GovExec

Breaking News: GovExec Acquires 1105 Media’s Public Sector 360, Its Fifth Acquisition in Three Months

GovExec (formerly Government Media Group) ended the summer the same way it began the season—with an acquisition.

In its fifth deal since June, GovExec announced it purchased 1105 Media’s Public 360 group, which serves the public sector IT community with media brands (including Washington Technology, FCW, GCN, and Federal Soup), events and demand gen and market solutions services.

With the addition of Public 360, GovExec claims it has the largest sector database with access to nearly 70 percent of federal technology buyers.

Troy K Schneider, the editor in chief for FCW and GCN, will take over the role of general manager of Government Technology Brands for GovExec, working with GovExec group publisher James Hanson.

“Public Sector 360 is a seminal acquisition for us,” said GovExec CEO Tim Hartman. “With Public Sector 360’s actionable intelligence for, and engagement with, government IT leaders, we will be able to deepen our bench strength across our core areas of data that informs, media that connects, and marketing services that activate.”

Seven Acquisitions with a Focus on Data and Business Tools

Since its own acquisition by private equity firm Growth Catalyst Partners and former Hanley Wood CEO Peter Goldstone in March 2020, GovExec has been on an M&A tear, making seven purchases (with five over the summer), including

  • The Atlas for Cities, an online community and market intelligence platform for government leaders
  • City & State New York, a local government media brand
  • Power Almanac, a local government business intelligence data asset
  • Military Periscope, an open-source military data source
  • Government Contracting Institute, a business tool that alerts federal business contractors of new opportunities
  • Government Marketing University, a training, skills development and career growth community platform
  • Public 360

The bulk of GovExec’s acquisitions over the past year have been data or business intelligence tools, a common trend in B2B as publishers look to develop a complete solution (including high margin subscription data and research solutions and tools that make the publisher part of the customer’s workflow) while distancing themselves from the perceived fickleness of digital advertising (which actually saw a renaissance over the last year) or complete dependence on events, the golden goose that finally laid the wrong kind of egg in 2020.

Public 360 is a relatively “traditional” media acquisition for GovExec and illustrates the fact that even as b2b media shifts to a more modernized approach, it can’t lose sight of the roles content and media play in creating a community and then driving members of that community to the next stage of the business.

Bobit

Bobit Rebrand ‘Signals Company’s Focus on the Future of B2B’

This week, Bobit Business Media, which serves verticals such as fleet and transportation and health and beauty, rebranded as “Bobit,” dropping the “Business Media” and adopting a new mantra, “Business Intelligently.”

According to the Bobit release, this is…

…a new approach to spotlight its belief that business leaders want to make smarter decisions, and that making business intelligence actionable is where it begins. When decisions focused on what products to sell today or what solutions to build tomorrow are needed, Bobit streamlines access to timely data and shortens the path to the right choice. The company’s focus is on significantly investing in customer service, innovating new product offerings and solutions, and focusing on the expansion of its talent and expertise.

Paras Maniar

With the name change, Bobit—which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year—also completes its shift from family business to a new management team led by CEO Paras Maniar, the former president, local, of Gannett.

“Bobit enables doing business more intelligently,” says Maniar. “Our deep expertise in content, events and data services allows industry professionals to make better decisions – whether that is deciding where to invest for the future or where to target marketing and sales efforts in the near-term. Business Intelligently is the lens through which Bobit measures every decision on products, people and processes.”

New Offerings

Bobit is coming to market with a host of new products including Bobit Connect, which gives users easy subscription control, streamlined access to premier content, device-to-device memory to pick up where they left off, and bookmarking across their full industry portfolio.

The company also offers its Buyer Intent Program, where clients get exclusive access to engagement with readers showing strong intent to buy; a Data Subscription service for its fleet and transportation vertical that includes data cleansing, identification of intent and market insight; and E-learnings, which serves Bobit’s health and beauty vertical.

From B2B Media to Business Intelligence

Bobit joins the trend of publishers dropping the term “media” in favor of “business intelligence” or “information services” to showcase their ability to offer a complete solution (including high margin, recurring revenue subscription data and research solutions that make the publisher part of the customer’s workflow) while distancing themselves from the perceived fickleness of digital advertising (which actually saw a renaissance over the last year) or complete dependence on events, the golden goose that finally laid the wrong kind of egg in 2020.

Examples of this abound, including GovExec (rebranded from Government Executive Media Group earlier this year), which last week announced its acquisition of market intelligence firm GovTribe, its fourth deal in three months, all of which were market data solutions.

Winsight saw its Technomic data business grow to about 30 percent of its overall revenue pre-pandemic and help fuel its media and events businesses, proving that done right, a data product can help lift all boats.

Similar moves among Bobit’s competitors showcase the need for change, such as Randall-Reilly, which pioneered the development of a data business out of a media business and newcomer FreightWaves, which bills itself as the “Bloomberg of freight” and saw 250 percent growth in both its marketing services and subscription data businesses during the pandemic.

In the health and beauty category, events behemoth Questex looks to create a “modern” information services model that leverages audience data to tie content and events closer together to create a year-round customer engagement framework

Don’t Forget What You Are

On paper, Bobit is making all the right moves in modernizing its approach. But even as data becomes the new darling of B2B media, companies need to, as Maniar notes, strike the right balance between content, events and data.

Maintaining that balance could be a fine line to walk as the industry continues to recruit new leaders from outside publishing, including Randall-Reilly, which named new CEO Matt Reilly (no relation to the company’s founders) earlier this year after senior roles at Accenture and data science companies; Winsight, which tapped Kurt Reisenberg, a 25-year-veteran of the business intelligence industry (including CEB and Gartner), to the then newly created position of president; and Hanley Wood|Meyers Research (now Zonda) which is led by Jeff Meyers, who was previously CEO of the research side.

(Ironically, data company Dodge Data and Analytics named media star Dan McCarthy as CEO last year.)

The B2B media and information industry is overdue for a modernized approach but it can’t lose sight of the roles content and media play in creating a community and then driving members of that community to the next stage of the business.

As Alex Ford, who founded digital publisher Praetorian Digital and oversaw its evolution into SaaS-based solutions provider and trainer for the first responder community, said, “The front end of the business is our set of digital media communities. Through them, we’ve created strong brands and channels allowing us to engage with our audience and generate opportunities to work directly with customers to solve the problems they are facing.”

ASIShowcrowd

Quicker, Lighter, Better: Lessons from ASI’s First Live Trade Show of 2021

In July, Advertising Specialty Institute and its expo arm, ASI Show, hosted ASI Chicago, a flagship event for the $20.7 billion promotional products industry. ASI Chicago was ASI’s first live event of the past year and the first trade show to take place in Chicago’s McCormick Place since Covid restrictions began lifting.

ASI Chicago is more than 20-years-old but the show’s return forced ASI to deal with the new realities of planning, selling and hosting a live event in a post-Covid (we hope) world.

“Show operators have to look at profitability in 2021, 2022 and 2023,” says president and CEO Tim Andrews. “As far as I can tell, we won’t be back to 2019 levels in any industry. Exhibitors will say ‘For the last year and a half, I haven’t met my customers in person. What have I learned from that, what do I need to in in person, what can I do digitally?’ There will be a reconfiguration from buyers on how they allocate their marketing dollars.”

Here, ASI shares what it learned from being one of the first live events out of the gate in 2021, including the need to get comfortable with uncomfortable timelines, the new metrics for success for both event hosts and customers, and how ASI’s event strategy will evolve moving forward.

Shorter Show Cycles

Event operators are accustomed to having major components (venues, floor plans, exhibitor sales, signage, etc.) in place four to six to sometimes even 12 months in advance of the event kickoff.

That’s all gone out the window, not just for events scheduled for this summer or early fall but for the foreseeable future (particularly as the delta variant continues to spread and mask mandates and even shutdowns re-enter the national conversation). Event planners need to embrace much shorter timelines and the uncertainty that comes with it.

ASI greenlit ASI Chicago in March with official dates of July 13-July 15—a decision made when the majority of the country, including the host city, had severe restrictions still in place.

“At the time, we were dealing with everything from different travel restrictions in different states to Canadian exhibitors who didn’t know what the requirements would be for them,” says Matt Barnes, senior vice president of supplier sales and marketing. “We were selling right up until we opened doors and cut the ribbons.”

That lack of clarity required ASI to be flexible and adaptable. While ASI has a stringent process for exhibitor commitments, the company knew it had to be more lenient this year with both sponsors and when it came to cancellations.

“We didn’t get the full go-ahead from McCormick until June 16,” says Andy Cohen, senior vice president of events, media and marketing services. “We had 12 different iterations of our safety guidelines and our webpage was constantly being updated. We were making changes to signage onsite—we were creating signage and materials when we didn’t know what the capacity would be at McCormick.”

ASI had daily conversations with McCormick Place and representatives for Chicago to keep track of the moving target on Covid restrictions (including a 50-page book of protocol that ASI had to sign at one point).

“Once we said we’re planning on doing it, we took that journey together,” says Cohen. “They wanted to get back to business as much as we did. McCormick had to furlough everybody and people were literally coming up to us and thanking us that they were back to work.”

Quality Over Quantity

Based on feedback from past attendees and exhibitors, ASI knew numbers would be down as much as 50 percent from 2019.

For much of the sales cycle, that 50 percent decline held true (including just weeks out from the event) but ASI Chicago ended up just 35 percent down from 2019, drawing more than 3,500 industry professionals.

And as most B2B lead gen experts will hasten to say, it’s who you deliver, not how many you deliver. ASI focused on creating the best experience for exhibitors.

“Exhibitors have much more limited dollars than historically and they’re looking at what’s going to be the best return on investment,” says Andrews. “Can I go to the show or not? Do I have enough money for hotel rooms for my team? Areas like sponsorship are softer on determining ROI, so we get them to the show and try to give them the best experience possible. We had customers saying they will make it to the show but were not going to be able to spend $20,000 like they did before.”

ASI saw increased performance in several areas, including delivery of more attendees per exhibitor booth than it did in 2019.

“We focused on what we could control,” says Barnes. “We knew numbers would be down in attendance and overall booth space but we had a good hunch that deliverables to exhibitors would be better.”

The show’s “stick rate” of pre-show registrants showing up for the live event was a whopping 75 percent, compared to typical rates of 50 percent to 60 percent in other years.

“If you made a decision to register this year, you were planning to go and be more committed than maybe you would be in previous years,” says Cohen. “We benefited from the fact that for many people, this was their first show in a long time and they were excited to get out of the house and conduct business in the way they were used to. Our industry depends on in-person events. Virtual can work but it has its limitations.”

What Really Adds Value?

Planning a trade show just as Covid restrictions started lifting forced ASI to look at everything from health checks to room restrictions to registration procedures to how attendee bags and samples were distributed (bag swag is a key feature of most shows but takes on a new priority for the flagship event of the promotional products industry).

It also forced ASI to look at the various offerings of ASI Chicago and determine what was necessary and what wasn’t.

“We looked at everything we’ve been doing and asked, does this add value to the exhibitor or the attendee?” says Andrews. “With a show that’s been around for 20 years, you’ve added a lot of this and a lot of that. There is a laundry list of things we took from away from ASI Chicago that people won’t miss.”

ASI had unwavering support for some aspects of the event. “Singing ‘God Bless America’ at the show opening—I’m never going to touch that,” says Andrews.

Others, not so much. “We usually do a balloon drop but we didn’t want balloons bouncing on people’s heads in the middle of Covid,” he adds. “They may seem like small things but they add up.”

Finding New Internal Efficiencies

While ASI has hosted trade shows for more than 20 years, the publisher’s main business is its tech platform ESP and the media and research around it.

A 15-person sales team supports ESP and the media business and ASI used the opportunity to merge the sales staffs between the show business and the tech platform.

“Exhibitors have been saying for years that they don’t want to deal with multiple salespeople,” says Andrews. “We have 3,000 suppliers in our network as well as exhibitor prospects. We had four people calling them for shows and 15 calling them for advertising. We think this will be a big win.”

Reinventing Buyer-Seller Events

ASI’s events portfolio includes a series of hosted buyer events called fASIlitate and fASI500. This fall, ASI will expand that lineup by introducing a new show in Las Vegas, ASI Show ConneX, that will feature two days of hosted buyer meetings and an open trade show on the third day.

“The best parts of events are still there–people are still getting together, they’re still networking, educating and doing deals,” says Barnes. “But the timelines and cycles are different. We need to be flexible and the calendars won’t be as comfortable. We need to be thinking about how we harness technology, not necessarily experientially but operationally. This is an exciting widow.”

Two business man office workers people characters shaking hands. Vector flat cartoon graphic design

Selling Ideas Is Different Than Selling Products

Editor’s note: Join GovExec’s Frank Salatto and ACS’ Stephanie Holland for a webcast on Thursday, June 24 at 1pm ET as they share How to Build a Scalable Content Marketing Studio.  Free for AM&P Network members, register here.

“I’m looking for ideas. Every time I call a publisher, I hear about their rate card—that’s not what I want. I will never read your rate card.”

That’s a direct quote from Jason Abbate, VP of Strategic Accounts at B2B agency Stein IAS, at a joint publisher/marketer event hosted by AM&P Network and ANA Business Marketing shortly before the pandemic turned the world upside down.

Abbate summarized both the opportunity and the challenge facing B2B media and association publishers. Marketing services revenue—including content marketing, native advertising, advanced lead gen­—has grown faster than digital display advertising for several years now but jumped to the forefront last year as advertisers shifted budgets away from canceled live events to digital solutions.

Now, as events start to return, publishers need to keep the momentum they’ve developed with digital solutions and solve the biggest challenge with building a robust marketing services and content marketing business—the shift from selling products and placements to selling ideas while creating a model that scales profitably.

Strategy Before Story

American Chemical Society (ACS) created a content marketing lab several years ago, which positioned the association well for the pandemic.

Stephanie Holland

“Because events went away, how do our advertisers get revenue and leads?” said Stephanie Holland, ACS Director of Advertising Sales and Marketing, at the recent Reset, Reinvent, Revenue conference. “A lot of our advertisers became publishers on their own. We had to contend with that. With our publishing studio we could partner with them to recoup some marketing dollars.“

When it comes to selling ideas, not products, Holland and her team prioritize four points in making a pitch:

  • Strategy before story
  • Solution-based selling, not tactics
  • Understanding the advertiser’s goal
  • Know what success means to your client

Because costs can quickly spiral out of control, ACS keeps a close eye on project margins, including the development of pricing tools to determine the level of effort required before a proposal is issued and mapping to that document throughout the project execution.

A successful marketing service business requires publishers to break out of the siloes in which they may normally operate. “The projects transcend groups internally,” says Holland. “Our goal is to ensure the scope is clearly communicated before the project begins.”

Marketing Services Driving Overall Growth

Marketing services has always been tied closely to events for GovExec (which recently rebranded from Government Executive Media) but in 2020 came to the forefront by helping customers meet their event objectives when live events came to a standstill (and finished the year with revenue up 43 percent as a group while helping to drive 20 percent topline growth for the overall company).

Frank Salatto

“It wasn’t just about helping customers achieve their event objectives with us but their event objectives writ large,” says Frank Salatto, Vice President and General Manager of Marketing and Communications at GovExec. “Honestly, we were part of the conversation with clients like never before in how to rebuild their event programs.”

GovExec transitioned quickly to an all-digital environment by turning large live events into multi-part integrated digital programs and using content as the connector to drive audience from one touchpoint to another.

“Digital events were part of that but it’s a series of digital events that would allow you to recreate what you would get with a live event but in between those you need additive content that keeps the conversation going,” says Salatto.

Data collection and diverse capabilities helped GovExec keep revenue whole for all but one live event booked prior to the pandemic.

“There is opportunity in the data that you can collect,” says Salatto. “That’s always been a pain point for live events. But in digital we know what customers are interacting with across a much longer time-period and we know more about them including how interested they are and how ready they are to buy.”

Branded websites proved to be a winner for GovExec last year and continue to be a key product in 2021. “That turned out to be a great vehicle for brands to tell their story and drive sustained engagement over time but also a way for us to have a center piece for really large, long term programs and have tack-on revenue beyond the initial build,” says Salatto.

GovExec is looking to capitalize on its stable which includes branded microsites, immersive articles, video and audio, digital event integration and data visualization.

“We believe this is sustainable and there’s room to grow,” says Salatto. “The net of this is that 14 out of our 15 top clients have marketing services central to the program they bought with us. We are not a huge piece of the revenue pie as an individual unit but we are a driver of topline revenue and a significant part of the pathway to bigger revenue programs.”

KCCrain

Crain Communications Emerges from the Pandemic Focused on Subscriptions and On the Hunt for M&A

KC Crain

Last November, KC Crain became president and CEO of Crain Communications, representing the third generation of leadership at the 105-year-old, family-owned publisher, whose brands include Advertising Age, Crain’s Chicago Business and Modern Healthcare.

AMPLIFY caught up with KC to talk about his vision for the company, such as changing revenue streams (including digital and print subscriptions, which for the first time will exceed print advertising revenue for Crain this year) and a desire to expand into new markets through acquisition.

AMPLIFY: KC, how has Crain responded to the crisis over the past year and how has that positioned the company as we start to come out of the pandemic?

KC Crain: Like everybody else, the biggest fire was our events business. In a typical year we do about 200 events across all our brands and as it became a reality that we would be canceling all our events for the year, we made a massive pivot. We did over 900 virtual events over the last year and kept about half of our overall events revenue but the margins increased significantly. On the digital side, we had to get smarter about the analytics around our audiences and we paid a lot of attention to our audience strategy. We saw some nice increases in paid digital audience.

AMPLIFY: You’ve mentioned that audience strategy is the key to Crain’s future—can you expand?

KC: When we look at this business, it’s always been based on audience—your events audience, your digital audience, your print audience. We’re trying to get as smart as we can about who is engaging with our brands and on what platforms. We doubled down on our journalism. After 105 years, journalism is integral to our strategy, but now more than ever, it’s fundamental. If you have good journalism that people can’t get anywhere else, then they’re going to have to subscribe.  We’ve put in place a great team, we got smart about the analytics around our audience and their consumption habits and we’ve seen a huge lift.

AMPLIFY: As part of Crain’s prioritization on audience, you made a major hire in Veebha Mehta, who ran audience and marketing at Financial Times, Pearson and Cengage. What is her role with Crain?

KC: We had to look at how we were marketing to consumers and for the first time we have a global CMO in Veebha, whose main focus is our audiences. She’s a great hire and put together job functions we haven’t had in the company before.

AMPLIFY: What’s the revenue mix today for Crain?

KC: For the first time, our audience revenue—print and digital subscriptions—in 2021 will be greater than our print advertising revenue. Our revenue mix really changed from trade print advertising and event revenue to digital and audience revenue and the margins were significantly better. We saw a huge improvement in our first quarter numbers and I think we’ll see that trend continue. We’re up 50 percent year-over-year in our digital business coming out of the pandemic. As we’re focused on audience, digital, data, and custom, those business lines will continue to grow.

AMPLIFY: How does Crain look at the relationship between media and events as events start to come back?

KC: If people didn’t figure out a way to enhance their digital business during the pandemic, then shame on them. The pandemic 100 percent accelerated our digital strategy, namely in the data and analytics around our audiences, which we will continue to push in 2021. Coming out of 2020, nobody knew what 2021 would be like. We originally budgeted for zero in-person events but we will have our first in-person event in July and this fall we will have in-person events all over the world. There will be different aspects to our events such as live streaming and I think we will see a hybrid model for a while yet. We have no interest in running 900 virtual events again; it’s not sustainable. But as we move forward, we will continue to see virtual events where the topic and the market make sense.

AMPLIFY: KC, you are the third generation of leadership for Crain. What’s your vision for the company?

KC: We’ve got the business to where we are 100 percent focused on growth and we’re looking at verticals outside our traditional businesses. When you think about Crain, you might think about healthcare, automotive, marketing and manufacturing, our city brands. We made an acquisition in 2019 in the genomics space—life sciences are a new market for us. You’re going to see us make acquisitions that are adjacencies to our current business but then we will also get pretty focused on growth markets as well. We are in the market and looking at deals weekly. This is an exciting time; there’s a ton of opportunity in our space.

AMPLIFY: What are you excited about?

KC: Our audience strategy. I’m so fired up. We’re a 105-year-old company and we’ve never been so analytical. We’ve got great team members doing things to grow the business and for the first time in a while, we’re having fun. We’ve put ourselves in position to take advantage of these market opportunities out there. We’ve got wonderful traditional brands, great legacy markets and we’re looking to grow into new markets.