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"Time to make some bold bets" - Tony Hallett, CBS Interactive

Tony Hallett
Ahead of AOP's Forum on B2B communities online on 29 April, we caught up with Tony Hallett, Editorial Director, Technology and Business at CBS Interactive, to discuss some of the issues facing B2B publishers today.

Speakers for AOP's B2B Forum will also include:

  • Dominic Feltham, Managing Director, Reed Business Information
  • Ben Heald, CEO, Sift
  • Tony Hallett, Editorial Director, Technology and Business, CBS Interactive
  • Paul Hartigan, CEO, Pharmiweb Solutions
  • John Welsh, Digital Director, UBM Live

More info on AOP's Forum on B2B Communities.

Q. What do you think are the biggest threats to B2B publishers during 2009? And conversely, what are the biggest opportunities?

2009 will be challenging year for all publishers, whether B2B or not. The ability to accurately plan our businesses is being challenged at all levels by this market downturn, but is being felt most acutely when we look at display advertising trends.

Yet opportunity comes out of a tough market - I believe strongly that now is the time to make some bold bets that will scale as we come out of the recession. We will see some interesting and creative revenue models emerge, as well as product innovation targeted to scale up as we come out of the recession.

Q. An increasing number of publishers are incorporating social media. Is it always wise for publications to encourage reader feedback? Why would some publishers resist using social media?

Today users are demanding a voice on their favourite sites - so being ‘social’ or not is not really an option any more. How you invite users to engage with the content on our sites is up for grabs and social media - at least for publishers - is often largely about feedback.

I'd encourage any publisher to be obsessive about feedback and very open to social tools while understanding that some Web 2.0 apps may not fit their brand. Facebook can come across as too informal for some groups of people, for instance.

I'd characterise the risks these days not so much in terms of maintenance costs or harmful comments - but in terms of what's applicable for your audience and not alienating them.

Q. What do you feel are the key differences between building online communities for B2B publications compared to B2C titles?

By their very nature, B2B online communities will tend to be more niche and less about volume - it is the quality of debate that delivers true value.

One of the common challenges of B2C communities is delivering high value and monetisable content, so B2B communities have a unique opportunity - delivering incremental or high-end value to users which truly extends the editorial experience of a site and which can be viewed as having the same (or in a few cases) more commercial value to advertisers.

In terms of taking advantage of this, publishers need to take things slowly, gaining and not losing participants' trust, and being open about when and how commercial partners are involved.

Q. Can you think of any examples of B2B publishers that run particularly successful online communities?

CBS interactive has had a lot of success with B2B communities - whether it's with the mass market appeal of our communities within ZDNet and Tech Republic or a much smaller, high-touch community built around's CIOs which marries what happens online with offline activities such as June's CIO50 event.

Many of the more interesting communities are gated, with online being one part of the solution - there is definitely a trend towards online community and events that is working in UK publishing.

More info and link to booking for AOP's Forum on making B2B Communities work online.

Tony Hallett Biog

Tony Hallett overseas the publications within the Technology and Business group at CBS Interactive in the UK - business and management title BNET UK, leading business technology publications, and ZDNet UK, and top-rated consumer tech site CNET UK

He sits on the UK executive management team and has in the past been editor of, taking the title to several prestigious awards, growing the team and refocusing on CIOs and those decision-makers outside IT departments who need to understand and profit from tech.

At the start of 2007 he founded, an online service for business travellers which encourages them to share information about airports around the world through user-generated ratings and reviews.

Prior to working in the media, Tony spent time in the IT industry and market research, living in Japan and the US.

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