Long thought of as that “numbers guy” you sometimes see at the company Christmas party who only talks to the CEO, the publishing CFO has evolved into a corporate strategist. Today’s CFOs are playing a key role in planning where and how much a company will invest and how that investment will affect the bottom line.

The new CFO is not necessarily coming from the publishing industry either. Many are coming from different companies and bringing experiences from other industries with them. “They are coming in as a hired gun, to fix something that is broken or to expand something that is working,” says Andrew Olden, CFO of RMS Media, a custom publishing company that has recently launched two branded titles. “You’re not going to get your accounts payable clerk growing into the position anymore. It’s all about the money and how effective we can be.”

Bean-Counters No More
The publishing CFO is now considered a business partner, one of the business leaders responsible for the strategic direction of the organization. “In my role, I partner with the business heads,” says ALM CFO Eric Lundberg. “I’m consulted on everything from mundane things like new hire requests and budgeting to forecasting. I think 10 years ago the financial people were viewed more as back office people, like, ‘hey just tell me how I did.’ Now they are expected more and more to forecast results.”

The new skills go beyond the nuts and bolts of the books. Strong communication and relationship skills are now required because CFOs need to be the glue that holds the auditors, bankers, shareholders and company owners together. “I think more and more people are looking to CFOs for underlying causes of financials,” says Lundberg. “It’s not okay to just say ads are up eight percent any more. We need to know why something is up and in what sector. We need to know whether it is volume driven or rate driven, is it ad sizes that are up or just volume? We are looking to do more and more in the way of metrics.”

Just as CFOs do not have to be back-office suits; neither do they have to be in the office at all. A number of smaller publishers are taking the outsourcing route, hiring consultant CFOs and CPAs to work through the numbers, including RMS, which outsources to Olden. “The CFO is at the core of all the relationships between production, advertising, management, stockholders and more,” he says. “We need to translate what they are saying into a language everyone else understands.”

Building a Brand
The rise of e-media, events and other ancillary products is posing new concerns for CFOs, who are now responsible for developing an entire brand, rather than just one print entity. “Like any position in publishing, understanding the customer’s changing desire for content delivery is critical in managing the business,” says Dianne Gates, CFO of Aspire Media. “From the perspective of the CFO position, the change in the business process typically requires an investment of some sort, as well as requiring a leadership role in capturing the necessary financial information in an efficient and effective manner.”

Areas of responsibility span finance and accounting, IT, to operations and production, says Gates, which she believes is a direct correlation of companies doing more with fewer staff members. “The most important skill a CFO needs to possess is the ability to operate consistently through a changing environment. This is no different than the skills needed by anyone in business today.”

Because of the advancements in technology and software, CFOs can now turn around financial information in a matter of days rather than months, which also makes it essential for them to sit in on sales, marketing and board meetings. “The immediacy of the data and the decisions that result from that data can be implemented today, which draws the CFO into daily functions of everyone in the company,” says Olden.