Bolstering a two-year transformation plan for its editorial operations, Hanley Wood has hired a new president of content, Bob Benz, who becomes the company’s first senior-level executive to be focused exclusively on editorial.
The decision to create such a position is the result of recommendations from a six-month consulting project conducted with the firm Innovation. “What they discovered,” says Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton, “is that the editors felt they didn’t have a voice in a lot of important decision-making that affected editorial and that they were represented in a proxy way.” Part of this is due, he says, to the pressure Hanley Wood group presidents have been under in the past few years, given the company’s relation to the fraught housing market.
“Their time was almost wholly dedicated to holding things together on the business side,” says Anton. About these changes, he adds, “I think initially they felt hesitant, but at this point they’re thinking, ‘This is great. It lets me focus on building revenue and strategic planning.’”
Hanley Wood, acquired by J.P. Morgan in 2005 for $650 million, was hit hard by the housing bust and has struggled with a heavy debt load ever since. Things are now looking up for the company, as it entered a recapitalization plan last month to reduce its long-term debt of $440 to $80 million. A new ownership group has taken over as a result, led by Oaktree Capital Management, which has injected $35 million of capital into the company, allowing, as Anton puts it, for a more aggressive push forward with the recommendations laid out by Innovation.
In his new role, Benz—who will report directly to Anton—is charged with transitioning Hanley Wood from a print-driven to a digital-first editorial approach. “While we’re not going to abandon print—that would be a stupid business decision—digital media is going to take on increasing importance,” says Anton.
Benz took on a similar charge during his time with Scripps Networks, where he led the newspaper company away from what Anton calls a “legacy notion” around print to a more digital-focused organization. Most recently, Benz served as chief digital officer at Clarity Media Group, overseeing digital strategy and product development for brands including The Weekly Standard.
As announced in September 2011, Hanley Wood’s new strategy also includes a consolidation of editorial offices to the company’s Washington D.C. headquarters, to be completed within twelve months. Cubicles and offices will be replaced by an open-space newsroom to allow for greater collaboration, and remote employees—with a few notable exceptions—have been asked to relocate.
Previously, the company held satellite locations in Vermont, Chicago and Los Angeles, while many editors worked remotely from home. “I know it’s cool to talk about remote offices, but some of our chief editors didn’t have one staff person in D.C. with them,” says Anton. “It’s messy. I was never a fan of the remote office but there’s been so much pressure to allow that, so over the last ten years we did. From my perspective it is a failed experiment.”