Hanley Wood has shut down 14 magazines as the devastating housing recession has run its four-year course, and might have to close more going forward, but the company’s three core magazines, Builder, Architect, and Remodeling, will definitely survive long term, CEO Frank Anton said Thursday.
In a presentation at the ACT2 Conference in Oxford Mississippi, Anton described how in boxing, when a fighter wants to quit, he throws a towel into the ring. "Believe me, I have been tempted to throw in the towel many times," Anton said. "But I haven’t. I want us to be Cassius Clay. I want us to win again. And we will win again."
Between 1992 and 2005, Anton noted, housing had an unprecedented boom. "It had an incredible run," he said. "For 15 years, it didn’t have a recession."
The company was sold to private-equity at the end of that run, in 2005, for $650 million. "Happy days. Happy days," Anton said.
"Have any of you ever worked with private-equity guys?" he asked. "They think they’re the smartest guys. And they are well educated, and pretty smart. But August 2005 was the absolute zenith of the housing market. I’ve reminded them many times that even smart guys make mistakes."
Anton put up a slide showing how as housing starts declined from 1.8 million in 2006 to 600,000 this year, Hanley Wood ad pages have declined by half as well. "It was fun to count 20,000 ad pages," Anton said. "It’s not fun to count 10,000 ad pages."
The recently company hired Bain consulting for $400,000 to analyze the company’s prospects, Anton said. "So Bain did a study. They concluded that there was a strong correlation between Hanley Wood and housing starts. $400,000! They could have just asked me."
Last month Hanley Wood revealed to staffers that it would centralize editorial operations at its Washington, DC-based headquarters in an effort to build "a newsroom-type environment much like Bloomberg Businessweek’s." At the time, Anton said that Hanley Wood remains committed to print and would not stop printing magazines.
For b-to-b media companies, Anton said, the way forward is to get real, get better and always understand the meaning of the first amendment. B-to-b editors think their role is to get the companies in their markets rich. Make them more successful. They get too cozy with their sources. "But what readers really need," Anton said, "is for b-to-b editors to surprise their readers. Make them cry."