This past summer, Cygnus Business Media CEO Paul Mackler, a print media veteran, left the company and was replaced by two co-CEOs in Carr Davis and Anthony O’Brien. The two new CEOs are veterans of the online world who in 1993 launched FDCH e-Media, which specialized in b-to-b partnerships and online news delivery. In the following months, Cygnus also named an e-publishing veteran, Scott Roulet, as vice president of business development.
Hiring from outside the publishing industry is not new but it’s taking on more significance as publishers try to catch up with changes in their publishing models. ABRY Partners, which, with Mackler, originally acquired Cygnus in 2000 for $275 million, chose Davis and O’Brien specifically because of their experience in technology and content management. "The way we have come to think about Cygnus, like other b-to-b companies, is as a content company distributing content through multiple channels," ABRY managing partner Peggy Koenig told Folio:. "The opportunity is to take content and distribute it to consumers in the way the consumer wants to receive it. This is right up their alley and is the way we think you need to grow a b-to-b company."
New Media Management
Hiring an executive from outside the industry can quickly enhance a publisher’s operation, particularly as publishers undergo a fundamental transformation not only in their content channels but in their relationships with readers and advertisers. However, just hiring a "Web guy" because that’s where your market seems to be going can make for a major disconnect. Tom Rogers’ tenure at Primedia, as well as Marc Teren’s at Cahners, were rocky, checkered periods.
Carr Davis downplays the transition from online to multimedia publisher. "We were always in business information, it’s not like making the transition from being a brewer to a publisher," he says. "There is a transition but we were always very focused on information for business for them to make informed decisions. We were always around it, we just didn’t have the specific focus on b-to-b print publishing."
And Davis says there’s an advantage to being an entrepreneur, regardless of the industry. "We had a corporate parent but we were always responsible for our own business," he adds. "There’s no substitute for having to make a payroll yourself every two weeks. That’s what business is about;making decisions based on whether it’s good for the business and can be sustained. Many of our own readers own small businesses. We tell a story for small businesses and we represent small businesses, and we try to get our people to think like they do."
Davis has also embraced the industry’s current rallying cry: "Whether it’s magazines, Web sites, or trade shows, we want to be platform-agnostic."
While maintaining the church-state line can be a struggle for executives new to publishing, they can also bring more sophistication in other areas.
"Ultimately, it’s a product, and like any other product you have to market it and build the brand," says Jeff Klein, chairman of 1105 Media and previously a CEO of 101communications who came over from The Los Angeles Times. "Those are all skills people learn in other areas that can be transferable to the publishing business, particularly in the area of marketing. With the focus on public service and edit aspects, you have to find someone who’s worked in another field who can understand the special nature of publishing;that church and state barrier."
"Marketing and publishing has traditionally been about circulation, rather than attracting, developing and retaining customers through branding campaign," adds Reed Business Information CEO Tad Smith. "That doesn’t mean publishers aren’t good brand managers, they’re just different from a consumer products company. What you do with e-customers has more direct marketing components, search engine marketing (SEO), that looks a lot more like what a consumer products company would say is traditional. The distinction is getting less relevant."
Six years ago, Smith started at what was then known as Cahners. Prior to that, he held positions with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, BMG Entertainment and McKinsey & Company Inc. "Publishing, unlike other industries, requires a lot of contact with customers," says Smith. "There are a lot of businesses where you don’t have to think about your customers every day and you can still do pretty well. It requires a different mindset than say, a soap manufacturer."
Still, the fundamentals of publishing management remain the same. "Whether one comes from print or online, or some other kind of business, it’s essential that they are able to manage all the conflicts within the organization," says Smith. "Publishing is not monolithic;we’ve got several different models within our organizations and that creates conflicts with staffing, with resources and with how you go to market. Managing those conflicts to a reasonable solution is hard work and it’s tactical work. Whatever the executive’s background, if they’re skilled at that, they will be successful."