Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saving is cool again. Is that bad news for marketers?

If you’re smart, agile, integrated and niche-focused, we like your chances. Thought leader predictions for 2010.

No doubt about it. Americans are starting to save more. In October, they saved a whopping 4.4 percent of their disposable income, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. To put that into perspective, that’s almost double the average annual savings rate of 2.7 percent for the past 10 years. The rate dipped to near zero at several points in recent years, according to a story last week in the Wall Street Journal and many economists expect the savings rate to increase further from here.
Whether you call it pragmatism, fear, or the reverse consumer confidence index, U.S. consumers and businesses are hording more of their cash than they have in a long time and that has profound implications for marketers.

Experts say the economy is on the mend from the worst recession in half a century. But many say businesses of all kinds are skeptical that American consumers will return to their spendthrift ways anytime soon. They see consumers emerging from the brutal economic climate with a new mind-set: careful, practical, more socially conscious and less prone to ostentatiousness.

“Much as the 1930s shaped the spending habits of an entire generation, many companies now anticipate a shift in consumer behavior that persists even after jobs and growth get back closer to normal,” the Journal said. John Quelch, a Harvard marketing professor, thinks Americans will discover more cost-effective ways to live, and those coping mechanisms become engrained.

We don’t agree.

While consumers and business purchasing managers are scrutinizing every expense they possibly can, we think the “new normal” will return to the “historical normal.” That means American consumers – the world’s savviest shoppers and best-trained bargain hunters – will unleash a torrent of pent up demand as they start to see fewer foreclosure signs in their neighborhoods, more folks back to work and their 401k’s start to show signs of sanity. And that will trickle down to business in every sector.

Why smart marketers will win

This is where smart marketing comes in, especially if you have a medium to long-range sales cycle. You can forget about sitting back and taking orders when the “all clear” signal emerges from the U.S. economy. By then it will be too late. Competitors who get the business are the ones who have been steadfastly marketing and adapting throughout the downturn, keeping both the brand awareness and demand generation spigots reasonably on stay top of mind with their customers and prospects.

Marketing predictions for 2010

We’ll share ours with you next week. In the mean time, George Simpson of Online Media Daily had these pearls from his panel of experts. Click for full article

• “2010 will be the year of data-driven TV -- which will come of age in 2010 -- will only extend that dominance."
• “Brand dollars will accelerate their shift to online, driven by the scale of professional online video content and the rise of technologies that enable real-time demographic targeting."
• “Agencies will become more active and skilled in acquiring audiences through data partners -- separate from their purchase of media."
• "In 2010, advertisers will figure out that they can significantly boost campaigns by augmenting with innovative mobile phone and social networking solutions that more fully engage consumers."
• "The shift of ad dollars from standard display ads to social marketing programs that deliver engagement will be most notable as marketers shift focus from clicks to engagement and from CPM and CPC to cost per engagement metrics."
• "The marketplace will realize that the market for conversions relies on retargeting, which everyone does, leaving lots of people scratching their heads with 'OK, now what do we do to move real dollars online from brand marketers?'"
• "The subscription model for content will re-emerge as a viable business, because content publishers are having trouble standing on paid ads alone."
• "It will be the year of the niche. Mass is dead. A focus on being nimble and resourceful are the keys to winning in 2010."

Stay true to your brand and stay smart, focused, agile, integrated and niche-focused. More easily said than done in 2010. But if your continued to market throught the downturn and who got your new media experimentation out of the way when your rivals went into budgetary hibernation mode are going to win. And your're going to win big.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Study: Ad Spending Plans Returning to Pre-Recession Levels

But, consumers tightfisted as Cyber Monday fails to rescue a bleak Black Friday. Is a prolonged ‘saving spree’ on the horizon? Google CEO defends practices vs. newspaper industry and online video surges.

Ad executives are more optimistic about their budgets than at any time in the past two years according to new research from Advertiser Perceptions Inc., a media industry research firm that tracks the long-term confidence of advertisers and agency media-buying executives. The Ad Perceptions index currently stands at a positive four percentage points, its highest level since the autumn of 2007, when the index stood at positive eight percentage points.

The most recent survey, fielded in November, shows that ad spending sentiment is now improving for every medium tracked, even for some traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and broadcast, which continue to have an overall negative index. The outlook for most electronic media, especially online and mobile media, is well in the positive range and also continues to improve.

The positive index for all digital media - both online and mobile - went from 40 percentage points in the spring 2009 survey to 55 percentage points in the just-completed fall survey. The positive index for cable TV jumped to 11 percentage points from one percentage point last spring. Traditional media are still in negative territory, but improving, researchers said. For example, broadcast television stood at minus eight percent; magazines at minus 19 percent and local newspapers at minus 35 percent. Bleak readings, bit significantly on the mend from the last time they had their temperatures checked.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece earlier this week, Google CEO said the Internet wasn’t destroying the news industry as much as forcing adoption of a more efficient business model. Borrowing from Rupert Murdoch, Schmidt wrote: “It's understandable to look to find someone else to blame. But it is complacency caused by past monopolies, not technology, that has been the real threat to the news industry.“

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday consumers cautious this Holiday season

Online shopping sites reported a surge in sales and traffic on CyberMonday (the first Monday after Thanksgiving), surpassing the tepid results achieved by bricks-and-mortar retailers so far this Holiday season. Online shoppers spent 11 percent more than they did a year ago, according to CoreMetrics a Web analytics company that tracks online shopping behavior in the U.S. But the average size of each purchase was down 14 percent from last year. Researchers say this indicates that Web merchants are facing the same bargain-hunting/comparison shopping consumer mindset that traditional retailers have faced so far.

Despite today’s drop in the official national unemployment rate, which was the first improvement in the jobless rate in 24 months, “the U.S. consumer is still too depressed to buy us a quick end to the recession,” laments Forbes columnist A. Gary Shilling in this week’s issue. “Consumers have no choice but to begin a decade-long saving spree as depressed home prices and high unemployment rates are temporing their willingness to take on debt of any kind – if they can even get it -- from personal credit cards to home equity lines.

Is the job market really coming back? Click here for a fairly well balanced range of opinions from Wall Street Journal online discussion

Online shopping may account for 10 percent of Holiday shopping this year, up from five percent to seven percent in previous years according to Forrester Research, which indicated the shift to online shopping, fueled by deal seekers in a recession, may come at the expense of traditional stores later in the Holiday season. It’s also important to note that a heavy shopper turnout at this time of year does not necessarily translate into heavy sales. Last year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday traffic hit record levels but the 2008 Holiday retail season was one of the worst in decades according to a New York Times report earlier this week.

If you sensed it was even more crowded than normal at your local mall over Thanksgiving weekend, you’re not alone. According to the National Retail Foundation (NRF), some 195 million consumers visited U.S. stores and Web sites last weekend, up from 172 million the previous year, but the average spend dropped to $347 from $372 the NRF said as “shoppers can continue to expect retailers to focus on low prices and bargains throughout December.

Media royalty was fed by advertising until Google blew that game apart

In case you missed it, David Carr’s thought-provoking piece “The Fall and Rise of Media” in MOnday's New York Times is worth a quick read. Instead of just another piece bashing traditional media, Carr neatly dissects traditional media’s appeal for ambitious young people, its surprising ability to extend its lifecycle beyond its logical expiration date, and how it is currently dealing with its long overdue day of reckoning. Rather than blaming Google, Facebook and Craig’s list for finally fixing an unaccountable advertising economy that “was built on inefficiency and excess, Carr points to a new future “which is not a bad deal if your ignore all the collateral gore.” Ambitious young people will still flock to Manhattan to remake world, Carr quips -- “they just won’t be stopping by the human resource department of Conde Nast to begin their ascent.” For every kid he sees wandering the entrance of the media world looking for an entrance that has long since closed, he sees another kid “who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery, who is not just knocking on doors but seeking to knock them down.”

Viewing of Online Video Streams Up 26 percent in October

The Nielsen Company today reported overall online video usage and top online brands ranked by video streams for October 2009. Year-over-year, unique viewers, total streams, streams per viewer and time per viewer were up, led by a 26 percent growth in total streams.

October 2009 vs October 2008

Unique Viewers**********138.6M (+14.8%)
Total Streams**************11.2B (+26.2%)
Streams per Viewer********81.0 (+ 9.9%)
Time per Viewer (min) 212.5 (+ 23.8%)
Source: The Nielsen Company

In a related note, Nielsen announced Tuesday that it would start counting online television viewership in its overall rating measurement for which an estimated $70 billion in ad spending is predicated. More next week.

From where we sit, it looks like the 2010 media buying climate will be in lockstop with the 2009 Holiday shopping season – a great deal of bargain hunting and comparison shopping with few long-term commitments and a lot of second-guessing. Measurable value will trump fancy packaging and there will be buyers’ remorse aplenty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Key to the Future? Managing the Unknowable

Turkey day food for thought. Microsoft search deal with Newscorp could backfire. TV still relevant. 2010 marketing budgets show signs of life.

It’s no secret the Web’s explosive growth has been driven by the principle of the open playing field. Using collaboration and open source tools, the small guys can take on the behomoths by using their smarts, speed and savvy. But Microsoft, arguable lacking several of the aforementioned S’s, wants to use its muscle to tilt the playing field in its favor if a proposed deal with News Corporation comes to pass.

In case you missed it, Microsoft is in discussions with News Corp to remove links to its news content from Google’s search engine and display links exclusively on Microsoft’s ambitious new Bing search engine. Web pundits think this kind of a deal could induce major media and tech companies to start choosing one over the other which is about as good for consumers as the cable tv model is. Even worse, this scenario creates a whole new set of hoops for Web users to navigate.

According to Comscore, Bing has gained about 10 percent of the search market in its first year – an impressive showing, but still miles behind Google which handles about two thirds (65%) of the total U.S. search queries performed. Yahoo, ranked second (`19%), has lost about 10 percent of its market share since Bing entered the scene.

While we salute Microsoft’s aggressiveness and its aspirations to break up the Google-opoly on the Web, we side with the experts who say the Internet historically favors players who share tools and information, rather than building barriers to it. If there’s any positive outcome to the latest Miscrosoft initiative it will be that all the major search players will have to continue to improve their offerings in order to hold on to their market share.

Marketing budgets claw back to life

Despite the budgetary carnage inflicted upon marketers in 2009, nearly 40 percent of the 376 marketers surveyed by BtoB magazine plan to increase spending next year. Almost half plan to keep budgets steady and only one in eight (13%) plan to cut them next year. Of course, what marketers report in surveys differs greatly from how they actually open their wallets it’s an optimistic sign nonetheless. It’s no surprise that online marketing will continue to siphon off dollars from traditional media with e-mail marketing, search, social media, video and Webcasts garnering the largest increases. Researchers say customer acquisition (and marketing on the cheap) will continue to be dominant drivers of the B2B marketing landscape as measuring ROI will get a lot more attention than branding for at least another year. We’re betting that when the economy finally rebounds in late 2010 or early 2011, marketers will continue to give online the seat it deserves at the table – because they see its wholistic merits, not because it’s cheap.
Click here for more stats and analysis from BtoB.

Thriving in era of uncertainty

If you get a chance over this long Holiday weekend, check out Howard Sherman’s piece in BtoB: “When Uncertainty Is Normal”. Howard’s take is that business has never been more complicated, demanding or high stakes. To succeed in marketing and in business operations, companies will need skills their top dogs aren’t always comfortable with: “collaborative thinking by smart people.”

You need to help clients/customers accept ambiguity. You need to adhere to a nimble framework. You need to restore internal relationships, especially if your organization has dramatically downsized or restructured and rebuild trust with all of your stakeholders including customers, investors and prospects. Right on, Howard.

Research confirms: TV still draws audience

A new survey by Nielsen Company says that despite the Internet, iPhones, twitter and facebook, we’re actually watching more television not less – an average of 4 hrs and 49 minute/day for average American, up 20% from a decade ago (4:06). Nielsen says U.S. TV viewers broke another record -- increasing their consumption last year. The media research company said U.S. viewers watched 4 hours and 49 minutes of TV per day for the 2008-2009 season -- when looking at live viewing plus seven days of DVR playback.

That's up four minutes -- or 1.4 percent -- from the previous season. Why the rise? Nielsen says the gain came from more television sets in homes and more channels available for U.S. viewers. In addition, DVRs have increased the overall TV usage total: live and playback. It also appears that viewership improvements came in non-prime-time dayparts.

So if you're still agonizing about how to budget for 2010, just expect the unexpected and Strategically Stumble(tm) through it faster than your rivals.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ad Accountability for Print Media?

Magazines borrow page from online media as page shakeout continues. Facebook as crime solving tool. Google acquisition should jumpstart mobile advertising category.

We’re not sure whether to put this under the “innovation” or “desperation” column, but Monday, The Week magazine announced is was guaranteeing advertisers that their ads will generate higher “recall” scores in The Week than they will in most other magazines in which they run. How? The Week has enlisted the help of Vista from Affinity, who will measure ad recall based on how consumers in its focus groups remember seeing a certain ad in the magazines where it runs. The Week guarantees an ad will score in the top one-third of all magazines where it runs or The Week will run free ad pages for the advertiser until it gets to the benchmark. The program is only reserved for regular 12x advertisers, but Steven Kotok, president of The Week, expected 80 percent of its clients to qualify. We salute The Week’s efforts to bring more accountability to the beleaguered print category and expect many more publishers to follow suit in 2010.

Ad pages drop sharply at Conde Nast

You don’t need the geniuses from McKinsey & Company to tell you it’s a lousy year for print media. Make that a lousy decade. Just days after Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. announced that Metropolitan Home will be shuttered with its December issue (see below), Conde Nast announced this week that its 2009 pages are in, and it won’t be the merriest of office Christmas Parties high above Times Square for those who remain employed there. Ad pages are down by one-third for the year as more than 8,400 pages evaporated from it normally luxurious ledger. The company closed popular titles Portfolio, Gourmet and Modern Bride as well as Cookie and Elegant Bride and survivors who depend on purveyors of luxury goods took significant hits: Architectural Digest lost half (49.9%) of its ad pages; W lost 46 percent and Conde Nast Traveler lost 41 percent according to company data released to the media. On average, ad pages fell 27.6 percent industry wide for the first nine months of 2009 according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Branding will take you only so far in tough time and once again, print advertising becomes a luxury, not a core necessity, when times are tough and you can’t measure its direct effectiveness to pull customers into your stores.

Obituary announced for MetHome

Another acclaimed aspirational consumer magazine will cease publication in December. Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. announced that Metropolitan Home will be shuttered with its December issue, citing a lousy housing market and cuts in discretionary income for home renovations. Ad pages were down nearly 36 percent year-over-year, about the same as Gourmet’s, another popular magazine shuttered last month by Conde Nast. No plans announced about Met Home’s Web site. This recession has been particular unkind to the shelter magazine category and has forced the closing of House & Garden, Domino, Southern Accents, Cottage Living, In Style, O at Home and Country Home.

Facebook saves accused from perp walk

With more and more people revealing details of their private lives online – from the banal to the shocking – a potentially useful but unintended application of popular social network sites like Facebook, MySpaceand Twitter may be emerging. Crime-solving. A NYC teen, Rodney Bradford posted a seemingly meaningless post on Oct. 17 at 11:49 a.m. asking where his pancakes were. One of millions of banal, time-wasting posts that day until Bradford, 19, was arrested the next day as a suspect in an armed robbery at the housing project where he lives. Those words became his alibi. The entry, made at approximately the same time as the robbery. The New York District Attorney subpoenaed Facebook to verify that Bradford’s words had been typed from a computer at the apartment where he lives with his father. When that was confirmed, the charges were dropped. While social networking sites has been used as prosecutorial evidence in cases ranging from cyber-bullying to armed robbery and murder, legal experts believe it’s the first time such sites have been used as alibi evidence. Because of how ubiquitous social networking sites have become, we expect them to have a role in increasingly more cases as their user demographics tend to mirror the prime ages of those committing violent crimes, teens and young adults.
Social Media Update

Tweeting your company to the top of the search results

According to Internet Marketing Report (IMR), doing more with Twitter could help your company reach prospects who don’t actively “tweet” or even know what that means. IMR says all the search engines plan to include Twitter updates in their search results. Google plans to add tweets in its search result that may gain from real-time observations. The Bing search engine is planning to add posts from Twitter and Facebook.

Measuring success of marketing campaigns:
• 77% of marketers say new customers acquired
• 73% say the number of new leads
• 67% say net increase in sales
• 29% say increase in purchase intent
• 22% say increase in purchase intent
• 21% say changes in “perceptual attributes”
Source:, October 2009 study

Blogs, e-mail and Web site optimization most economical sources of leads. But watch PPC.
New research from finds online channels deliver qualified sales leads for significantly less money than telemarketing, trade shows and direct mail. While Blogs, e-mail and Web site optimization (SEO) scored high on “relative cost per lead”, what caught our attention was that one third (32%) of marketers surveyed by Hubspot said pay-per-click (PPC) was also a relatively expensive way to acquire leads. More on that in future issues.

Relative cost per lead by channel
% of marketers who said “below average cost”

Blogs/social media *****************55%
E-mail marketing**************49%
Direct Mail *********34%
Telemarketing **29%
Trade Shows**18


So what’s up with the stock market? The economy can’t get out of first gear. Unemployment’s at the highest level in 27 years. The dollar’s sinking like a stone and the stock market keeps going up. At last glance, The Dow closed the week at nearly 10,200, up more than 16 percent for the year and the S&P closed over 1,100, up more than 20 percent for the year.

Oddly, the same problem that worries many investors over the longer term is what encourages some for the short term: a soft economy. The reason is that an ailing economy requires the Federal Reserve to keep its short-term interest-rate targets near zero and continue pumping billions of dollars into the financial system. That is great for stocks because much of that money eventually finds its way into financial markets, and because cheap money keeps financing costs low and pushes corporate profits higher. Worries about whether government intervention would be enough to keep the economy growing have been one of the reasons behind the series of volatile up and down swings in late October and early November.
*** For a great take on the “Jobless Recovery” check out University of Chicago professor, Casey Mulligan’s blog on Economix.

Google acquisition of startup could jumpstart mobile ad category

Monday Google announced it has agreed to acquire mobile advertising startup AdMob for $750 million in stock. AdMob, whose clients include P&G, Adidas and Land Rover, is a leading seller of banner ads on iPhone apps and Web pages that can be retrieved from mobile phones. This deal will probably cement the viability of the much hyped mobile advertising business….still in its nascent stages at $160 million (source: Kelsey Group), less than one percent of the $23 billion in online ads in 2008 according to Internet Advertising Bureau.

While most of the mobile ads so far have been delivered by text message. Experts point to the growing popularity of the iPhone and other popular mobile devices, the ads will become more engaging and widespread. Analysts say Google already has an edge on its rivals Microsoft and Yahoo when it comes to ads linked to search queries via mobile. Expect Microsoft and Yahoo to look for deals with other mobile ad providers like JumpTap, Millenial Media and Quattro Wireless.

For advertising to work as we head into the second decade of the new millennium, it’s got to be measurable and prove it works. That said, the burden for accountability is a two way street. Publishers and Web site operators have to work more closely with their media partners to understand their marketing objectives, not meet monthly page or banner inventory quotas. On the flip side, marketers and their agencies need to do a better job of understanding their media partners’ audience, editorial tone and pulse. E-mailing generic spreadsheets or RFPs to media partners with 24 hours’ notice to get them done is not how great advertising or marketing gets done. And when it comes time to reconcile the success or failure of a campaign, both sides need real metrics, not self-serving “ad recall” surveys or click-based McMetrics to show ROI.

Let’s be a lot smarter, less greedy and more patient next decade.

Friday, November 06, 2009

First Generation in History in Which Kids Are Smarter Than Parents

Gaming now part of the information paradigm shift at work, home and school. Spike in agency reviews point to ad spending turnaround and need for fresh thinking.

“This is the first generation in recorded history in which the kids are smarter than their parents,” said Tom Hood, CPA, a popular blogger and new media professor who led a poignant social networking panel discussion I attended last week. “They’re way ahead of us in terms of digital technology, interactive media and collaboration.”

While the younger generation doesn’t have the personal spending power or corporate budget influence of its elders, the wired generation is influencing spending decisions (and driving rapid adoption) of anything related to technology, media consumption and social networking. If you market anything that touches a U.S. household or workplace with people under age 30 on the premises, then you better think about ways to market to AND THROUGH the younger generation.

My fifth grader does his school reports in PowerPoint, saves them to a pen drive, turns the device in to his teacher who inserts it into her classroom PC and displays the assignment on a chalk-free SmartBoard for all his classmates to critique. My first grader is an active “MMOGer” (massively multiplayer online gamer) interacting after school each day with virtual peers on Club Penguin, a 12-million member online community containing a range of Web based games and activities in which players user cartoon penguins as avatars, waddle around, chat, play mini-games and participate in other activities with one another in a snow-covered virtual world. Both kids and their pals have taught themselves to use Mom’s digital SLR camera to shoot YouTube videos of their sports and car racing exploits, complete with music, slow motion and title credits. I’m staying out of it, mildly amused. But when the ads start rolling in, I’m insisting on taking a cut to pay for “studio rental” time.

My kids also got their hands on my clunky standard-issue cell phone during a long car trip. Turns out it has a camera, video recorder and app for downloading games and music. Who knew? Like me, they wouldn’t be caught dead reading the manual. Unlike me, they have the patience and intuition to experiment with mysterious looking buttons on the side of the phone and don’t get frustrated when it fails to do what one expects it to do. They still can’t do anything about the spotty voice service, but to this generation, a cell phone is a multi-media toy that happens to have voice capabilities. It’s not a semi-reliable mobile communication tool that we view it as. They also don’t have to deal with the new charges showing up in my monthly bill – yet.

Unlike the games their older siblings grew up with, today’s educational games tend to be online and social, allowing kids to interact and collaborate to achieve common goals. As the New York Times reported last week, the newest educational games, unlike the stand-alone boxed games of the 1990s, are set up like services in which children can enter a virtual world, try on a character and solve problems that may relate to the real world. Newer games work concepts of math, science and language into the actual game mechanics, instead of stopping for something that feels like schoolwork.

For another take on responsible online destinations for kids, check out Fifty P where kids can get real-life lessons on financial literacy and savings plans without stern lectures about the value of money from their elders.

Marketing to the short attention, time-shifting consumer

The debate rages on about whether or not humans can truly perform simultaneous mental processes, but we’re multi-tasking more than any previous generation and there’s no sign of turning back. A recent University of Melbourne study found that people who use the Web at work for personal use are actually nine percent MORE productive, not less, than those who don’t.

If you’re in marketing, you better get used to increasingly shorter attention spans and you’ll have to work harder than ever to reach those targets in a three-screen time shifting world.


The recession is technically over, stock markets are up double-digits for the year and the Fed yesterday promised not to raise its rock bottom interest rates for an “extended period.” What’s more, the government last week said the economy grew 3.5percent in the third quarter, its first quarterly expansion in a year. Unfortunately, experts says economic growth will remain “weak for a time” as the jobless rate surpasses the 10 percent barrier for the first time in 27 years and retailers brace for a Grinch-like Holiday shopping season. With both consumers and corporations in extended “wait and see” mode, media partners should expect short term, opportunistic ad spending flurries, but no sustained uptrend that you can take to the bank.


U.S. ad spending fell 15.4 percent in the first half of 2009, according to Nielsen Company data with online advertising the only sector expected to record positive growth for the year -- a projected 9.2. percent to $54.1 billion, according to Zenith Optimedia research. All other media are shrinking, notes Zenith in a recent report (PDF) “Most are shrinking at around the market average rate, but newspapers and magazines are in steep decline: we forecast newspaper ad expenditure to fall 17 percent this year, and magazine ad expenditure to shrink 20 percent. In both cases this is a particularly severe example of a longer-term trend; these media have been in decline since 2007, and we expect them to remain in decline for the rest of our forecast period.”

Despite print media’s long-term struggles, signs are emerging that the painful advertising slump of the past two years may finally be easing. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that a long list of major marketers, including UPS, Unilever, US Army, General Motors, Yum Brands and Emirates Airlines, are seeking overtures from new advertising firms. According to the Journal, when the online shoe retailer invited pitches for its small account earlier this year, more than 100 ad agencies submitted credentials.

"Clearly we are seeing the beginnings of an ad recovery. The volume of ad reviews is way up," Russell Wohlwerth, principal of Ark Advisors, a consulting firm that matches ad firms with marketers, told the Journal. But over the past few years, the process of searching for a new advertising or media-buying firm has dramatically changed. About 80 percent of reviews now include procurement departments, up from 30 percent to 40 percent about five years ago, consultants say. And decisions are being made in the conference room not the golf course.

For nation’s newspapers print circulation plummets, but Web visits up

New figures released last week by the Audit Bureau of Circulation showed double-digit circulation drops for 22 of the nation’s top 25 papers amid an industry-wide decline of 10.6 percent for the six months ended September 30. At just 44 million copies, U.S. daily papers sold fewer editions than at any time since the 1940s. Industry execs say part of the readership loss is self-imposed. By that they mean rising manufacturing costs and dropping ad revenue has forced them to cut “unprofitable circulation” which in industry parlance refers to those with bad credit, low incomes, intermittent subscriptions and readers who live in outlying areas. But, few will argue that the Web has siphoned off millions of print readers and advertising dollars. Newspaper Web sites are updated more frequently than their ink-stained brethren. Web papers don’t arrive wet, late or tattered and by and large they’re free. This year, newspaper Web sites have had more than 72 million unique visitors, up 20 percent from 60 million in 2007 according to Nielsen Online reports for the Newspaper Association. We see this trend continuing on an exponential

The younger generation thrives on collaboration, speed and entertainment, said blogger Tom Hood.

If you’re in marketing, particularly B2B, then keep in mind the fact that “Young people may be new to the world of work, but their bosses are immigrants to the world of the Web.”

Look to gaming if you want to win the game.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Recession Over, Or Are We Just Sick of Hearing About It?

Unemployment flirting with 10 percent, but Dow eclipses 10K, Google ads and Goldman bonuses flying high and ABC show about horny ‘cougars’ rejects big ad buy about same topic.

As we alluded to in our last rant here, most people’s outlook on the state of the U.S. economy depends on whether or not you’re working. With interest rates historically low, deals galore on the retail and housing fronts and the financial markets up over 20 percent this year, you’ve got pretty good buying power if you’re lucky enough to have a job. If you’re out of work -- like more able-bodied Americans are than at any time in a quarter century, then things aren’t looking too rosy.

Employers are mired in a long-term hiring and capital investment freeze. More homeowners than ever are underwater on the mortgages and/or not keeping current with their payments. New companies, or new divisions of existing aren’t being formed to create new jobs. Older workers are afraid to leave the workforce due to insecurity over their retirement accounts and that’s clogging up the normal payroll succession plan as millions of energetic new college graduates can’t get a foot in the door.

The challenge for today’s marketers is to resonate with all sectors of your customer base, regardless of what life circumstances they’re encountering, and that means a one-size fits all global branding campaign may not do the trick.
So, how are global marketers responding? They’re tapping into that “less worse than last year” psychology and slowly reinvesting in their brands.
Stephanie Clifford of the NY Times had a nice take on this phenomenon the other day,

“It may be a sign that the recession is ending, or it may be a sign that consumers are sick of hearing about it,” quipped NY Times columnist, Stephanie Clifford last week. “While economists and investors study housing starts and gross domestic product predictions to measure economic vibrancy, General Electric (“The American renewal is happening right now”), Bank of America (“America. Growing stronger every day”), Levi’s (“Pioneers! O Pioneers!”) and other companies are using commercials to proclaim that America’s future is bright. And that may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Let’s hope she’s right. As Brand Union/WPP’s Robert Scalea told Clifford: “Marketing is always a reflection of societal values, and many times, for smarter marketers, it’s a driver of them.”

Google vs. Dow as bellwether of the ad economy

On Thursday, Google reported better than expected Q3 financial results – 27 percent increase in net income -- on the strength of its ad sales program. CEO, Eric Schmidt declared the worst of the recession over and that Google was embarking on a new phase of investment, hiring and acquisitions. Many analysts contend that Google’s results are closely correlated with online spending – one of the few bright spots in the advertising sector --- and are likely to be trumpeted across many sectors of the industry.

“We’re seeing double-digit increases in budgets for 2010 from our clients,” Bryan Wiener, head of digital agency 360i {} told The New York Times last week.

How will you read magazines in 10 years?

From Conde Nast to McGraw Hill to the Economist Group, it’s clear that the cash cow of print-based, high-ticket, hard-to-measure, brand advertising has been slaughtered. Conde shuttered four titles, including the much-admired Gourmet. Bloomberg LLP snagged Business Week for next to nothing and Economist Group’s editorially poignant, but ad-challenged CFO still can’t get a date to the buyout prom.

Is that finally it for the magazine medium? We think not. Magazines will continue to be relevant, but how we engage in them may be changed forever. Over the next decade, three in five “readers” of magazines won’t be interacting with their favorite titles in dead-tree form, according to a recent survey of nearly 400 Wall Street Journal readers. Nearly 30 percent said they’d be reading online; another 20 percent said they’d be reading via E-reader or mobile device and nearly one in 10 said they wouldn’t be reading at all.
If print media is a key component of your marketing mix, then you better take notice.
How will you read magazines in 10 years?

I WON’T********9%
Source: Wall Street Journal

Said one respondent to the WSJ survey: “Unfortunately the selection for how we will read magazines in the future is too simplistic. If wise, publishers will realize that that are creating content and can deliver it in different forms, print, online, phone e-reader and not as magazines but as articles, so that if I am interested in food, I can read a gourmet article from ‘gourmet magazine’ which as a magazine of today's format need not exist.” Brother, you got that right.

Are these TV people for real?

David Letterman, the curmudgeonly late night talk show host for CBS and product Worldwide (Can’t Keep it in My) Pants, gets exposed for running a broadcast equivalent of the Wall Street Boom-Boom run in his offices and gets an instant ratings boost. Jay Leno, who was supposed to be dead in the water in prime time is far exceeding rating expectations. For a fraction of what it costs to put on a prime time drama, Leno is helping NBC rake in the profits by re-reading local newspaper headlines, quizzing airhead LA pedestrians about current events and challenging B-list celebs to simulate slow-speed car chases on a Burbank studio parking lost. And it works. So to all the cable shows about house-flipping, home makeovers and savvy real-estate investing at a time when record numbers of Americans are in foreclosure or underwater on their mortgages. Then there’s Cougar Town, ABC’s popular new Courtney Cox sitcom about spurned 40-something women prowling for 20-something studly men. More than seven million viewers are tuning in each week and apparently the has enough ad dough in the pipeline to turn down a huge proposed media buy from a Web site for real-life cougars on the grounds of decency concerns.

We’re not passing ethical judgment here. We’re just pointing out that the mood has lightened up enough in this country so that support for these shows, and the vicarious thrills they provide, may point to hopes of better times ahead.


As a Miami University professor noted in the aforementioned Stephanie Clifford piece: “The truth is, we want to believe they’re right. Deep down inside, even skeptics want to be hopeful” in these times.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bad News, Recession Over. Risk Taking, Personal Savings Up

Are companies ready for pent up spike in demand? M&A, IPOs, SPACs return. Fasten seatbelts as ides of October approach on anniversary of financial crisis. Have we learned anything?

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average knocking on the door of 10,000 – a benchmark seemingly out of reach six months ago – and nationwide home prices up for the second straight month, both leading and trailing indicators of the economic rebound we first called in this blog in April are all around us. From a technical perspective, the "recession is very likely over at this point," U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke said in a mid-month Q&A session at the Brookings Institution. So why aren’t homeowners and job seekers rejoicing, let alone the marketers who target them?

The Dow 10,000 barrier is mostly psychological, but as Stuart Freeman, senior equity analyst at Wells Fargo Advisors told the New York Times this week: “It’s psychological, but if enough people act on it it’s meaningful. The higher the market goes, the more those on the sidelines sit there and are concerned they’re missing something.”

Why we’re still worried

Home prices nationwide are still 13.3 percent lower than a year earlier, according to the widely followed S&P/Case Schiller Index, but recent monthly gains show that the pace of decline has slowed. Housing aside, several trends concern us at this juncture. First, the Government, including the Fed, is not in the forecasting business. It’s in the restating-the-obvious-but-making-it-official business. Second, we’re not convinced the fundamentals are there to support a sustained rally in the economy. More on that in a minute. Third, and perhaps most frightening, is this economic turnaround might be for real.

What’s wrong with that you say? Plenty. For starters, most companies are not be prepared to handle the surge in pent up demand, as they trimmed their workforces, production capabilities, customer service departments and marketing budgets so severely during the downturn. Cost-cutting occurs faster and deeper, than re-hiring and re-investing. The only thing worse than having customers bail on you when times are lousy is having them bail on you because you can’t handle their orders when times are better.

And here’s where it gets tricky. Even if the Fed and the financial markets are correctly signaling the end of the Great Recession of 2008-09, 15 million able-bodied workers – about 10 percent of the full-time work force -- are out of work. Combine that with stagnant incomes for all workers and higher rates of personal saving (due to fear, not financial discipline) and this could reduce corporate revenue for years to come. We’re also dealing with massive consumer defaults on credit cards, record numbers of mortgage defaults, delinquent student loans and stagnant incomes for those lucky enough to be working. Oh, and housing unit sales (not prices) went down another 2.7 percent in August, we learned last week.

Where is the money going to come from, to purchase those goods and services we need to keep the economy humming? More than 70 percent of Americans still rate the job market “bad” according to a recent Harris Poll. Paychecks have been stagnant for about a decade and using one’s home equity as an ATM machine – essentially what kept the Great Recession at bay for about three years – isn’t a viable fallback this time around.

Cautious Optimism for The Economy Ahead

Results of the latest Harris Poll of 2,498 U.S. adults surveyed online show that there is a slight sense of optimism regarding the economy. Nearly half (46%) of Americans believe the economy will improve in the coming year, while a third (32%) say it will stay the same and 22 percent believe it will get worse. In May, just under two in five believed the economy would improve in the coming year while over one-quarter said they thought it would get worse. But overall, they’re not so confident about their own situation, which is a great departure from most economic climates in which survey respondents tend to say they’re better off – not worse off -- than their neighbors.

One-quarter of Americans believe that their household financial condition will be better in six months while half say it will remain the same and 28 percent believe it will get worse. If there’s a silver lining to this cloud, consider that the 28 percent who say their household's financial condition will get worse in the next six months is the lowest reading for this question since Harris pollsters first asked in February of 2008.
Greed and irrational exuberance

Twitter –- a 60-person online social networking company with a catchy name and no revenue to speak of, was recently valued at $1 billion as it announced plans to raise $100 million to salivating venture capitalists. The markets also bounded higher on signs that companies once again had enough cash, credit and confidence to enter into big M&A deals. Xerox, Abbot Labs, Dell, Disney and Kraft Foods have announced takeover plans. Could credit really be flowing again between banks and corporate giants? At least the lawyers are happy.
What’s more, last week was the busiest for companies completing IPOs since December 2007. The Wall Street Journal reports some two dozen firms have filed plans to go public in the past two months, which is twice the number who filed to go public in the first seven months of this year. Has the IPO pendulum swung back to “Initial Public Offering” from two years of “It’s Pretty-Much Over”?

If that’s not enough to convince you investors are regaining their appetite for risk, more than one billion dollars in acquisitions took place last week through special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). What’s a SPAC? It’s basically a “blank check offering” that allows investors to raise money through an initial public offering, and then gives them up to two years to buy a business as long as the sale receives shareholder approval. Sounds pretty spaculative.

Media spending still lagging

More than one-third of marketers plan to cut their advertising budgets over the next six months, according to he latest Association of National Advertisers (ANA) study. While an improvement from the 50-percent budget cutting threshold ANA reported earlier this year, the times ain’t exactly flush for marketers or media owners. As even ANA will admit, budget cutting tends to get under-reported in forward looking surveys (turns out 61% of marketers, not 50% cut their budgets over the past six month, according to ANA research).

If you’re a media buyer, now might be the time to pounce, as traditional media owners will do just about anything to get your business. The top 100 advertisers spent 10.2 percent less than they did in the previous year, according to the latest data from TNS media Intelligence and magazine ad pages are down 22 percent through October according to the latest Publishers Information Bureau. Network TV spending was down six percent, and newspaper advertising was down nearly 11 percent over the same period, TNS reports.

Another disturbing data point for media owners is that new research indicates lead generation is what advertisers want these days, not building brands or customer “buzz.” That means every dollar counts and will be measured and held accountable. Nearly 70 percent of marketers surveyed by MarketingSherpa last month said “Generating High Quality Leads” was their biggest challenge, more than twice the number who pointed to brand building, public relations buzz and nearly twice the number who pointed to creating perceived value in “cutting edge” product benefits.

The one bright spot, not surprisingly, was Internet display advertising – up 10.8 percent -- as more marketers shifted funds online. “Perpetual movement is the essence of survival and prosperity online,” quipped Michael Moritz, the Sequoia Capital investor who backed Google, Yahoo and Sugar a fast growing consumer blog network in a New York Times interview last week. “If online media and entertainment companies don’t improve every day, they will just wind up as the newfangled version of Reader’s Digest — bankrupt.”

Welcome to Q4, the last fiscal quarter of this topsy turvey decade. Fasten your seat belts.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Summer of Discontent to Continue?

All signs point to ‘not sure,’ but innovation thriving. Smart ad dollars will find the right home.

Economists and investors were buoyant Friday when the Labor Department announced we lost only a quarter of a million U.S. jobs. Despite the fact that nearly one in 10 (9.7%) able bodied Americans are now officially out of work – the highest jobless rate since 1983 – and millions more have essentially given up trying, Federal Reserve policy makers said they were increasingly confident the downturn had ended and the economy would start growing again in the second half of the year. What’s a quarter million lost jobs when we saw 700,000+ jobs evaporating monthly during the winter?

A “’jobless recovery” may be underway, but experts say we’re still vulnerable to “adverse shocks” and we’re in for a slow, halting rebound. Not exactly the powerful, “makeup-sex” kind of recovery we’ve been accustomed to when rocketing out of previous recessions. Economists say businesses will remain skittish about hiring. Income growth is sluggish. And credit is still tight for millions of households. A further drag on the employment scene is that older workers, who would normally be retiring at their current ages, are fearful of leaving the workforce as the value of pensions, 401ks and uncertainty about social security keeps them feeling anything but secure. Pretty scary, and there’s no little blue pill to fix all that.
A jobless recovery doesn’t conjure warm, fuzzy feelings for marketers, media professionals and other WANT-creators. We’re the folks who depend on businesses and households NOT being able to do more with less. They need to buy, invest, get bigger, better and of course v2.0 and new and improved.

But this trend toward austerity goes against our consumer DNA. It’s not likely to sustain itself as workers burn themselves out or find new jobs; companies lose orders because they can’t fill demand, and U.S. households, just can’t resist bargains. Demand will eventually win out over restraint, and the spending/hiring cycle will ramp up in due time. Just make sure you’re ready for it.

Unusual recession

“This has been an unusual recession in term of severity and the circumstances that triggered it,” noted Abby Joseph Cohen, president of the Global Markets Institute at Goldman Sachs in a recent interview in The Investment Professional magazine. “There has been enormous financial disruption along with a deep and painful recession.” Unlike the prior two recessions which were relatively mild and in which the economy responded well to standard pro-growth policy tools like interest rate reduction and targeted fiscal stimulus policy, the Great Correction of 2008-09 was more extreme and standard policy tools couldn’t be applied, said Joseph. It has been marked by a frozen financial system and economic climate. Goldman Sachs economists expect GDP to be slightly positive in the second half of 09, although Joseph warns the U.S. economic recovery will be linked with the global economy more so than ever before.

What could derail the recovery? Joseph points to three things:
1. Ongoing weakness in the domestic U.S. economy
2. Unresolved financial issues involving mortgages, credit cards and commercial real estate
3. Potential policy missteps in the U.S. and abroad

What’s been lost in all this consternation about the economy is the extent to which innovation (and adoption of new technology) has accelerated.

A nation of early adopters

We’re all gadget geeks now, according to a Forrester Research report released last week which surveyed more than 50,000 households in the U.S. and Canada. Researchers found 63 percent of Americans now have broadband connections, and nearly 10 million households added HDTV in the past year, a 27 percent increase.

Despite the recession, online spending remained strong, with older consumers leading the way. On average, older consumers spent on average $560 online in the past quarter, and one in five, spend over $1,000 over that period. In addition, researchers found that 86 percent of families with children had mobile phones and were more likely to use music, video playback and other advanced features.

More people are also migrating away from the home and office to access the Web via their smartphones. About 15 percent of cellphone owners were using the Internet on their phones in 2008, showing that for a growing number of Americans, there is an increasing “expectation that all the same services and resources are available to us, no matter where we are,” said Charles Golvin, Forrester analyst in a statement.

Outlook murky for ad advertising

All signs point to a relatively robust recovery in ad spending beginning next year, said Matthieu Cooper, a UBS analyst in a recently released report from his forum on the global media climate. Not everyone agrees. For starters, magazine ad pages were down 28 percent for the first half of 2009, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Again, that’s nearly 30 percent lower than the first half of 2008 – which wasn’t exactly a banner year for the print media folks.

Most analysts and ad execs agree the worst is over, but there is little consensus on the strength and duration of the recovery. One reason for caution is that advertisers are waiting….waiting …waiting to commit their budgets. As a result, ad execs and media companies say they have little clarity about spending prospects even for the short term. We may even be seeing a shift back to subscriptions, paid content and other forms of non-advertising revenue.

PWC says the gap between advertising and other forms of media company revenue will continue, as ad spending will remain below 2008 levels for at least another half decade. By contrast, spending on media and entertainment by consumers and businesses will rise to $812 billion in 2013, from $707 billion this year.

If you’re smart, you’ll embrace the new climate of working harder for your money. Marketers and media owners who really take the time to understand their partners’ needs will find a home for the smart dollars still circulating out there. Those that don’t may find themselves left out in the cold, waiting for the good times to return. And it may be a mighty long wait.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recession’s Over (If You Still Have Customers or a Job)

Savvy marketers carefully placing their bets. Research confirms C-Suite and business travelers increasingly embrace the Web. Don’t be a ‘shoulda-woulda-coulda.’

Factory output is growing again. That’s right, the smokestacks and assembly lines are humming anew as we registered the first uptick in the monthly National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Index since December 2007. Experts say manufacturers cut production so sharply during downturn that they depleted inventories and must now ramp up production to meet demand. Any of this sound familiar to you over-reactive media buyers?

Most economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month believe that the recession is over – a milestone we first called in this blog back in April ("Recession Running Out of Steam"). Stocks have been rallying throughout the summer doldrums, and even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke declared last week that the global economy is starting to emerge from recession. The S&P 500 stock index closed at a 10-month high after last week’s nearly two percent advance.

On average, surveyed economists expect to see a 2.4 percent increase in output in the third quarter, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. Construction of new single-family homes has started to climb. Auto sales are up and even sales of existing American homes rose a surprising 7.2 percent to their highest level in nearly two years as cheaper prices and the availability of tax credits continued to entice buyers. Cynics will say it’s a bottom-feeding frenzy, with buyers pouncing in distressed and foreclosed homes. But the smart money says this is more than just a housing sector version of the cash-for-clunkers auto program.

Regular followers of this blog know we’ve seeing nothing more than a natural shakeout of home ownership as we revert to the historical mean of 63.5 home ownership among U.S. households. That’s just a tad under two out of three as we saw in the mid 1980s. Home ownership rose to about 70 percent in mid 2005, just before the bubble burst. It’s now about 67.5 percent and experts say it will gradually go back to 63-ish range over next 10 years. That’s a painful regression to the mean, but just like a .400 baseball hitter entering the dog days of August, you can’t fight the long-term law of averages forever. We love you Joe Mauer, but you can’t beat the almighty Oracle of Equilibrium of the long haul.

The labor market remains one of the biggest soft spots for the economy, though the July monthly jobs report had raised hopes that the worst may be over. Here’s another way to look at it. At no point in our nation’s history have more households felt the need to have both spouses working. And how many American households feel they can get by on just one income? Less than half. That’s right, just 47 percent, according to Country Financial’s Job Loss and Financial Security survey of nearly 800 married employees.

The flip side of equilibrium, of course, is that suffering sectors, like employment will eventually return to the historical norm of about 4.5 percent, from today’s 9.5 percent. You can bet your last Obama button we’ll get there before his first term ends and that’s a heck of a lot of jobs created.

If you buy or sell advertising, you better start taking these macro factors into account, or you’ll be caught in a media inventory shortage that could derail even the best laid of marketing plans.

Webcasting, not just a cool medium. It helps the bottom line

If the live conference and events business didn’t have enough on its plate, a new study by the National Business Travel Association found airports and local governments are not only gouging travelers with prices, but sticking it to them in taxes. The NBTA study found travelers not only pay a local sales tax, but they also spend up to 172 percent more in taxes aimed at visitors each day that they stay at a hotel, dine and rent a car.

In addition to the convenience and improved technology of Webinars, Webcasts and audio seminars, the travel industry continues to sock it to business travelers. Taxes targeting travel-related services – especially at the nation’s busiest airports, like Chicago O’Hare (no surprise), can cost a Fortune 500 company, $50 million to $60 million a year, says NBTA research. “In a tough economic environment, many state and local governments have relied on the old habit of targeting travelers to make up revenue shortfalls, said NBTA.

It’s official. The C-Suite is online

The Internet is the most important source of business information for 60 percent of top executives finds a new report from Forbes and Gartner Group.

Researchers found senior executives spend nearly 16 hours on the Web each week and nearly three in five C-Suite execs hit the Web before they go to work. When they get to work, nearly seven out of eight (86%) check e-mail and half (46%) visit Web sites BEFORE they do any other work. Here’s what they’re up to according to the Forbes/Gartner research gurus:

• 73 percent are doing research
• 65 percent are looking for business and financial news
• 52 percent are checking on competitors and industry trends
• 45 percent are seeking information about products and services
• 32 percent are investigating potential new business partnerships.

So when you’re inundated with wimpy pronouncements from the experts like “cautious optimism,” or “eventual gains” or “starting to emerge,” just think back to where we were six to 12 months ago in the depths of “doom and gloom.” We’ve come a heck of a long ways and if you don’t think that’s a turnaround, then you might want to call your physician and you’re your blood pressure checked. Now is the time to pounce on whatever delayed purchase or strategic initiative you’ve been mulling over. It’s going to be a long, long time before you see cheaper, easier, better or funner time to cut yourself a good deal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can Web Advertising Adjust to Privacy Rules Proposed by Big Government?

Worst of recession appears over, but now real work begins in age of creative destruction.

The Fed held its ground on interest rates today. Yesterday, the U.S. Labor Department said productivity in the second quarter gained 6.4 percent -- the biggest quarterly gain in nearly six years despite an ongoing contraction in the overall economy. More than a few economists have suggested companies are adjusting to the recession by cutting jobs and workers' hours. Or maybe companies are becoming more innovative. Mind you, that’s not the same as “doing more with less” because innovation is proactive and forward-thinking. “Doing more with less” is reactionary, and often a desperation tactic that leads ultimately to worker burnout and defection – not long term profitability when the economy rebounds.

With stocks at their highest levels since autumn, interest rates holding steady, unemployment not getting too much worse at least statistically (see Wall Street Journal video report and the “cash for clunkers” program injecting signs of hope into the auto industry, some analysts are predicting a correction.

Sure there are plenty of signals about this being a “suckers rally,” but even bearish traders are giving credence to the market turnaround. “You can’t knock this market down,” Joe Saluzzi, co-head of equity trading told the New York Times last week. “Every dip is bought. Any sort of downdraft is picked up right away. I’m extremely bearish but I will not short this.” What’s more, the National Association of Realtors said the increase in pending sales – a forward looking measure of the market offered signs that the market is on the mend. New and previously owned sales have leveled off and single family home prices have begun to show some stability.

So just as consumers and businesses are getting their wallet-opening muscles limbered up, the government. may want to throw a wet blanket on the hottest area of ad growth during the past decade, including the recession.

Government online privacy rules a ‘setback to innovation’?

“We’re not committing ourselves to imposing regulation; what we would like to do is figure out useful tools and a more comprehensive way of looking at privacy protections that may obviate the need for rules,” said David Vladek new head of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection in a recent statement. The message is you have to be more transparent about what you’re doing and the privacy “frameworks” the industry has been using historically are no longer sufficient, he said.

Vladek wants sites collecting personal data to get consumers consent whenever they visit the site (opt in)…. But marketers say such a tactic would be disastrous. “It’s impossible to communicate the value prop to a consumer at the point of and advertisement,” Matt Wise CEO of Q Interactive a Chicago online marketing firm told the New York Times and other trade media last week. It would be a tremendous setback to innovation.“

At HB, we think the solution relies somewhere in between in the form of a mutual trust system between innovators and regulators. Marketers and other data gatherers need to be more accountable, if not necessarily transparent, to regulators and consumers about the proprietary personal data they’re gathering – and how they’re gathering it. On the flip side, regulators need to take the time to understand fully how the online marketing mechanism works, why it’s so powerful, and how it’s changing the future of commerce worldwide. Regulators, shouldn’t be allowed to introduce sweeping legislation to punish a few bad apples, without fully understanding the industry they’re trying to govern. Otherwise their actions could bring one of the few growing sectors of our economy to a halt. And that includes emerging platforms such as online video (see below)

Keep your eye on online video

Online video viewing has grown across all age groups, according to new research (pdf) from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life project. Not surprisingly, young adults continue to lead the adoption curve in online video viewing, though adults ages 30-49 also showed big gains over the past year; 67 percent now use video-sharing sites, up from 57% in 2008 according to the Pew study, Researchers found nearly two thirds (62%) of adult internet users have watched online video on a video-sharing website, a figure that has nearly doubled from 33 percent in 2006. The study also found that 19 percent of online adults use video-sharing sites on a typical day (compared with 8 percent in 2006).

While much of the content on video-sharing sites is still user-generated, a growing archive of professional content is becoming increasingly available through YouTube and network-sponsored video portals such as Hulu, MarketingCharts reports. In response, more than one-third (35%) of internet users now say they have viewed a TV show or movie online. This compares with just 16% of internet users who had watched or downloaded movies or TV shows in 2007.

Video outranks social networks, twitter

Pew noted that the use of video-sharing sites currently outranks many other online pastimes of American adults, though video viewing does not always get a proportionate amount of media attention. Watching online videos on sites such as YouTube and Google Video is more prevalent than the use of social networking sites (46% of adult internet users are active on such sites), podcast downloading (19% of internet users) and the use of micro-blogging tools such as Twitter (11% of internet users).

The darkest days are over, but the good times are a long way off. Innovation, whether benign or in the form of “creative destruction” is the only thing that will get us back on the path to prosperity. Let’s just be responsible about how we innovate (or monitor those who innovate).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dow Holds Above 9,000. Home Sales Improve

Recession innovators extending lead over the pack. Mobile advertising gains.
In most parts of the United States, the recession seems to be losing steam and economies are beginning to stabilize, the Federal Reserve said today in a snapshot of economic activity from across the country. This assessment is based on the Fed’s latest “beige book” (PDF)which gauges economic conditions from 12 distinct areas of the country.

“Recession is over, economy is recovering — let’s look forward and stop the backward-looking focus,” John E. Silvia, Wells Fargo’s chief economist, wrote yesterday in a research note.

We're one-third of the way out of the recession, according to Kiplinger's Recovery Index, which tracks six key economic indicators. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) just said that sales of previously occupied homes rose 3.6 percent last month, the third straight month to do so. It was the highest level of sales since October 2008 and beat analysts expectations. Meanwhile, the Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas, produced by Standard & Poor's, rose 0.5% in May from the month before, the first increase after 34 straight months of decline. If you’re keeping score, the median sales price nationwide is now up to $181,800, up from 174,700 last month -- still 15 percent below $215,000 a year ago – but a key positive trend to be sure.

According to Kiplingers, home prices may be bottoming out after two years of decline (some say they bottomed out six months ago), but at least people are buying stuff. Said the Kippies: "Home sales activity is a key indicator of the economy's health because buying a house involves such a large commitment of funds, reflecting confidence about the future. Rising home sales also show that banks are willing and able to lend, which is another requirement of a healthy economy."

But, what about the sky high unemployment rate? Oh that. Jobless claims are still at record highs, but since unemployment lags behind other economic indicators, that’s not the downer it may appear – provided you’re among the lucky few still working. Breaking from historical patterns, the unemployment rate -- currently at generation-high 9.5 percent -- is ONLY one to 1.5 percentage points higher than would be expected under one economic rule of thumb, Lawrence Summers, President Barack Obama's top economic adviser told the Wall Street Journal last week. Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost 6.5 million jobs, 4.7 percent of total employment. The unemployment rate has jumped five percentage points, while the economy has contracted by roughly 2.5 percent.

If you can take a moment to ignore the painful shrinkage to your retirement account, investments and college savings plans, the midsummer stream of earnings reports from major companies is refreshing, and so is the market's reaction to them. So far, July's quarterly results are reassuring in the macro view. Neither the economy nor the indexes are on the verge of backsliding, and they've helped push the Dow above 9,000. Some 61 percent of the companies in Standard & Poor's 500-stock index to report for the quarter beat analysts' forecasts.

White House budget director Peter Orszag and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke have all talked publicly about the unusual disconnect between growth and employment. Though today's disparity between growth and jobs is especially stark, a jobless recovery wouldn't be new: The past two recessions were marked by firms reluctant to resume hiring right away after demand recovered. The current disconnect could reflect an unanticipated surge in productivity -- companies finding ways to increase output with fewer workers. That could set up the economy to grow rapidly in future years. Rising productivity is the linchpin of economic growth and rising living standards.

As history shows time and time again, if the wisdom of the crowd thinks things are getting better, then they eventually WILL get better, because so much of our economy (and marketing strategy) is based on psychology, rather than true fundamentals. as we predicted earlier this year (“Recessions Can Spawn the Best Ideas”) companies that hunkered down during the depths of the downturn – rather than full scale retreat – are starting to show the fruits of those decisions.

Innovation Rules

Last week Apple Computer reported its best non-holiday quarter ever -- earnings up 15 percent -- despite continued malaise in the overall electronics sector. Meanwhile the U.S. financial markets leapt to their highest level since November on news that The Conference Board’s Index of leading economic indicators rose for the third straight month in June. While the increase was a modest 0.7 percent, the index hasn’t had a three-month win streak since 2004 and seven of the 10 data points it tracks showed improvement including building permits. The S&P 500 Index – in which 70 percent of companies have posted better than expected earnings -- is up 5.3 percent for the year and up 41 percent since its early March nadir. The broader Wilshire 5000 Index is up 7.5 percent for the year.

Analysts point to unexpectedly strong sales of Macintosh computers and a surge in iPhone purchases. We’ve been banging the “innovate when times are worst” drum for months here in this blog and Apple’s an example of why. Its products work and function the way the human brain thinks. {Disclosure: we have not financial or promotional interest in Apple Computer, Inc.). Apple customers – not corporate I.T. wonks or Indian outsourcing farms – control the customer experience.

“We’re making our most innovative products ever and our customers are responding,” said Steve Jobs, Apple CEO in a statement. Shaw Wu, a Kaufman Brothers analyst, told the New York times that Macs were “resonating with increasing numbers of customers, as it is arguably the best platform for what people do today, which includes Web surfing and creating and managing content.”

Thanks to the Web, the rules are dramatically changing in the music industry too. The Internet, not record labels, is increasingly calling the shots when it comes to promoting and distributing music. Physical album sales fell 20 percent to 362 million last year, according to Nielsen, but sales of individual digital tracks rose 27 percent to 1.07 billion – that’s right billion – more than enough to make up the shortfall.

Major record labels no longer have an iron fist on creating and selling professional music and getting air time on the radio. Polyphonic and other savvy startups are running their record labels like VC firms, by investing in promising bands, allowing them to record their own music and choose outside contractors to handle their publicity, merchandising, touring, etc. Instead of groveling for advances and praying for royalties if they create a hit, musicians share in all the profits from their music and touring. Guess what, they’ll also maintain ownership of their own copyrights and master-recordings. Can you imagine Sony, Warner or EMI cutting deals like that with up-and-comers, let alone their stars?

The year of the true multimedia campaign?

Three in four (74%) of advertisers using the Internet are doing so more than they did a year ago, while half (49%) who use print are using it less, according to a recent Linked In / Harris poll (PDF) of 1,015 ad agency and marketing execs nationwide. The poll not only found 69 percent of mobile marketers are using the medium more than they did a year ago, but more than half of online advertisers overall, are using the Web as part of a broader multi-media campaign. Just one in seven (14%) Web advertisers, are committing dollars only to online.

We’re not out of the woods by a long shot. But those who continued to trust their instincts, resourcefulness and innate sense of direction during the darkest days are going to be the first ones seeing the clearing through the trees.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ad Spending Plans, Economic Indicators Trending Up

Will agencies, consumers join the party? Business Week on the block.

Business Week is officially up for sale and there ain’t exactly a bidding war brewing for the once venerable bible of the business world. The nationwide unemployment rate closes in on a generation-high 10 percent and housing prices languish, yet new research indicates economic pessimism among marketers, and to a lesser extent, agency media buyers appears to have bottomed out last spring. NOTE: If you recall, we called the recession statistically all but over in this blog back in early April although we cautioned it could take 12 months or more for spending, confidence and decision-making to improve.

Ad spending was miserable in the first half of 2009 –- down nearly 15 percent according to Interpublic group -– but ad spending PLANS are now trending upward, according to a new report from Advertiser Perceptions Inc (API). API says Cable TV and outdoor media also are improving and now have more media decision makers planning to boost their budgets than to decrease them over the next six months, and while broadcast TV, radio, magazines and national newspapers all are still negative on balance, they are also all improving from low confidence points earlier this year.

"Leading the way are marketers, who are more optimistic than their agencies," said API partner, Ken Pearl, in a statement. API historically conducts big semi-annual surveys tracking the perceptions of advertisers and agency media buyers about the major media, including their confidence levels, but opted to conduct the confidence tracking more frequently this year to monitor an inflection point in the advertising economy.

The most recent survey, which is based on the responses of more than 200 media decision makers over the past several weeks, indicates that their plans for most major media are once again ascending, especially among marketers who seem slightly more optimistic than their agency counterparts.

Ad Optimism Is Improving For Most Media, High For Mobile/Online

MEDIA ....“OPTIMISM”...........STATUS........TREND
Mobile ......57............. Optimistic....Improving
Cable TV.... 17..............Optimistic....Improving
Broadcast TV.-7..............Pessimistic...Improving
Natl. Newsp..-36.............Pessimistic...Improving
Local Newsp..-47.............Pessimistic...Declining

Source: Advertiser Perceptions Inc. "Optimism" is defined by the number of percentage points separating the percentages of respondents citing plans to increase or decrease their advertising budgets in each medium over the next six months. Trends are based over three bi-monthly tracking reports conducted so far this year.

“It's imperative that we begin to shake up the way we think about traditional media,” commented a reader of Joe Mandese’s popular MediaPost column. “It's a fallacy that each medium is an island unto itself. We must move into a new phase of using all the media we have available to us in concert with one another.

Said another poster: “Being in Media ad sales it is good to see a positive trend at last. This generally means that business is starting to move past the current recession. Since the Fall is buying season it would be nice to hear something other than ‘no budget’”.

Let’s hope marketers and agencies are putting their money where their mouths are and focusing on the road ahead, not the rear view mirror. Just make sure you folks stay off your cell phones when driving.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You Can Stimulate Your Way Back to Stability

But you can only invent your way back to prosperity.

“Historically, recessions are a time when new companies are born and great companies separate themselves from the competition,” quipped Thomas Friedman last week in a NY Times editorial.

Amen to that, Tom, who opined further: “We might be able to stimulate our way back to stability, but we can only invent our way back to prosperity. We need everyone at every level to get smarter.”

Getting companies smarter is more easily said than done these days, but it’s happening and not just at Google, Amazon and Facebook.

The Times’ Friedman still believes America, with its unrivaled freedoms, VC industry, research universities and openness to new immigrants has the best assets to be taking advantage of this moment – to “out- innovate our competition.” Unfortunately, most corporate coffers are nailed shut. Easy bank financing is a faded memory and venture capital is going through a seismic contraction.

“Personally I think the funds have gotten too big. Our biggest challenge is to think smaller and make smaller, smarter investments,” noted VC icon, Alan Patricof of Greycroft Partners at a recent venture investing conference in San Francisco.

According to the National Venture Capital Association, investment in venture capital funds shrank to $4.3 billion in the first quarter of 2009, from $7.1 billion in the same quarter of 2008. That’s a whopping 40-percent drop, but some experts think it’s a blessing in disguise, because it lowers the flow of capital into these funds. There won’t be as much excess money chasing bad deals and the VC industry may start seeing double digit returns some day. NVCA says investors are seeing about six-percent annually on their money over five years, down from 48 percent annually at the start of this decade.

With easy bank financing and easy VC money a thing of the past, organizations large and small are going to have to keep operating smarter.

More proof against cutting back on ads in a downturn

Just as cutting back on innovation during tough times comes back to haunt you when better times return, dramatically cutting back on advertising can be severely damaging to your market share and reputation.

Two recent surveys surveys of banking and retail consumers by research firm, Ad-Ology, found advertisers who cut back substantially during the downturn are building negative brand association. For instance:

• 48% of respondents agreed such advertisers “must be struggling”
• 12% of responds agreed “they may not be in business much longer.

Could good ol’ common sense be making a comeback? Read below for two examples.

Pearls of wisdom from the common-sense department

Generic Web site names that are self-explanatory deliver much higher click-through rates than a more abstract or clever name, says a new study by Memorable Domains. The study compares three sites using AdWords pay per click campaign for ads for electric bikes. “” got 45 percent more clicks than “” and 105 percent more clicks than “”

Why? Experts says the self-explanatory site name makes sense and reassures prospects to see search terms reflected in a Web site address.

Tech companies: research says disclose price info if you want to make the sale

Many marketers are reluctant to disclose prices online, but that’s what many prospects want. According to a 2008-09 Marketing Sherpa {} survey of 3,108 decision makers. Eighty-nine percent agreed that a technology vendor got the sale or inside track for a sale at their company because they were more open than rivals about their pricing.

There’s never been a better time to re-examine every way you do business, from selling into new markets, supporting existing customers and developing new products and services. But, while your immersed in financial navel-gazing, remember, you’ve can’t neglect to keep the advertising and marketing faucet turned on. And while you’re at it, make sure you tell ‘em exactly what it is you do and how much you charge. It’s just a matter of how (not how much) you choose to invest your marketing dollars in explaining your value proposition.

Turning the spigot on and off as business conditions fluctuate isn’t the answer. Your customers will see through the ruse during good times and forget about you when times get tough. Not only will you fail to separate yourself from the competition, but your competitors will start separating you from your long-time customers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mid-Year Media Reflections

Digital drives ad industry growth and business models. But it’s not all about the new.

Whether or not we’re pulling ourselves out of this (hopefully) once-in-a-generation economic quagmire remains to be seen. New jobs are being created, but the rate of unemployment is at 25 year highs in most parts of the country. The financial markets surged 40 percent after hitting 12-year lows in March, but they’ve been stuck in neutral the past month and most indices are about where they were at the start of the year. That means, investors haven’t lost real money, but they’re not keeping up with inflation either. Home sales are rising, but the median price of homes continues to plummet. Interest rates remain at historic lows, but no one’s really in a position to act on the bargain rates.

Despite this macro-inertia, it’s heartwarming to see that as in tough times before, innovation is thriving – no thanks to the venture capital community -- and long delayed-tough decisions are being made across all industries and walks of life.

In the media business, newspapers and magazines are taking it on the chin as both subscribers and advertisers are fleeing to more immediate and lower-cost outlets for news, information and entertainment. No surprise there. Some of the lost advertising and subscription revenue will return when the economy rebounds, but the rules of the game have changed so much that the tipping point has long since been passed.

What’s most striking about the media landscape in this downturn is that the audience (not the media gatekeepers) have stormed the cockpit and taken over the controls. Whether you’re in old media, new media or somewhere in between, you better get used to the idea that the audience/customer is calling the shots, not you. Get used to it.

Audience in control

Christian Dirschl, Content Architect for global information company Wolters Kluwer calls it the 4A’s: “Anyone can say Anything about Any topic at Any time.”

As Michael Marcel Fenez, Global Leader of Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Entertainment & Media practice observed in a report released last week, “The accelerated migration to digital technologies has reinforced and proliferated new consumption habits and ‘digital behaviors’ as consumers seek more control over where, when and how they consume content while, more than ever, watching their pennies and seeking the best value from the choices they make.”

Over the next five years, PWC projects newspapers will lose $13 billion, dropping about 32 percent of its advertising revenue as digital technologies become increasingly widespread. The report expects print advertising overall to fall the most from $36.7 billion in 2008 to $24.3 billion in 2013. Online advertising revenue is anticipated to decline over the next two years. PWC expects online ad revenue to grow at a 2.5 percent compound annual rate from 2008.

Can’t hide from the digital migration

Fenez says the economic downturn has accelerated and intensified the digital migration among both providers and consumers of content. “Companies who grasp the opportunities which are appearing in this fast changing marketplace and are agile enough to adapt their business models will be able to take full advantage of the potential and new revenue models as they emerge.”

For instance, end-user spending through digital/ mobile platforms accounted for 23.4 per cent of the overall consumer/end-user/ access market in 2008 and should account for 78 per cent of total growth during the next five years, says PWC.

Consumers are taking control in various ways.

• They’re “time-shifting” via digital video recorders and video-on-demand to free them up from the TV schedule enabling them to watch what they want when they want.

• Increased broadband penetration is enabling them to get what they want from wherever they want while improvements in technology allow better downloading and streaming.

• Growth in mobile access is allowing consumers to access the Internet from any location and giving rise to the popularity of high-end devices such as smartphones, iPods, and the Kindle that combine mobility and access.

• The advances in digital music are also allowing consumers to purchase songs individually through digital channels (unavailable in physical format) and generating growth in “sideloading,” which allows consumers to buy music less expensively online, then transferring that music to mobile devices.

The changing face of advertising

PWC predicts that over the next five years, as consumers receive an increasing proportion of their E&M through digital/mobile platforms, advertisers will shift their resources to reflect the increasingly fragmented ad market. In the mobile arena, opportunities across the advertising continuum will enable the growth between brands and consumers, ranging from click-through banner ads and pre-roll ads on video clips through coupons and online subscriptions.

The growing proportion of Internet and mobile advertising in the overall global advertising mix will rise from around 12 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2013.

Age of accountability

However, the migration reinforces the need for greater transparency and accuracy over audience metrics which together with accountability for ad results, is becoming a “must have” in this new media world.

“Though operating in challenging and fast-moving times, this has never been such an exciting time for the industry,” say Fenez. “The accelerating digitization is why there is no place to hide from new models and dynamics across the industry. The winners will be those players who focus on driving and leading change that delivers real value for consumers.”

It’s Not All About the New

“Never adapt technology for the sake of technology,” cautioned Richard Oppenheim in a recent CPA Technology Advisor editorial. Make decisions based on usability and company business support. Technology requires frequent assessments that are often confused by the emotional pull of the new, the sexy and the visually gorgeous. Knowing how and when to make the decisions to change technology means doing evaluations and analysis that effectively measure the impact of that change on dollars, resources and people.”

Great ideas can come from anywhere at any time from all types of people and organizations. Don’t throw out the old, just to make room for the new, but keep your eyes wide open for new opportunities, apps and technologies that can bring fun and bottom line value to your business. Explore everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re currently twittering or tweeting, just keep testing, tweaking and exploring.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Headfake or a Legit Rally?

Nobody knows. But at least some folks are out on the field and they're “in it to win it.”

New numbers from Forrester Research predict that interactive marketing spending will hit $25.6 billion this year -- up 11 percent from $23.1 billion in 2008, despite being flat, as marketers shift money from traditional media to digital channels. That total, which also includes search, email, social media and mobile marketing dollars, is expected to more than double to nearly $55 billion by 2014. "This growth is due to marketers seeking lower cost, more accountable channels which are also widely used by their customers," wrote Forrester analyst Shar Van Boskirk, in a blog post previewing the firm's interactive spending forecast due out in June.

A recent Forrester survey of more than 200 marketers found that 60 percent planned to increase interactive budgets by pulling back spending on traditional outlets. The biggest victim of the trend will be direct mail, which stands to be slashed by 40 percent. Print will not fare much better, with spending on newspapers expected to be cut by 35 percent, and magazines by 28 percent.

By contrast, mobile and social media will enjoy the biggest spending gains in interactive -- increasing nearly 70 percent to $391 million and almost 60 percent to $716 million, respectively, in 2009. But the recession's toll on other segments will leave display advertising virtually flat at $7.8 billion, and email up only slightly to $1.2 billion. Search marketing, which will get a lift from the shift of traditional and online display ad dollars, is expected to grow 14% to $15.4 billion.

Over the next half decade, however, Forrester expects online display advertising to grow at a faster compound annual growth rate (17%) than search (15%) or e-mail marketing (11%). We’re reaching out to Forrester to see if they will explain this phenomenon in their next report due out in June.

As a harbinger of things to come, American Business Media's just-released 2009 Media Financial Survey, showed B2B media company revenue declined 2.2 percent in 2008 versus 2007, but revenue growth in online, live events, and data products helped offset declines in revenue for magazines. Of the six key B2B media company revenue categories (Magazines, Custom Publishing, Data, Online, Tradeshows and Conferences), Online revenue showed the strongest growth, increasing 15.1 percent in 2008, and rising at a CAGR of 26.8 percent from 2006. Magazines were the weakest performers, showing an 8.4 percent decrease in 2008, and a decline of 3.9 percent on a CAGR basis over the three year period.

Search and display ads work together

Just as global marketers are learning to weave together old and new media into their campaigns, it no longer has to be an either/or decision about which form of digital to deploy. New research from iProspect indicates display ads do influence search behavior. The findings rely on data to support industry rhetoric that display ads and search work together to provide a bigger impact on campaigns. The "Search Engine Marketing and Online Display Advertising Integration Study" suggests that while 31 percent of people click on display ads, nearly as many – 27 percent -- go to search engines to provide a search. More than 20 percent type the company Web address into their browser and directly navigate to the Web site, and 9 percent respond by investigating the product, brand, or company through social media.

More signs of things at least not getting worse

• Although unemployment (8.9%) is at its highest level in decades, NEW claims for state unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, the fourth decline in five weeks. Many economists say this trend provides further evidence that the pace of layoffs has slowed after months of steep job cuts.

• Nonfarm payrolls fell 539,000, the smallest decline in six months

• The equity markets are not giving back their historic gains of the past two months – the Dow and S&P are up nearly 30 percent from their March lows and at or near positive territory for the year to date…..Bring on the headfake.

• OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation service, could soon become the first venture-backed company to be brought to the public markets in nine months. It’s a real company, whose service is easy to use, widely adopted with a legit balance sheet behind it. {Disclosure: We have perused its SEC filings, but have no financial stake in this company}

Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square Ventures and a blogger about venture capital, recently wrote that the I.P.O. drought for venture-backed companies would end in the next year and perhaps by the end of this year. “I don't know if this market rally we've been having is a headfake or the end of the bear market. My gut says we'll see at least one more pronounced down move before we see bottom.”

For one, he said, venture capitalists have been punished long enough for selling shares of so many undeserving companies during the dot-com bubble. There are many high-quality companies sitting in the pipeline, ready to go public as soon as they can, he said. He argued that many of them — including OpenTable — have business models such as subscriptions, which make for strong public companies.

It’s similar to the equity markets in which many traders and analysts remain cautiously bullish on stocks. How come? In part it’s because pressure is rising for investors sitting on the sidelines to put to work their excess cash, which is garnering little interest because of the Federal Reserve's rock-bottom target aimed at spurring an economic recovery.

"The fundamentals almost don't matter at the moment," Cantor Fitzgerald strategist Marc Pado, told the Wall Street Journal today, pointing to recent data from the Investment Company Institute showing that retail investors are holding almost $4 trillion in cash reserves. "If we even get a small percentage of that money come into the market, you can easily get another leg to this rally."

Back to I.P.O.’s, the picture is not exactly rosy. I.P.O. filings are down 94 percent compared to last year and there have been only four I.P.O.’s this year, versus 28 by this time last year, according to Renaissance Capital’s IPO Home.

Still, there are some good signs for technology companies in the pipeline. Over the last 12 months, tech I.P.O.’s have been the most popular. Technology I.P.O.’s have returned on average 28 percent and health care and biotech I.P.O.’s have returned 24 percent, while all other sectors, including clean energy, have posted negative average returns, according to IPO Home.

Can the Big 3 business magazines save themselves?

Like the Big 3 automakers, the Big 3 business magazines may have to undergo a dramatic and painful restructuring to stay in the media game, says TechCrunch columnist Sarah Lacy. She says it’s a near certainty that Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek, will be cutting staff and frequency, but can still maintain some form of long-form investigative stories they’re famous for.

Here’s Lacy’s call for competing with blogs, Web pubs and other immediate, lower-cost forms of journalism: "ruthlessly collapse" the print and online versions into one unit, churn out one or two cover-length pieces per print issue while filling the rest with the best stories and user comments from the Web.” Then cut the money spent on courting new subscribers, and shift the entire marketing budget to promoting the Web product or real-life conferences and branded events. You’ve now got one publication, not two pretending to be one. One publication is a lot cheaper, even if it's printed on dead trees. Under this system, Lacy says, 99 percent of your staff's focus is on the online product, with the other one percent devoted to writing lengthy features for the print pub, which will continue to attract a separate audience. Yes, your pub will operate more like a blog, but it won't sacrifice the print ad revenue stream, either.

Food for thought.

As we’ve mentioned numerous times in recent months, every crisis breeds opportunity. You’re never going to get an “ALL CLEAR” memo in your inbox saying “The Great Disruption” is finally over, so it’s OK to resume hiring, spending and innovating. So if you think there’s even a reasonable chance things are not getting worse, then they’re probably a lot better than you think.

As Daniel Pink , author of Free Agent Nation, notes, our nation’s continued viability depends on what he calls the “imagination economy” – things like creativity, vision and playfulness – that cannot be outsourced. Now’s the time.