At Least 3 Iterations Of Digital Disruption Later, Professor Abe Peck Has Lots To Share

Jun 26, 2024

Abe Peck is one of the best-known and most knowledgeable veterans of B2B media, with a long career in journalism that includes stops at The Chicago Sun-Times, Rolling Stone, Outside, Travel Weekly, and most recently, Inside Unmanned Systems

Interestingly, though, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of the media industry, especially B2B, Abe is known most as an academic. He’s professor of B2B media at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing communications. He’s also director of Medill’s B2B Communications, and Senior Director of the Media Management Center.

Abe Peck. [Bruce Byers Photography]

Through his work at Medill, Abe for years has served as a conduit for young journalism talent to choose B2B media as a career. In a sense, Abe knows everyone and just about everything in B2B media, so we thought he’d make for a great Fox Tales Q&A. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation. 

Fox Tales: How would you describe the current state of B2B media?

Abe Peck: B2B’s strength has been owning an impactful position between valuable information and specific audiences that act on it—between advertisers and customers. Now it needs to offer and publicize interactive information before an army of YouTubers and search engines/AI steals that space. This means not only fighting tech battles but providing unique, compelling content, developing relevant and attractive formats, and being vital to user and advertiser communities.

Fox Tales: What is the biggest challenge?

Peck: Several come to mind. There’s embracing a new mindset while evolving a legacy business—especially moving from being data-literate to data-imaginative. There are multiple demands for resources that require we understand the value of emerging market segments/sub-verticals. It’s imperative to mobilize niche knowledge, and rethink traditional content flow and formats, to be omnipresent in the lives of target audiences. By the way, “audience” is one-way; collaborative leadership and engagement are crucial.

Fox Tales: Tell us some of the major, sea-change level evolutions you’ve seen in your career?

Peck: The three-legged publishing stool, reader-service bingo cards and going to the office are exhibits in my career museum. Social media has come a long way from water-cooler gossip. “Sales” has given way to “integrated marketing.”

I’m now on at least my third digital disruption, and this one is the most profound in ending time and distance even as it risks taking the humanity out of interactions. “Editorial” became “content,” but now it’s ever-more-important to convert information into knowledge, whether with predictive and precise thought leadership or “What’s in it for Me” product applications.

At Medill/Northwestern, we’ve studied “experiences” that truly mobilize such engagement. Understanding and providing what’s really desired can leverage collective insights for powerful communities.

All these skillsets need to be clearly communicated in order to, as one CEO told me, “articulate the first-party data story and foster the conversation that leads to solutions.”

Fox Tales: What are the most important things to impart to students, particularly those who are looking to come into media?

Peck: I’ve been teaching at Medill since 1980, now as an emeritus in service charged with B2B. The digitally infused journalism and integrated-marketing curricula are nearly unrecognizable from, say, 15 years ago—newspaper track, anyone? Yet curiosity remains a prime value, as do accuracy, an ethical compass and a desire to tell meaningful stories that can make a difference. Same with coming up with targeted campaigns that can influence down-funnel decision-making.

My “Inside B2B Media” class has evolved from writing stories to teams “consulting” with top B2B companies on issues from AI to maximizing first-party data. Enrollment for this summer’s class is above the alleged capacity.

Fox Tales: What’s the most significant current technology impediment in the business? How can it be overcome?

Peck: Having the perspective to separate the multiple advantages of AI from in-box spam and even disinformation. A tornado of deep fakes, troll-bots and made-up facts is on the way; we need to provide a collective antidote.