Bob Biolchini
CEO, PennWell Publishing

PennWell Publishing CEO Bob Biolchini says the next six to 12 months will be defined at his company not by one single focus, but by three or four critical initiatives that together add up to a big idea. They are:

  • Pursuing small, but critical add-on acquisitions
  • Converting the company to more of a digital-centric platform
  • Building and supporting the culture of risk-taking
  • Creating events that others are not doing

PennWell has 45 business-to-business magazines and newsletters and over 60 conferences in several markets, including energy, oil and gas, electronics and IT. But it may be the company’s digital push that most dominates the PennWell strategy these days. Last year, about 17 percent of PennWell’s revenue came from digital media, and Biolchini says the goal for this year is 20 percent. Some of its IT brands are at about 40-percent digital now.

Biolchini says it’s all about training staff to think differently. "We are fighting the battle that all companies are with legacy publishers and legacy salespeople," he says. "It is a Herculean task. But they’re coming along."

Last year, PennWell held a summit for all of its editors to discuss the emerging e-media opportunities, and next week, the senior management team is devoting a half-day to mapping out a digital-media agenda for the rest of the year and into 2008. "We will essentially be asking what are we not doing that we should be doing," Biolchini says. "We’ll start with six people. After the recommendations are finished and homogenized, we will put together a distilled version for our line officers;12-15 people. We will come out of that with a master plan and roadmap for the company for the rest of the year."

One big-idea decision that will not be made in the strategy meeting is the purchase of a content-management system. "We made that decision on content management about six months ago," Biolchini says. "The cost is a couple of million dollars, but they’re absolutely essential."

One topic that will be on the agenda, however, is the impending move of a Google office to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area. "We’re worried about them coming after our IT people," Biolchini says. "We already have stay bonuses in place but we are going to have to increase them."

"At PennWell we have a mindset of taking risks and embracing change, and if we are not successful we take the hit and move on."

"We need more diversity in our portfolio. We need to expand even further and we need to have more digital expansion as well."

"To really ride crest of the areas we have that are hot, and to acquire. We tend to look at things that are not for sale or too small for the private equity groups."

"A terrorist attack that is severe in the United States or United Kingdom would be a serious threat for us because our publications are world publications;all of them."