B2B Interview Series: John Kerr

In the first installment of our B2B Interview Series, Canadian Business Media Chair John Kerr answers our questions about CBM and shares his vision on the future of the Canadian B2B industry. Kerr, a veteran publisher, is CEO of Kerrwil Publications Limited, the oldest privately held publishing company in Canada.

Can you tell us more about the history of CBM, formerly the Canadian Business Press, and how long you’ve been involved with the organization?

Kerrwil is a family business founded by my father in 1964. I remember CBP in those days from the discussions I would have with my father about what he was working at.  For him CBP was a great venue to learn, share and grow and for me, when I got recruited into the firm, it quickly meant a great deal to me too.

I have some lifelong friends in the publishing industry and many of them have been directly impactful on my career. I got asked to join the board by then-president Cy Summerfield and I think that was in 1985. I have had the privilege of sitting as chairman twice and both terms were radically different: one in the good old days; the other as the B2B space battled the headwinds of consolidation and the decline of full-time advertising and marketing roles in firms here in Canada. And we witnessed the new competition.  The most recent appointment and the challenges therein gave vice-chair Jim Hall and me the drive to make sure CBM would gain traction.

CBM is the evolution of CBP. It’s a vison shared by so many of us that are passionate about the B2B space and who are committed and dedicated to guarding the essence of what it takes to be a successful B2B publisher. CBM is about growth and professional development, it’s about networking and of course it’s about recognition of those that provide the unique content we deliver.

What is the role and the mission of the association?

The role of CBM is to foster excellence in the trade press though open dialogue and collaboration. It’s the place where as B2B publishing professionals we can meet, discuss, debate and even defend our sector’s position on issues that confront us. Most important, it’s a place where company size doesn’t matter, but where the individuals that drive these companies meet as equals. Our role, simply put, is to make sure the role of the business media in Canada is guarded and protected through the right focus on what’s important for Canadian trade publishers.

Specifically, which initiatives will be implemented in an effort to build and sustain a stronger B2B publishing industry?

Well, the first thing we’re doing is making the association open to all trade publishers here in Canada. One company, one vote ensures that what gave the old CBP a bad rap is gone. We are working and focusing on trade press issues first and we are getting more aggressive on networking, professional development and dialogue. It’s our goal to fill the void in information flow so communications will be enhanced and improved considerably. The fact is that by all working more closely together, both big and small publishers, and by allowing our real-world issues challenges to be debated openly, we can ensure the role that Canadian business media owners have invested in is understood, accepted and promoted.

Why is networking important for B2B publishers, and what can B2B publishers learn from one another?

When I grew up, my father spoke of Al Wadham. Mr. Wadham helped our family establish its business and my father always said he played a huge role in coaching, driving and giving my father the tools and the focus he really needed. Jim Hall, our vice-chair, gave me this type of support too in my earlier days when the dynamics of the family business distracted us from what we needed to do.  It’s about perspective and precedents, understanding best practices, and realizing you are not in this alone.

How can a strong B2B community help individual publishers achieve or maintain success?

In answering this question I think I need to put this in context: the best thing is to realize the in-house ad manager is long gone and those great B2B ad agencies that used to be an integral partner are, for the most part, gone. I also think it’s about the fact that a ton of decisions are not made in Canada anymore and I think it’s important to understand there are few disciples that help us sell the role we play to more senior managers who are still responsible for the Canadian P+L. I think by coming together and focusing on the elephant in the room—that we are not selling our position well—and by delivering a consistent message that advertising in print and online drives market share-building awareness and grows profit will give us, together, a better position to move from.

How do you envision the future of the B2B publishing industry in Canada?

I see a new opportunity to drive a value proposition that goes well beyond our premise to date of delivering qualified audiences in an editorial environment that gives advertisers a great return. We are all familiar where ancillary product development is going with the traditional in-print, in-person and online strategies, but I sense this will be augmented with target marketing, research, custom-content platforms and, the big one for me, helping define Canada as a market.

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