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.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Millionaire Returns to Prime Time. Investors and Home Buyers Return to Markets

And you just had your budget slashed and headcount trimmed. How to sell beyond the spreadsheet.

It’s just so predictable. We’re on the verge of one of the greatest economic recoveries in a generation and Corporate America is still figuring out how to hunker down and get even leaner and meaner. At HB we’re all for spending wisely, but at some point, you can’t keep asking what’s left of your staff to run on fumes, smoke, mirrors and duct tape.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to start investing in talented people and regaining your market share with some smartly placed ad spending. If not, you’re not only going to be left alone on the launch pad; you’re going to be singed by your competitors’ after-burner fumes. Pink slips continue across all sectors of the workforce, including the media business. Conde Nast shutters Portfolio. More marketing directors report cuts in spending. IDC's marketing barometer study, which looked at b-to-b marketing trends for the first quarter of 2009, noted overall spending was down about 10 percent.

So what. Back in March on this blog, we called the statistical end to the Great Recession (aka “Great Disruption”) of 2008-2009. Since then, positive indicators keeping cropping up like dandelions in the northern climes of this country. You don’t have to look too hard to find them.

The Equity Markets: The S&P 500 is in positive territory for the year – having rebounded more than 34 percent from its 12 year low in March. The Nasdaq Composite Index is up nearly 12 percent for the year.

Housing: Pending sales of previously owned homes rose for a second month in March, while construction spending edged higher. A Federal Reserve survey of loan officers showed demand for prime mortgages rose in the first quarter for the first time since early 2007. The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in March, rose 3.2 percent as first-time buyers waded into the market to take advantage of favorable prices and mortgage rates, and an $8,000 federal tax credit.

Consumer Confidence: For the first time in five years, more Americans than not think the country is “headed in the right direction” (48% to 44%) according to the latest Associated Press/Roper GfK Roper Public Affairs poll released last week.

Popular Culture: The game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” – which got a nostalgic boost from “Slumdog Millionaire’s” dominance of the Oscars this spring, will return to prime time (ABC-TV) for a two-week tournament this summer, with Regis Philbin again as host. (Disclosure: my wife works in production for this show). Millionaire, which has been quietly chuggling along nicely in syndication for years, since being dropped from prime time in 2001 (with “only” 10 million viewers). At its height in the late 1990s, it had 30 million viewers. Wealth and life-altering hope is back.

Macro Economy: The U.S. economy is on track for a recovery later this year, but the pickup is likely to be sluggish and the jobless rate is likely to rise further, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday. "We expect economic activity to bottom out, then to turn up later this year," he said in testimony prepared for delivery to the congressional Joint Economic Committee. Bernanke said the expected recovery will only gradually gain steam and that the economy would grow below its longer-run potential for a while. "Businesses are likely to be cautious about hiring, implying that that the jobless rate could remain high for a time, even after economic growth resumes," he said. Go back and review your history books. That’s a green light if we’ve ever seen one! He didn’t even mention that borrowing rates, oil prices and inflation rates are at the lowest levels in a generation.

What Online Publishers Can Learn From Print Sales

Since we’re sometimes accused of being too hard on print media, we’d like to point out a smart pro-print piece in Online Publishing Insider blog the other day by Kevin Mannion of Sky Road Consulting. Again, we don’t believe in bashing print or any other media. We just don’t believe the days of a single media dominating the landscape are likely to return.

Here are some excerpts of Mannnion’s commentary: “As a rule, digital media is numbers and results-oriented, while print has traditionally relied on a more conceptual sell. Online selling is geared to the spreadsheet; print to the PowerPoint presentation. Print selling emphasizes market knowledge, educating clients --especially on the marketer side -- on buying dynamics, and telling a compelling sales story that shows clients how they will succeed. Digital selling is fast, RFP-oriented, emphasizing media technology knowledge and campaign metric optimization.

Successful digital selling requires going beyond the spreadsheet, while selling print ads needs to be more metrics-oriented than ever before. But the best online sales teams have learned from the legacy of print selling. They don't rely on hits and clicks and answering RFPs with agency spreadsheets neatly filled in with the right numbers. They know how to move beyond the RFP to market creation. And most important, they know how to sell their audience engagement story -- and sell it as a highly compelling advertiser/audience engagement story.Simple truth: Advertisers care about how you can help them see more business through their sales funnel.”

Sure, we could spend the rest of this space hedging our optimism with talk about “bear market rallies”, less-tha-stellar bank stress test results and fears of inflation. But if you want your organization to be a leader rather than a follower, you’ve got to throw out your lifelines, commit to business as usual and start gobbling up market share that your rivals are leaving on the table. If you don’t someone else will.

Final answer!