Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New ABM chief sees the B2B media industry moving slowly, but surely towards its digital future

In part two in my conversation with new AMB chief executive Clark Pettit, the conversation turns to digital media.

The new chief executive of American Business Media has a huge challenge ahead of him: how to promote and assist his members in their move to the new digital platforms, while at the same time not moving too far ahead, too fast.

"Digital is a collection of channels. It's not really a platform like print," told me in a follow-up conversation to our talk at the recent Executive Forum.

"Digital means websites, digital means mobile apps and iPad apps. It also includes broadcast and RSS feeds, and all sorts of other ways of reaching the audience," Pettit said in explaining the complexity of the issue.

"Where you are seeing some hesitation," Pettit said, "is that reaching an audience through digital technologies… is in a sense a game of fragmentation and segmentation. In order to reach that audience you have to reach them potentially on all devices. You are sometimes reaching the same people that are moving from device to device to device throughout the day… and sometimes you are reaching different audiences. There are some people you are only going to reach through a mobile app you're not going to reach through online, and visa versa."

Pettit said that, for now, advertisers are "skittish" about the values of the various new digital channels, and therefore less likely to advertise. But B2B publishers, Pettit said, are aware they need to experiment.

"B2B does tend to move a little slower because the audience tends to move a little slower. So there is an opportunity for more reflection and more understanding of it and trying to learn from other industry and getting it right," Pettit told me.

"Nobody in B2B needs to be educated about what digital is, and what the theoretical possibilities are, and the compelling need to reach their audience in different ways. Every single person gets that and understands that."

Despite this, however, the American trade press remains far behind the consumer publishing industry, and even the B2B industry in Europe. But Pettit is optimistic that his members are moving forward, ready to begin launching new digital products for their customers.

"Now we're in a different phase, and its coincidental with my coming on – but obviously that is by design by the board – the industry is now in a position of saying 'OK, I get all that, I know there are opportunities out there,' but now we are in what I call the science of execution phase," Pettit concluded.