This article has been co-authored by Helen Coetzee, Founder & CEO of MPG and Carolyn Morgan, Founder & Managing Consultant of Speciall Media. Uncertainty is the only certainty there is and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security. These rather grim words from John Allen Paulos ring true for nearly every organisation. Paulos’s work as a Professor of mathematical logic and probability theory is particularly relevant to media organisations today. In 2001 he taught a course on quantitative literacy for journalists at the Columbia University School of Journalism. This course stimulated programmes in precision and data-driven journalism at Columbia and elsewhere. It is this type of journalism – and the trust audiences have in media brands that do this well – that has fuelled the rise of data-led intelligence products for media companies. Access to these products meets a critical need as organisations seek specific, objective, trusted data and intelligence to make real-time, critical decisions in the fast-moving COVID-19 crisis. No wonder that offering ‘data products’ within subscriptions or memberships are the #1 priority for investment in 2021 for many B2B media businesses. It has been a hot topic in our recent conversations with B2B media leaders. And at the recent Renewd.net round-table event on ‘planning and budgeting for 2021’ it was the top investment priority. And what else have we learnt from our community of senior B2B media and event leaders over the past month, planning for 2021 and beyond? B2B media and events leaders intend to invest in product, marketing, and sales for these top four revenue streams: #1 Subscriptions and memberships: with data-led intelligence at their core #2 Events (virtual or in person): to generate revenue, engagement, and content #3 E-learning: a relatively new or largely untapped revenue stream for many brands #4 Marketing solutions: pushing out multi-channel, content-led sponsored campaigns to brand audiences At the Renewd.net roundtable it was clear that having the right skills and resources in place to make these investments is a core challenge. Building specific expertise and skills to effectively create, market, sell and deliver data-led subscriptions/memberships, e-learning, events, and marketing solutions will be essential. Many are embracing a community-focused and brand-led approach to become truly customer-centric. This needs consistent delivery of highly relevant content and data-driven, impactful marketing. Both are essential for strong audience engagement, crucial to unlocking growth in all key revenue streams. These skilled product, marketing and sales teams need to be digitally confident, both strategic and agile in their thinking and highly flexible in approach. With 2020 seeing many staffing and agency budgets frozen or reduced, 2021 will be a year for key hires to be made, and important partners onboarded to ensure investments pay off. Investors want to keep fixed costs as low as possible while ensuring operators have the right skills and resources in place to deliver stronger products and revenue in key areas. The winning B2B media and event brands will develop capability in four key areas: 1. Membership and subscriptions Organisations already focussed on subscription or membership propositions had an easier ride in 2020 than those relying on other revenue streams. They now plan continued investment in growing customer volumes, audience monetisation and in corporate and premium packages. For event and/or marketing solutions (advertising) driven businesses, 2021 is the year to launch subscription and membership models. Content created by virtual events makes a valuable addition to a membership proposition. Product and sales require investment when launching or growing a subscription or membership offering. Targeted, data-driven and digitally enabled marketing will generate leads and enable customised promotions to acquire, retain, and upsell subscribers or members. Smart use of martech and automation is essential to build scale. 2. Events Digital events have delivered unexpected value; on demand video content delivers unique and long-term benefits for sponsors and subscribers/members. This content can be packaged into valuable products and widely distributed via smart marketing. 2021 will see a cautious, phased return to in person events. Risk can be mitigated and sponsors’ expectations managed through careful plans for virtual alternatives if in person is not viable. Events for spring 2021 are largely planned as wholly virtual, with summer events scheduled to be in person with virtual contingency plans. In person events are preferred for large flagship events that bring the business community together, or small intimate networking focussed groups. Mid-sized content-driven conferences work well online so are likely to stay in that format. Hybrid events, although in theory a good option, are considered too expensive to run well and too risky to bank on for most organisations. Sponsors like the wider audience and data from virtual events. And they value repackaged videos of virtual event content for their own marketing channels. Organisers of 2021 in person events are briefing sponsors upfront on a go/no go decision date on postponement or a virtual alternative. 3. E-learning Online training is a good opportunity to maintain and grow revenue. Face to face training made a relatively easy switch to online delivery in 2020 and will remain largely virtual in future as corporates appreciate the flexibility and cost savings of online delivery. Maintaining revenue levels when switching to virtual has been easy as pricing has remained largely the same for online training. Next year attendees will pay a premium for specific, practical knowledge at a time that suits them. Media brands are experimenting with on-demand, self-directed online learning programmes interspersed with tutor led interactive sessions. Corporate training programmes delivered in a customised and consultative format could become a growing and lucrative business model. A lack of skilled staff has been a key challenge for organisations developing e-learning. Creating, delivering, marketing, and selling e-learning requires a very particular set of technology, tools and skills, as well as subject matter expertise. Sourcing and onboarding these skills takes time and money. Partnering with external experts could help businesses move fast and remain agile while keeping costs flexible. 4. Marketing solutions Many media businesses have invested in creating internal marketing agency-style teams to provide commercial clients with content-led campaigns pushed out to their brand audiences across multiple media. Event sponsors are looking for more reliable, year-round digital exposure to a media brand’s relevant and engaged online audience – rather than counting on a few large annual events (virtual or in-person) to achieve their branding, thought leadership and lead generation objectives. An ‘internal marketing agency’ capability (also known as ‘native digital marketing services’) has been a reliable and growing media revenue stream during 2020. It is seen by many B2B media brand leaders as a key area for investment to continue revenue recovery and growth in 2021 and beyond. As the economy recovers from COVID-19, marketing budgets will expand again, but there are still uncertainties in many industries. A highly flexible and agile approach will be essential for spotting opportunities, creating enticing and valuable marketing packages for clients, and delivering clients’ marketing objectives. Skilled, agile, and flexible commercial salespeople, creative content producers and strong digital marketers will be needed to deliver value for clients in a highly competitive and price sensitive market. B2B media and event leaders have developed robust strategies on where to invest to build stronger businesses, after a year of setbacks and uncertainty. The winners will execute well and make sure their investments are focused on creating flexible, agile, and sustainable businesses where product, marketing and sales are delivered by the very best people their money can buy. About the authors Helen and Carolyn are both members of Renewd.net, a free to join community for professionals dedicated to sharing best-in-class practices for increasing subscriptions, building communities, and enhancing live and virtual events. Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched, and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014), she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media. Helen Coetzee has led marketing teams and advised senior executives on marketing strategy in a variety of large and small B2B organisations. In 2014, Helen co-founded MPG, a marketing agency and consultancy focused on communities, memberships, subscriptions, and events. MPG’s team of specialist marketers is engaged by a range of B2B media and events businesses globally to provide skilled, flexible marketing resources and team development – working as highly collaborative partners with internal teams to ensure marketing is a driver of sustainable revenue growth.