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Connectiv’s Managing Director Michael Marchesano to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Need To Make Sure We Are Ahead Of The Curve… When It’s Obvious, It Is Too Late.” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

December 11, 2017

“My view as part of the Industry Association is that we need to be able to continue to push the envelope; we need to make sure that we are ahead of the curve, in the sense of what are the topics and what are the issues; what’s on the agenda and the radar, because when it’s obvious, it’s too late. We need to make sure that we’re putting forward the topics.” Mike Marchesano…

“The idea of print being gone forever will not be, certainly, in my lifetime. I have two children, 30 and 25; I don’t know, maybe in their lifetimes. But right now, no. I see print as part of the equation; it’s part of the branding; it’s part of the history.”Mike Marchesano…

The Software & Information Industry Association’s Connectiv (formerly American Business Media ABM), is the Business Information Association that strives to help members and nonmembers alike to understand the behaviors of their audiences. In the B2B space, information is critical and with the ever-changing technological landscape, staying on top of the many ways customers can and want to consume that information is just as vital.

Michael (Mike) Marchesano is managing director of Connectiv and joined SIIA in 2013, but he has been in the B2B field, in some capacity, for his entire career. Before coming onboard at SIIA, he was President and CEO of Aequor Media, a consulting firm dedicated to providing strategic, customized technology solutions for B2B and consumer magazines, newspapers, and Fortune 1000 companies. He was also Managing Director at the Jordan Edmiston Group, an investment banking firm, and before that, Executive Vice President & Chief Transformation Officer at the Nielsen Company; President and CEO at VNU Business Media; and President at BPA International (now BPA Worldwide). So, Mr. Magazine thinks it’s safe to say that Mike is a bit of a notable in the field of B2B.

I spoke with Mike on a recent trip to New York, and we talked about the B2B industry in general, and the status of the Association in 2017 and beyond. It was an enlightening conversation about an industry that is as complex as its sister counterpart, consumer magazines. Where business information is giving way to technology, Mike is convinced that just having technology isn’t enough, but having the right technology is all-important. Being where and when your audience wants you is critical. And knowing what the topics and the issues are beforehand, and what’s on the agenda and the radar, can be the difference between success and failure, because when it’s obvious, it’s too late.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very informative conversation with a man immersed in the B2B industry and who knows that in today’s media world, it doesn’t matter whether you’re print, digital, mobile, or video, as long as you’re all of the above and completely agnostic when it comes to platform, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Marchesano, managing director, Connectiv.

But first the sound-bites:

On where the B2B market is today as we approach the end of 2017: I would say that it’s very strong. The association that represents B2B media information companies, Connectiv, which was originally American Business Media (ABM), which before that was American Business Press, continues to be strong and is a reflection of the strength that B2B is presenting in probably over 100 different market sectors. And as the need for information becomes more and more critical, because technology is impacting every market, the need for independent, objective journalism and content is critical.

On whether his tenure at SIIA Association’s Connectiv has held its challenges: It’s been a challenging time for associations, because associations are going through transformations as well, as audiences rethink what’s the value of an association. The Great Recession really affected the Association and B2B, because as a result of it and the continued secular change that was happening in media investment, print was really becoming less and less the revenue-driver that it had once been. Digital was transforming the business, but digital was not closing the gap. The digital dimes weren’t replacing the print dollars.

On whether culture has been the biggest obstacle when it comes to the changes in the B2B space: Absolutely; absolutely. It really does require a mind shift in all aspects, whether it’s an editorial and content development, sales, in collaboration; you need a whole new DNA and a willingness to understand how to adapt to change. Some companies are better than others at it, but that’s a major challenge to make that pivot.

On what Connectiv is doing to make that pivot: We have really focused on two key temples for our organization; we are a learning and networking community. So, we do the learning through a variety of ways, through our events; we have a number of high-profile events that really bring together the C-Suite and their teams and then down a level to those that are really in the trenches to help affect change.

On whether he thinks Connectiv and other information companies can compete with technology companies as media companies: I think it’s not so much becoming a technology company, but it’s having the right technology that allows you to deliver your content in a way that your audiences will really want. So, yes, it’s not that we’re saying we won’t be technology companies, but there’s a big technology investment for a partnership.

On how he envisions moving business forward, in terms of the content and the information that the B2B audience is wanting: There’s more and more focus on audience, audience segmentation and understanding audience behavior. And what is the persona of your audience? And what are the different personas, because it isn’t just one. Through the different tools, you can go in and really understand how your audience is consuming information, which lets the media owner understand how they deliver value; how they use that to say to their advertisers: you’re interested in this particular segment of segments. I can show you how my audience, through these tools, is consuming this information. So, allowing that alignment of audience and marketer’s information.

On whether data and mining your audience is a trending buzzword phrase or the future: I would say it’s the future. But to really make it work, you just can’t flip a switch. There’s an investment; you have to build the platform to be able to collect the data and have it. And then you need a team to really analyze the data. It’s almost like, to use an example, you put sales force in, but if your team isn’t trained on how to use it, or any tool, you’re not going to get an ROI.

On where you find data scientists and data analysts: (Laughs) It’s a challenge; they’re not inexpensive. But they’re there, and companies are finding them. And the ones that are putting them into place and have the vision and the strategy; I think they’ll pay dividends.

On whether he can envision a day where print won’t be a part of B2B: The idea of print being gone forever will not be, certainly, in my lifetime. I have two children, 30 and 25; I don’t know, maybe in their lifetimes. But right now, no. I see print as part of the equation; it’s part of the branding; it’s part of the history.

On the biggest landmine he wants people to avoid in 2018: Not to be too risk-adverse. I think this is an exciting and interesting time. Not that you want to have a cavalier attitude, but change is happening so quickly and you really have to look at your audience and understand the audience behaviors.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Committed to exceeding expectations.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Reading B2B magazines. I have a long commute, so I do read a lot. Although, I’m old school; I read two newspapers in the morning, print papers. I don’t read online. And at night I read too. But at the end of the day, my eyes do get tired. (Laughs) But I do like magazines. I am a consumer of information. I like media, but I do like real estate and design, travel and food service. And those are crossover markets that go from B2B to consumer.

On what keeps him up at night: Just making sure that we can continue to deliver and have a valued proposition for our members and for our industry. I think about that all of the time. And as I said, what’s next and when it’s obvious, it’s too late. Those are the questions that I ask myself. What are we not doing? What should we be doing? And to continue to elevate and put a spotlight on what our member companies are doing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Marchesano, Managing Director, Connectiv.

Samir Husni: All the talk we hear in the media business is mainly about consumer magazines, yet there is a big segment of the business that consists of the B2B market. Can you give me an overview of where B2B magazine media is today, as we approach the end of 2017?

Visiting with Mike Marchesano in NYC.

Mike Marchesano: I would say that it’s very strong. The association that represents B2B media information companies, Connectiv, which was originally American Business Media, which before that was American Business Press, continues to be strong and is a reflection of the strength that B2B is presenting in probably over 100 different market sectors. And as the need for information becomes more and more critical, because technology is impacting every market, the need for independent, objective journalism and content is critical.

Audiences now have so many choices for information, more so than ever before. B2B and the strength of B2B, and it’s recognition of being an independent third party with credible journalists, continues to serve the markets. So, I would say the state of B2B content continues to be very strong for its audiences.

There are challenges, absolutely; significant challenges, because audiences want content when they want it, where they want it, almost in a 24/7 environment. So, media owners really have to think about not how they want to deliver it, but how their audiences want to consume information. And that has impacted investment, staffing, technology and platform. So, the onus is on media owners to really understand and create a strategy and a plan to deliver continued value to its audiences.

Samir Husni: During your tenure at the association, what has been some of the major stumbling blocks that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them? Or has it been a walk in a rose garden?

Mike Marchesano: (Laughs) No, it’s been a challenging time for associations, because associations are going through transformations as well, as audiences rethink what’s the value of an association. But that aside, I’ve been leading Connectiv since 2013, so coming up it will be four years. But I’ve been in B2B my entire career, I ran BPA, the circulation auditing firm for five years as CEO, but I was there for 21, so I learned about B2B in its glory days, the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. And then I ran a media company, Nielsen, VNU Media, and did some work in investment banking, so I have a long history of B2B. And I was on the board of ABM in 2001 to 2006.

The Great Recession really affected the Association and B2B, because as a result of it and the continued secular change that was happening in media investment, print was really becoming less and less the revenue-driver that it had once been. Digital was transforming the business, but digital was not closing the gap. The digital dimes weren’t replacing the print dollars. So, there was a lot of stress on B2B.

Also, a lot of the big players in B2B started to leave the market. There was McGraw-Hill, which was an institution in B2B; they really exited the market. There were big players like Reed Business Information. They started selling all of their brands and exited B2B.

VNU Business Media, which I was the CEO; when Nielsen came in as far as being part of the equation with A.C. Nielsen and Nielsen Media Research, Nielsen sold off the media assets, it kept the trade shows, but eventually sold off the media assets. So, big companies that were major players started leaving the Association and leaving the industry. That put a financial strain on the Association.

In 2013, ABM merged with the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) for strategic and economic reasons, economic because they could become part of the larger constellation, if you will, and a lot of the support services that were made up of the SIIA, and could be provided to ABM to reduce our head count.

But there was a strategic reason for it, and I think the strategic reason was the current challenge and opportunity for B2B. And what I mean by that is, within SIIA there are different communities: education, technology and financial services. And within SIIA there is a content information group, so companies like Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis; that’s where they played. And these were business to business companies, information providers that really focused on their audiences and created data and information products, solutions and content, but it was really subscription-based, not an advertising model.

More and more B2B media companies were looking at how they could evolve into becoming information companies. So, that merger, bringing those two communities together was strategic. Fast forward four years later, that is still part of the equation, but it’s very different changing your moniker from media company to information company; that’s easy to do. Really, actually having the DNA within your organization to create the products and services that really deliver that type of value to your audience, for a media company that’s a challenge. That’s a work in progress.

A great successful example of that in my view is Hanley Wood and Frank Anton. Probably a decade ago they started looking at how data and information assets would help enhance their leadership position in residential real estate. So they bought a company called Meyers Research, which provided product information that went into a residential project. Then they doubled-down maybe five years ago; they sold all of their trade shows, which were formidable, and took those proceeds to buy probably the leading information company in their space, Metrostudy, and pivoted, an aggressive pivot, and they became truly a media and information company.

My view is, that was a bold move; it was a risk, but Hanley Wood has always been a leader in its space and I would say it’s now paying dividends, because they really are positioned as a media and information company in that space.

Another good example is a company called Winsight and Mike Wood, Jr. is CEO, son of one of the founders of Hanley Wood. And over the last five to seven years, he acquired B2B assets in the food service group, which is a strong business, one of the big brands that he acquired. And he built a nice business, but about two years ago he acquired an information company called Technomic, which is sort of the Metrostudy for restaurants and food service, and it’s doing exactly that. It’s truly creating a media and information company.

And from that, obviously they have the print brands, a strong, digital platform; a very strong information platform, and events. To me that is the opportunity for B2B media; a strong marketing services and solutions element to that. So, it’s creating this bundle of services that, going back to the earlier point, provides the audience with just a host of information that they need to be successful in their market. And obviously, when you capture the audience, the marketers will follow.

So, those are just two examples of big change and big pivots; some risks, but knowing your market – I mean, Hanley Wood knows residential construction six ways to Sunday, and really changing what is a B2B media and information company going forward.

But that’s a bold move and not every company can get there, has the resources, has the opportunity to acquire those assets, or is even comfortable with that model, because that takes a different DNA. It’s taking a traditional print B2B media company and not just saying: well, tomorrow let’s change our whole structure, it’s hard work.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I hear a lot with the consumer magazine business is that the culture has been the biggest obstacle in all of the change. Is that true in the B2B space?

Mike Marchesano: Absolutely; absolutely. It really does require a mind shift in all aspects, whether it’s an editorial and content development, sales, in collaboration; you need a whole new DNA and a willingness to understand how to adapt to change. Some companies are better than others at it, but that’s a major challenge to make that pivot.

Samir Husni: What is Connectiv doing to help make that pivot?

Mike Marchesano: We have really focused on two key temples for our organization; we are a learning and networking community. So, we do the learning through a variety of ways, through our events; we have a number of high-profile events that really bring together the C-Suite and their teams and then down a level to those that are really in the trenches to help affect change.

And a great example of this is our Business Information Media Summit, which occurred November 13-15 in Ft. Lauderdale. We had about 300 attendees for two and a half days, looking at the entire business to business media and information landscape. And we did this through the keynotes; we had four keynotes. The lead keynote was Debra Walton, who is the chief content information officer for Thomson Reuters, talking about how they have migrated their different platforms of content and information to serve mainly the financial services industry.

And she really talked broadly about Thomson Reuters, and did a great job because she used Thomson Reuters as an example, but brought into play that if you’re not Thomson Reuters, and not many of us are; how could you apply this to your business? What are the struggles; what are the challenges; what are the opportunities that I need to be thinking through? So, that was a great keynote.

Then we had a different sort of take, a company called Brief Media; Elizabeth Green is the CEO and founder of this business. And she talked about being a small to midsized company; how she sort of broke the rules and really engaged her team and her company to take risks, which I think is important as you’re trying to transform your business. She gave her team the confidence to challenge and break through the models that maybe they had accepted and not challenged.

She gave two examples, and this was in the early 2000s. They were thinking about how to deliver their content digitally and this was when Apple and the iPad really weren’t making a big push. They asked themselves why they wanted to be limited to that device; instead they would invest in responsive design, so that they would be platform agnostic. And that was a big bet and a risk; it was a debate inside her team and they went forward and it was a great move. So, that was an example that the audience really took to heart. It doesn’t always go with what you think is expected behavior.

The other was she said they fired their best customer, because strategically and going forward, it wasn’t going to be, on the long term, the best for their business; it was a big move and a risk because they were losing a significant amount of revenue, but again, it paid off. It gave them the courage and the opportunity to push through and to find other markets.

So, those are some examples of an event where the speakers and the conversation really focuses on that. The Summit includes five tracks, dedicated tracks, on building data information products; on audience marketing and development; on strategy; on revenue-generating tactics that really give the audience the opportunity over those two and a half days to do a deep dive into those topics. It’s about 70 sessions and it really speaks to those issues. That’s our real learning community.

Our CEO Summit, which will be May 2018 in New Orleans, looks at the big issues and challenges that will be moving the business forward, so the theme for 2018 is how to truly move from an information company to a technology company. And we’ll look at the investments, challenges and opportunities to create the new technology stack. In our board meeting we talked about that; how do you look at the technology stack through business and how does it affect your entire business? Whether it’s audience, marketing; whether it’s account-based marketing or audience-segmentation. So, those are the big issues, and that’s really a CEO meeting.

Then we have 10 committees, 10 different subject matter committees, that bring the managers on the ground who have to execute the strategy of their CEOs, and those are virtual meetings. They meet periodically throughout the year and cover topics such as audience, data and information, revenue and digital So, those are roll-up-your-sleeve type meetings.

And then the last element is that in July 2017 we introduced Connectiv U, which is an online learning platform for distance learning that will allow members and nonmembers to go into different topic areas and really have a learning environment that they can go to whenever they need it. We led with digital to grid sales training, which is a curriculum of 10 courses. They are bite sized, anywhere from 10 to 14 minutes, focused on digital topics, from media to consultive selling.

And that is the first of a number of other curriculum that we’ll be adding, such as a curriculum on building data information products. And a curriculum on content development; social media strategies to video storytelling. And a track on events and conferences, because events and conferences are a big part of B2B, and a revenue driver for them.

So, those are just some of the examples of the dialogues that we’re having, and my view as part of the Industry Association is that we need to be able to continue to push the envelope; we need to make sure that we are ahead of the curve, in the sense of what are the topics and what are the issues; what’s on the agenda and the radar, because when it’s obvious, it’s too late. We need to make sure that we’re putting forward the topics.

In 2015, we had a session at our CEO Summit on artificial intelligence. We had the Director of Partnerships at the New England Journal of Medicine with IBM Watson talking about the partnership that they had entered into back in 2013 or so, where they were using IBM and the New England Journal of Medicine’s great content to further patient diagnostics for physicians.

And that was really: what are you talking about? And now, in 2017, we brought in the head of a company, NAI, who was a part of the team that founded Siri. And he spoke about artificial intelligence in applications of retail and media.

And again, fast forward from 2015 to 2017, some thought it was terrific; they really went away thinking, how do I apply this to my business? Others were not sure why that speaker was there, but you’re not going to get everyone to stand up and say this or that is great, but again, picking topics or having discussions that really move the agenda forward is what we need to be doing.

Samir Husni: Do you think the CEO Summit next May about changing from an information company to a technology company is a wise move? Can you compete with technology companies as media companies?

Mike Marchesano: I think it’s not so much becoming a technology company, but it’s having the right technology that allows you to deliver your content in a way that your audiences will really want. So, yes, it’s not that we’re saying we won’t be technology companies, but there’s a big technology investment for a partnership.

One of the things that we introduced this past year was our Innovation Awards. The Innovation Awards look at innovation in a half a dozen different categories. One of the categories that was probably the most popular was, “How do you use innovation with third-party partnerships to advance your agenda?” It used to be “Bill versus Bobby.” And now it’s “Bill, Buy or Rent,” and that partnership is the renting element. More and more B2B media companies that are not technology companies are partnering with third-party technology companies that really give them that DNA and that IQ that they need to advance that agenda.

So, it’s not really becoming a technology company, but the technology stack, whether you own it or rent it, is critical to how you’re going to move your business forward.

Samir Husni: And how do you envision moving that business forward, in terms of the content and the information that the B2B audience is wanting?

Mike Marchesano: There’s more and more focus on audience, audience segmentation and understanding audience behavior. And what is the persona of your audience? And what are the different personas, because it isn’t just one. Through the different tools, you can go in and really understand how your audience is consuming information, which lets the media owner understand how they deliver value; how they use that to say to their advertisers: you’re interested in this particular segment of segments. I can show you how my audience, through these tools, is consuming this information. So, allowing that alignment of audience and marketer’s information.

That’s one way, and the other is, when you look at audience behaviors, you find the ability to create new products. A good example is a company that was looking at particular key topics; what’s trending; what are the audience behaviors when it comes to these topics? And they saw a concentration in certain areas. From there, they said, okay, let’s build a conference. They had never done a conference on that topic, but they saw the behaviors and the trending of their audience in this type of content consumption, and they used that and it became a big draw for them and a revenue-driver.

So, the tools in the toolbox now are getting more and more sophisticated so that you can really zero in through these technology solutions and personalization to create new offerings that benefit your audience, but are also marketing opportunities for your customers. So, it’s a much more strategic, account-based marketing type of approach, as opposed to a broad base. It’s like fishing with a spear, as opposed to just fishing.

Samir Husni: We hear a lot about the importance of data and mining your audience; is it a buzzword phrase for just a year or two, or is it the future?

Mike Marchesano: I would say it’s the future. But to really make it work, you just can’t flip a switch. There’s an investment; you have to build the platform to be able to collect the data and have it. And then you need a team to really analyze the data. It’s almost like, to use an example, you put sales force in, but if your team isn’t trained on how to use it, or any tool, you’re not going to get an ROI.

If you’re going to really get into data and data mining, you have to put the platform in; you have to have a team that’s trained to do it. So, the idea of a data scientist five or seven years ago wasn’t even in the realms of possibility, but today you hear of it in more and more companies as you look at staffing. What are the functional areas that are most important: data scientists; data analysts, those are key functions that are now part of the marketing team; it’s a part of audience

The whole idea of digital, marketing content and audience, is all tied together. It’s not separate plumbing; it’s not siloed. And the data analysts and data scientists sit over and really create that.

Samir Husni: Where do you find those people?

Mike Marchesano: (Laughs) It’s a challenge; they’re not inexpensive. But they’re there, and companies are finding them. And the ones that are putting them into place and have the vision and the strategy; I think they’ll pay dividends.

Samir Husni: People used to talk about magazines as a magazine, whether it was Ad Age or Automotive News or Waste Age, but now they’ve become brands. Can you envision a day where some of the platforms that have existed will no longer be there? Can B2B survive without print publications? Can they go digital-only?

Mike Marchesano: The idea of print being gone forever will not be, certainly, in my lifetime. I have two children, 30 and 25; I don’t know, maybe in their lifetimes. But right now, no. I see print as part of the equation; it’s part of the branding; it’s part of the history.

Is it the future; no, it’s not the future, because audiences will continue to look for different ways to consume. But for now it’s part of the equation, but it’s a legacy part of the business, so media CEOs have to optimize it for profitability, making sure it’s as efficient as possible. And rethink how they’re delivering in print. A lot of companies are rethinking frequency. If they’ve always been 12 times; why are they 12 times? Is there a more efficient way to communicate in print with our audiences? So, I think that’s part of the examination.

As far as the brand, I do think that while companies have built their brands with print, that’s evolving, but still part of the equation. And now it’s how do we, through digital, through marketing services, through events and conferences, through data solutions, and print, serve our audiences. I think a good example of that transformation is in the AG market. It’s a really interesting market. It’s almost like a tale of two cities, because you have an audience where print is still part of the equation, they’re not office-based, they’re field-based, but information is still critical. So texting is very important. Data information on weather conditions; using data information for the way they feed their livestock and crops is critical. The radio is important, but so is print. So, it’s an interesting market where print is still part of the equation.

We do a research study every two years, a channel study, with the AG market. We’re getting ready to do one in 2018. We essentially look all of our titles in the group, which is significant, and we do a composite audience selection. And we ask them what channels they’re using, and print continues to be an important part of it.

As you look at the age breaks, 65 and older, they love print and they’re not going to change their behavior. They do look a little at the technology tools, but as you look at the next generation of leadership, the owner-operators that are 45-65, they’re using the tools more and more. They still use print, but are more interested in what is the technology toolbox. And then the 45 and under are shifting as well.

So, it’s a good example of print being a part of the equation, but it’s evolving, moving and changing. But that technology part, information and data, is really critical in the AG market. I think that’s a good example of maybe how other markets are going to follow as well. And that builds the brand, such as Farm Journal; great brand. Meister; they’re all really strong brands in that field.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest landmine you want your people to avoid in 2018?

Mike Marchesano: Not to be too risk-adverse. I think this is an exciting and interesting time. Not that you want to have a cavalier attitude, but change is happening so quickly and you really have to look at your audience and understand the audience behaviors. And not where we are now, but as I said; when it’s obvious, it’s too late. So, you really have to start looking beyond the pale and start moving and pushing and thinking about what’s next.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Mike Marchesano: Committed to exceeding expectations.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Mike Marchesano: Reading B2B magazines. I have a long commute, so I do read a lot. Although, I’m old school; I read two newspapers in the morning, print papers. I don’t read online. And at night I read too. But at the end of the day, my eyes do get tired. (Laughs) But I do like magazines. I am a consumer of information. I like media, but I do like real estate and design, travel and food service. And those are crossover markets that go from B2B to consumer.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Mike Marchesano: Just making sure that we can continue to deliver and have a valued proposition for our members and for our industry. I think about that all of the time. And as I said, what’s next and when it’s obvious, it’s too late. Those are the questions that I ask myself. What are we not doing? What should we be doing? And to continue to elevate and put a spotlight on what our member companies are doing.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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