B2B Communication at Medill

By Abe Peck

Last year, I bit when John Lavine, dean at Medill / Northwestern, asked me to head an initiative to strengthen B2B at the School. After all, the first magazine to which I’d consulted, an in-house magazine for Kodak, was all about business information. I’d worked with Advanstar, Crain’s, Global Sources, Nielsen, Putman, Reed and Vance on B2B projects. And this organization had honored me with its most recent Lifetime Achievement Award. It seemed a great way to stay involved with Medill now that I was heading west as a professor emeritus.

But, of course, this opportunity was about more than vocational therapy for me. John had identified a real opportunity that we had a shot at doing well. Even with the stresses B2B niches face today, the parlous general economy and specific media economics, and the at-times overwhelming whirlwind of technologies involved in how we hunt and gather information, B2B offers many teachable moments and programmatic opportunities. Medill’s unique combination of journalism, integrated marketing communications (IMC) and media management resonates with the entire B2B spectrum, from magazines to corporate web sites. And Medill 2020, our curricular initiative, stresses both cross-platform work and deep understanding of audiences – exactly the targeted niches of B2B.

We had a foundation to build on. Several B2B prototypes in the Magazine Publishing Project had been published commercially. Students in that sequence already write, blog and shoot live assignments for B2B titles. IMC students work on strategic communications campaigns. Undergrad journalism and graduate IMC grad students serve in residencies at venues from American Salon to Editor & Publisher to the B2B information sites of major corporations. And students vie for existing scholarships and awards that commemorate B2B leaders – Crain, Friedman, Gordon, Horton, Pellegrin.

The Media Management Center – half Medill, half Kellogg school of Management – has partnered with American Business Media (ABM) on fast-track executive seminars and Kellogg students have studied possible inflection points when print might best go web. Finally, top managers and editors – from Pat McGovern to Aric Press – continue to serve as McAllister Fellows, raising consciousness about excellence in B2B.

Not bad. But plenty more could be done to enhance Medill’s contribution to the B2B environment.

  • We drafted a brochure to outline our strengths and the activities we’d take on during this academic year.
  • We constituted a team of point persons on our various campuses – Evanston and Chicago, but also DC and Qatar. They currently are coming up with “big ideas” for us to consider. We also empowered a specific digital point person, to ensure that we cover portals, podcasts and social networks.
  • Forty faculty and staff attended my Jan. 15, 2009, presentation on the B2B landscape. Given how busy people are, that was especially gratifying.
  • A B2B Intranet will house presentations and best industry practices from trade shows to mobile media, as well as lists of potential guest speakers, human resource staff. Externally, the www.medill.northwestern.edu site will promote our initiative.

To be listed, just contact me at a-peck@northwestern.edu and tell me what you’re best at. Additionally, Feb. 12 and 13 will be Medill B2B Days. Faculty in Evanston, Chicago and Washington will bring practitioners into their classes to expand their definitions of news, information, search and cross-media excellence. I’ll be moderating a Crain lecture panel on the Evanston campus that will discuss B2B trends with Peggy Walker (president, Vance and incoming ABM chair), Gary Slack (CEO, Slack Barshinger), award-winning editor Dan Verdon (DVM Newsmagazine) and Ellis Booker of Crain’s BtoB and BtoB Media. Check www.medill.northwestern.edu for details about this free event.

And on April 8th, the annual Medill Career Fair will included B2B companies offering jobs and internships. If you have openings for tomorrow’s leaders, contact Medill Career Services Director Jim O’Brien at j-obrien@northwestern.edu.

Going forward, we will assess and act on the best of our ideas. Medill merges both practice and research, and we hope to create new knowledge on engagement, peer-to-peer media and other important issues that can empower B2B going forward. The Media Management Center is exploring B2B programs in the Middle East and at other international venues. In terms of old-school media, a book on an aspect of media power (no jinxing it with preliminary disclosure) would include B2B. And we’ll get after more scholarship support for our best students.

I’m the catalyst for this effort through September, and perhaps beyond that. Please let me know how we can work together for better B2B, at a-peck@northwestern.edu.

Abe Peck became director of business to business communication at Medill / Northwestern after 27 years as a professor there. He consults to Advanstar and other B2B media in the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, China and India, and received the ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

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