Shrinking magazines spur more diverse business media

NEW YORK: With the recession thumping business magazines' ad pages in much the same way it's pummeling the rest of the print media, PR practitioners are adjusting to a more niche, subject-specific business journalism environment.

NEW YORK: Portfolio's print edition is gone, and its Web site is a shell of its former self. McGraw-Hill is reportedly considering selling BusinessWeek. The CEO of Forbes.com quit this month to launch a start-up. With the recession thumping business magazines' ad pages in much the same way it's pummeling the rest of print media, PR practitioners are adjusting to a more niche, subject-specific business journalism environment.

“I think at the end of the day, you're seeing the large broadsheets going away because they're too broad, and what matters to people now is more personalized content,” said Matt Wolfrom, EVP and head of Cohn & Wolfe's corporate practice. “And we as communicators are adapting to targeting our messages to particular audiences and using the right media mix to get that from traditional to online.”

The transition to a more niche business journalism environment mirrors developments in the general interest consumer press –– both, after all, are largely dependent on the same advertiser- and subscription-based business model. While many of the major journalism institutions that once dominated the general interest news cycle are cutting back on reporters, editors, and producers, smaller outlets are stepping into the void, sometimes gaining influence by default.

Agencies are responding by reaching business readers in new ways, such as according to generational preferences, said Jane Mazur, EVP and director of media relations at Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

“If you're talking about people 45-plus and 35-plus, they are still looking at these magazines cover to cover, but when you come to millennials and Generation Y, they're more into Google Search and they have specific needs,” she said. “And so it's really about the topics and not the outlets that matter as much.”

The advertising pages of the “Big Three” business magazines – BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Forbes – all took significant hits in the first half of the year. According to an Associated Press report, ad sales during the year's first two quarters were down 33% at BusinessWeek, 36% at Fortune, and 25% at Forbes. Some in media have predicted that at least one member of the group could go out of business in the next few years. Such an event, plus media layoffs, only adds to the fractured nature of the industry vertical, said Bud Grebey, SVP of global corporate communications and GM of Waggener Edstrom's New York office.

“As the appetite for that information, given the times, is greater than perhaps it's ever been, somebody is going to figure out how to feed that appetite,” he said. “I'm not going to make a prediction about which of these magazines folds, but I wouldn't be surprised if one was reincarnated as something else.”

Such developments are also raising the prominence of business Web sites. PR practitioners, however, often have to convince clients that placement in a Web-based outlet has similar benefits to appearing in a prominent print publication, said Vickee Jordan Adams, SVP and US director of media communication at Hill & Knowlton.

“A lot of clients still prefer, desire, or want The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fortune, or Forbes, and that's great, and we want to get them there,” she said. “At the same time, if we get the online versions of those to cover the clients, that's a big win and it's important for us to help clients understand the value of an appearance there.”

“And there is nothing like being able to immediately forward a story that has appeared online in a Facebook account or on LinkedIn,” she added.

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