing. Thirty-eight percent of responding editors currently spend at least half their time with digital content, while 62% think that spending at least half their time with digital content would most benefit their organization. Respondents split almost evenly over whether the focus on digital issues was having a positive or negative effect on the quality of their print editorial content.

Necessity of Digital Strategies

Editors were asked how they would rank various strategies if they were in charge of planning for the near future.

Improving digital content and digital training were rated as “very necessary,” followed by researching readers/advertisers, resisting any loosening of editorial ethics, leveraging content between brands, and redefining the skills necessary for editorial and art staff.

Digital Behavior, Skills, and Job Success

From a list of 16 digital activities, those that were very or extremely important for editors’ job success in 2010, writing and editing Web content, managing workflow/workload between Web and print, and writing and editing e-letters ranked highest.

Those deemed least important for personal success over 2010 were (from

  • developing virtual trade shows/conferences;
  • coding;
  • creating online slideshows or photo galleries;
  • recording, shooting, or editing audio and/or video; and
  • mining online databases.

Editors were candid in reporting shortfalls in their personal digital portfolios. Twenty-seven percent of respondents put their individual digital skill levels “behind” or “way behind” their brands’ transition to digital.

Moreover, a large number of editors never engaged in activities that are taking on increasing importance within B2B:

  • Virtual trade shows (82% never engaged)
  • Online slide shows (58%) and audio-video (54%)
  • Webinars (55%)
  • Coding (51%)
  • Database mining (50%).

One of three respondents never blogged and more than one in five never worked with social media.

Forty-nine percent of responding editors said that the need for more training in the skills of business journalism over the next 12 months was at least “necessary.”

Quality of Publishers’ Leadership

Business-side leadership also came in for criticism. Many responding editors were pessimistic about their publishers’ “knowledge and skill” for moving forward in today’s dynamic B2B environment. Among the 12 publisher-level activities surveyed — digital and otherwise — all had an average rating less than “good” (less than three on a one-to-four scale).

Senior-level editors felt that publishers fared best at being “open to new ways of doing things; not being afraid to take some risks,” placing that ability at just under “good.” “Stays current on trends about your market” and “has a clear vision of the future of your brand and its content” were rated next highest.

On the low end, “provides adequate amounts of training” had an average rating of less

than “fair,” with “really understands what it takes for editors to run our digital media” and “provides adequate support and resources for editorial staff” rating just above that level.

Moving Forward

“Many of these findings represent major disconnects for B2B even as the role of a B2B content person is rapidly evolving,” says Abe Peck, director of business-to-business communication for Medill and an ASBPE Lifetime Achievement honoree. “As the editor’s job sheds pro forma tasks in favor of cross-platform leadership, it is crucial for content leaders and publishers alike to maximize new skills alongside their traditional ones.”

The survey had a margin of sampling error of ±7%. The full results — including additional tables and anecdotal remarks — will be posted by April 1 on this web site and linked to, the Media Management Center at Northwestern’s Web site, and

Methodology for the ASBPE/Medill Survey on Digital Skills and Strategies

Invitations were emailed to 4,847 people on a list of ASBPE members and nonmember B2B editors. Between Nov. 2 and Dec. 10, 2009, a total of 338 people answered the survey, for a response rate of 7%.

An initial screening question eliminated 48 people who said they were not staff editors or writers for business-to-business print or digital publications. Among the 290 who indicated they were B2B staff editors or writers, 17 stopped answering the survey after the initial screening question. The results are based on the 273 remaining B2B staff editors and writers.

The 95% confidence level was used in this study. Results labeled as statistically significant have a 5% or less chance that they could be attributed to sampling error (drawing an oddball sample).

The survey questions received between 203 and 269 nonmissing responses (e.g. people who answered “don’t know” or left a question blank are missing responses). Percentages from these questions have a margin of sampling error from ±6.0% (for questions with 269 responses) t

o ±6.9% (for questions with 203 responses). So using a ±7% margin of sampling error is safe for all questions.

Full results now available. You must be an ASBPE member to view the report.


Image: ASBPE-Medill Study Cover

Download the full the report (228K PDF).