Friday, January 06, 2006

More on the end of CMO

When I first heard that CMO magazine was folding, I held out hope that the Web site might survive. But that was wishful thinking. And within a few hours, it became clear that the electronic product would also close.
Consider what this means. The CMO enterprise -- print, Web site, bloggers, etc. -- was one of the best things ever produced in B2B media.
Yet it couldn't survive.

A few hours before I heard the news about CMO, I was on the phone with a new client who is revamping an online product (FULL DISCLOSURE: Sorry, this client has requested anonymity.) We talked about new competitors -- bloggers, low-cost newsletters, etc. And he suggested that his best defense was in a "flight to quality."
Now I would never suggest that quality is not important. Nor would I suggest that it does not provide a competitive advantage. But I am sometimes skittish about a publication that sees its advantage as quality. That's chiefly because such publications are often not as good as the folks who work on them think they are.
But CMO is a perfect example of a product where quality was its chief advantage. CMO was magnificent. It was as good as things get in our business. And that's why it attracted so much attention from those of us who care about quality.
Yet it couldn't survive.

So today I'm worried.
I'm worried that too many people in our industry will see the death of CMO as proof that quality doesn't matter. I'm worried that too many number crunchers will see the death of CMO as an argument against incurring the expense of good design, original content and quality staff.

Certainly CMO had some disadvantages as well.
Most obviously, it served a niche that may very well be overserved. Furthermore, CMO was based in a suburban office park in Massachusetts, but covered an industry that is based largely in New York City.
And perhaps those disadvantages can explain why CMO had to die.
But I can't stop thinking about how great a publication it was. I can't stop thinking about how many times I have pointed to it as an example of just how good B2B journalism can be. Nor can I shake the worry that CMO did everything we could ever ask a staff to do: creating a series of wonderful products across the entire spectrum of media.
Yet it couldn't survive.

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  1. Put me firmly in the "the vertical was overserved" camp. Also, I think marketing is an espcially challenging category as the audience is actually "horizontal" (spread throughout all industries) rather than vertical "the marketing industry." We have that challenge with publishing a "horizontal" magazine for small business owners in all industries: it's a lot like a B2B medium, but has characteristics of a broad-based consumer book, as well. I think when you're targeting a "position" (Chief Marketing Officer) rather than a industry (all ad agencies), you've got a tremendous challenge in finding and educating advertisers. If you're successful (CFO springs to mind), you've got one heck of a franchise. I agree with you: If someone takes from this the lesson that "quality isn't valued," they're missing the boat.

  2. I'm curious whether IDG even attempted to sell the franchise? One would think there could be buyers out there that would turn a profit without losing too much quality.

    The CMO Council might have been an interesting option. So might WPP or other marcom network. If IDG is going to swallow the loss, why not offer it as a going concern to any non-profit that might want to take over and build? The AMA, ANA, WARC, ARF, ABM, AAAA's?

  3. Hi Guys,
    Thanks for your comments.
    Rex, let's hope that you and I are not in the minority. I would hate it if the loss of CMO becomes an argument against quality in B2B publishing.
    Edward, you raise an interesting question. As far as I know, IDG did not try to sell CMO.
    Until recently I was consulting on one competing product (Primedia's Chief Marketer) and I never heard anything there about a sale. But that doesn't prove anything.
    Anyone else have any info?

  4. One truly has to admire CMO's commitment to quality, in print and online.

    Without question they overestimated the pool of advertising dollars available to marketing media and, as Rex says, to horizontals in particular.

    But the decision to suspend reflects more than an overly optimistic view of the horizontal $ pool as well as the time required to reach profitability. All publishers are seriously challenged these days by issues of Opportunity Cost. We all make hard choices about where to deploy or redeploy our resources. Another investment at IDG may simply look more promising than CMO in retrospect.

    Organic growth is a particular challenge for Public Companies and many private equity owners where quarterly earnings come close to being The Holy Grail. In those situations entrepeneurial publishers are often pushed for agressive short-term bottom line projections on any investment expenditure. They reach for unrealistic results in budgeting new brands because of their passion for a particular project.
    The net result? With no patience at the top, and very little tolerance for the idea of building brand equity, we'll see more brand abortions, and almost certainly less entrepeneurship in such Companies.

    In the case of CMO I believe it was a genuine Oppportunity Cost Assessment by IDG that drove the decision.

    For what it's worth, Paul, them's my thoughts. Hershel

  5. Regarding a sale--for what it's worth, Rob O'Regan says the plan is for the CMO web site to stay up indefinitely while they consider their options(see the first comment to this post on the ASBPE Boston web site) rather than to shut down on March 1, as was reported in Folio:. Is it overly optimistic to hope that IDG might keep the franchise alive?

  6. Hi Martha,
    I hope you're right. Nothing would please me more than to know that CMO will survive in at least one form.