REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 22, 2001 — Microsoft bCentral and American City Business Journals (ACBJ), the nations largest publisher of metropolitan business newspapers, today announced a strategic alliance that will bring together in a single location on the Internet the best of local business news and valuable online business services for small businesses. In a conversation with PressPass,
, vice president of Microsofts Small Business Division, and
, CEO of ACBJ, discussed the benefits of this alliance for small-business owners.
PressPass : What is involved in this alliance between bCentral and American City Business Journals?
Hebert : The agreement calls for ACBJ to provide local business news via the bCentral Web site ( www.bcentral.com ) and for bCentral to offer its wide range of online business services for small businesses through ACBJs Web site, www.bizjournals.com . As part of this agreement, MSNBC.com, the #1 Internet news site, will become the premier provider of national news for ACBJs Web site, and ACBJ will provide select local business news content to MSNBC.com.
Shaw : While bCentral is providing the services that small businesses need to be more productive, well be providing them with breaking news and information to keep them in touch with whats going on in their communities. The value of this relationship is providing small-business owners with a one-stop destination on the Internet to help them build their businesses more effectively.
PressPass : What led to this alliance?
Shaw : Microsoft understands the small-business market better than anybody else, so were glad to be working with them. We view ourselves as a premier content provider of local news, with our papers reaching a broad spectrum of local small-business people — we have about 450,000 subscribers and a total readership of almost 3 million. Working together with bCentral, well provide local content and leading services to the small-business community in an integrated, aligned fashion.
Hebert : As we have worked to make bCentral more relevant and valuable to our customers, their feedback has told us that local, industry-relevant reports and bulletins are some of the most valuable tools for their business. ACBJ is clearly a leader in this capacity — if you visit a small-business owner in almost any city in the U.S., youll see that one of the first things they read is their local ACBJ-published journal — so it was a great fit.
PressPass : bCentral is already the leading small-business site on the Web. How will the additional information supplied by ACBJ enhance what bCentral provides today?
Shaw : We are going to provide the local legs for bCentral. We own 40 business journals from South Florida to Seattle, and we have about 550 journalists on the ground covering breaking local business news. We sponsor more than 400 local events each year, which bring out thousands of key businesspeople. We are going to bring bCentral with us into these local markets and provide bCentral customers with not only our weekly articles and information, but also daily news and information regarding specific industries in their area.
Hebert : Through bCentral, small businesses will now get local news at no cost and the option of subscribing for a fee to other data services provided by ACBJ, including archives and information on real-estate transactions and local court judgments. For example, if you were interested in starting a pizza business in Austin, Texas, you could search ACBJs archives for exactly the kind of information youd need before setting up shop.
PressPass : How will small-business owners benefit from and take advantage of this new content provided by ACBJ? How will having this information online at bCentral benefit small-business owners more than reading the same content in print?
Hebert : It will be very easy for small businesses to find local news as well as get to important business services on bCentral. They can either go directly to bCentral.com, or to their local business journal site, which will be powered by bCentral. Either way, its a one-stop shop of high-value news, information, and services. Eventually, bCentral will offer users the opportunity to select their preferred city to automatically receive that citys top business headlines updated daily on their bCentral home page.
You asked about benefits — for people who work in small companies, time is everything. The easier we can make their lives by saving them time, the more theyll benefit. Having a single place on the Web to access business-critical local information as well as key tools and services that help owners and managers run their businesses will make their day more efficient. That is our key mission at bCentral.
While printed material is valuable, online information offers some different advantages that we think our customers will like. First, our software will help organize the news and other types of information that ACBJ provides. For example, bCentral users who are interested in information about specific business operations, such as human resources or finances, will find relevant content organized by category in an easy-to-reference directory at www.bcentral.com/directory .
Because this information can be delivered in the same place on the Web where customers are managing core business processes, they can act on information more quickly. For example, a business owner who subscribes to our bCentral Customer Manager service, which provides tools to help them manage sales leads as well as customer communications, can go to bCentral, find an interesting local business article that a customer might want to read, and use Customer Manager to follow up with that customer and share the local news, creating a valuable and timely customer touch.
On top of this, we will also provide national news from MSNBC.com. It will be difficult to duplicate this kind of comprehensive coverage anywhere else on the Web.
Shaw : When people ask me what our business journals are, I use the tagline,
“We are strictly business, and we are strictly local.”
Small-business owners use the business journals for networking, sales leads and prospecting. They also use the publications to find out about economic development in their areas. As Kathleen says, the combination of our content platform with the bCentral technology platform will bring a lot of benefits to small-business owners. For example, if we bundled our Book of Lists data, which includes individual lists of leaders in over 50 business or industry categories in local markets, with bCentral Customer Manager, small-business owners could use the data to find the best customers for their products or services.
Another unique benefit is that while the Web is very global in nature, most small businesses are very local, very much a part of their communities. Small-business owners are interested in news and information that affects their businesses. They want to know whos buying that piece of property down the road, whos moving into the community and setting up a business that they might want to sell to. Through this alliance, we can capture the best of both worlds — local business community information and the power of software services with tremendous scale.
PressPass : What percentage of the content in the print version will we see online at bCentral?
Shaw : Currently, about 40 percent of our content is available online, free-of-charge. That content also will be offered free-of-charge from the bCentral site. We are moving toward making all our news available online.
PressPass : How will bCentral customers access the information supplied by ACBJ?
Hebert : They will be able to do one of two things. First, theyll be able to go to the bCentral home page, select a city and see a list of headlines provided by ACBJ alongside national headlines provided by MSNBC.com to keep them informed of key business stories that affect them on a local and national basis. Alternatively, theyll be able to go to charlotte.bCentral.com — or whatever city theyre interested in — and see a larger list of local news stories from business journals.
This partnership will enable small-business owners to have a kind of
“window into their business”
on their desktop — their finances, their customers, their Web site, their traffic and all the local news thats pertinent. Picture this: youre a small-business owner working on your finances or your stats and you check the local news to find a massive snowstorm headed your way. You think to yourself,
I had better make more snow shovels available — on my Web site and in my shop.”
PressPass : In your opinion, whats the best thing about this partnership between bCentral and ACBJ; in other words, what makes it unique and why is it significant?
Shaw : The real value of this relationship is that Microsoft has incredible services for small businesses and we have incredible resources for local news and information. You put these two together, and you have a very, very strong combination.
Hebert : There are over 1 million registered users of bCentral, and for them whats great about this is that they can start getting the benefit of ACBJs content, provided by knowledgeable local business journalists, for free as part of the bCentral experience.
PressPass : Based on todays announcement of the partnership with ACBJ, bCentral seems to have evolved considerably from being a more traditional portal to focusing on delivering critical, up-to-the-minute business services and information. Can you give us some idea of future new endeavors that bCentral will undertake?
Hebert : We think about our goals for bCentral in several ways. First, were very clear about what Microsoft is good at, and that is creating great software. We expect bCentral to grow over the next few months, and well continue to make announcements regarding the introduction of new services. bCentral will become the pre-eminent destination for small-business owners looking for great software that will make their businesses more efficient and their workdays more productive.
Our other priority is making sure that our software is relevant to businesses. Its not just a question of creating great software. Its asking
“How can we make sure that the software we create is of value to the entrepreneur, every hour of every day.”
In order to achieve that, we have to make a strong connection between the software that business owners use on their PCs and other devices and the things they care about within their business communities.
PressPass : How do you think the Internet has changed the way that small-business owners run their businesses?
Shaw : The Internet has opened up tremendous opportunities for small businesses, but it also requires small-business owners to focus on making sure that they are staying in touch with their core business. The Internet expands an entrepreneurs ability to look for more business, and it provides an efficient way to gather news and to build communities. But its a double-edged sword. We have heard from some of our customers who arent aware of the tools and services available on the Internet that they need help harnessing its resources. One of the roles that our publishers fill in the local community is educating small-business owners about how to run their businesses better, online and offline. Put this together with the critical services that Microsoft provides via bCentral, and this alliance is going to be an incredible resource for small businesses.