Lifestyle publishers are trying their hands at building trade publications. But as past efforts have shown, this can be a difficult undertaking as publishers would have to navigate challenges ranging from potential friction in ad sales to allocating the proper amount of editorial resources.
Over the past several weeks, several lifestyle titles, including Vogue, Architectural Digest and Food & Wine, have launched — or announced plans to launch — business-focused editorial products aimed at professionals in the areas their titles cover. In January, Vogue launched Vogue Business, a bi-weekly newsletter; on March 15, Food & Wine launched F&W Pro, sub-brand that includes a newsletter, podcast, licensed awards programs and events; and in April, Architectural Digest will launch AD Pro, a paywalled product that includes exclusive content, instructional videos, a jobs board and networking opportunities.
The moves to dabble in B2B comes as ad-driven, scaled media models are called into question and models focused on specific audiences, along with diversified business models, rise in estimation. B2B, in its roots, ticks both boxes.
For consumer publishers, there are some built-in advantages they bring to B2B spinoffs: Large, pre-existing audiences, many of whom work in the industries each title covers; more resources, either owned or shared, that will enable them to grow quickly; and relationships with the businesses that should serve as their customers.
But the history of publishers trying to run B2B and B2C businesses simultaneously is checkered. While there are some successes to point to — Politico’s pricy subscriptions, for example, now account for more than half of the politics publisher’s revenue – there have also been times when such efforts haven’t panned out: in 2014, 15 years after acquiring Fairchild Fashion Media for $650 million, Condé Nast sold off WWD’s parent company for a reported $100 million.
“It almost requires creating two parallel organizations,” said Rafat Ali, the founder and CEO of Skift, a B2B publisher focused on travel and dining that, before it launched, had planned to pursue both consumer and professional audiences. Skift abandoned its B2C ambitions several years ago. Trying to add a B2B operation to a B2C operation could create friction for different departments, Ali said. A B2C sales team, for example, might grouse about having to drum up business — and smaller commissions — from a new cluster of B2B advertisers.
The biggest differences between B2B and B2C publishing have to do with expertise. On the editorial side, reporters at a consumer-facing publication don’t necessarily need to know anything about the businesses of the industries they cover. They may not even need to be reporters. In contrast, a baseline of knowledge is necessary in B2B media, as is a focus on numbers and data, said Josh Resnik, svp and chief content officer of Roll Call Media.
The new products from Architectural Digest and Food & Wine are handling this in different ways. For AD Pro, Architectural Digest hired a dedicated reporting staff of 10 that came from titles including Business of Home and Architectural Record. At Food & Wine, the pro product relies on expertise its editor in chief acquired during his days as a professional chef; it also plans to tap food business reporters as contributors down the line.
Ad sales can also be a challenge when moving from B2C to B2B. While a consumer-facing sales team can earn its keep by responding to advertisers’ requests for proposals or successfully winning bids for a brand’s existing marketing budgets, plenty of businesses that drive a B2B publisher’s ad revenues – supply chain vendors, for example, or back-office software providers – may not necessarily have those assets. They may not even do advertising at all.
“Advertisers who are buying B2B media are doing it for tactical reasons,” said Paul Jowdy, the chief business officer and publisher of WWD, who spent more than a decade in consumer media before moving to WWD. “You have to create reasons on the B2B side for them to run ads. They’re not like auto brands that are just looking for places to spend their media dollars.”
This new crop of B2B titles hopes to avoid that in the early stages by building on established relationships with advertisers. Food and Wine Pro, for example, sees a big opportunity to pitch different campaigns to wineries that are interested in targeting hoteliers and restaurateurs.
Business advertisers won’t mind that these properties can’t deliver huge scale right out of the gate, said Giulio Capua, vp and group publisher of Departures, Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine. “Many [wineries] are not deep into digital advertising, and they’re more concerned with quality over quantity,” Capua said. “A good newsletter strategy is a great business opportunity for them.”
Condé Nast will also look to derive consumer revenue from its new B2B products. AD Pro will launch in April with a metered paywall, and expects to attract 15,000 subscribers in its first full year, according to Eric Gillin, chief business officer of Condé Nast’s lifestyle portfolio.
“Advertising is wonderful, and we’re lucky to have it as part of the mix,” Gillin said. “But when we look at this business, we focus on the consumer revenue first.”
Among other challenges, B2B and B2C publications have different technology and product needs, too, which can range from paywalls to a bigger emphasis on consumer relationships, Resnik said.
At Condé Nast, the new B2B products benefit from existing infrastructure built by the corporate parent. Vogue Business was created using a five-step development process designed by Condé Nast International, which assesses the business prospects of products that are monetized through means other than advertising, said Ciara Byrne, Condé Nast International’s director of business development, at the recent Digiday Publishing Summit Europe.
What’s more, the same consumer marketing division that helped stand up the paywalls at Wired and Vanity Fair worked with Architectural Digest from its inception, Gillin said.