As we all wait for the white smoke to appear above the Time Warner Center, it appears that many are fixated on gaming the odds of one CEO candidate or another. Mr. Bewkes has already announced (after talks broke down with Meredith) that he wants to “spin out” the magazine assets into a separate company. Recent reports coming from Sixth Avenue indicate that the HR folks are doing all they can to retain their best employees during this period of uncertainty. Not sure how much Laura Lang (outgoing CEO) can and/or will do in the remaining months of her tenure. The departure of chief revenue officer Paul Caine (Time Inc.’s top sales producer) can’t be doing great things for customer relationships either.
For rank in file dealing with the day-to-day questions from advertisers and fellow employees, time passes painfully. Marketers don’t enjoy uncertainty, especially in a quickly changing and highly competitive media landscape. With each passing day the Time Inc. brand risks falling further back down the hill it will need to climb to regain its position of leadership in the publishing industry.
While we sit in this holding pattern waiting on this multi-billion dollar media icon to make its next move; my mind is filled with all sorts of suggestions about strategies and tactics where work can be done now in preparation for the ultimate transformation of the company:
1. Knock Down the Walls: Undoubtedly there is a tremendous number of very bright people working for Time Inc., most of whom will be responsible for creating change under the new regime. I have no doubt that given the chance to express their ideas and thoughts these professionals have the keys to unlocking the value of the organization. My advice is to start polling the leadership team in each area of the business along with their direct reports to solicit ideas on ways that their business unit can be more profitable and grow more quickly. Having led several media organizations in my career, I never thought that any one person or leader had the market cornered on creative thinking and/or innovative ideas. Remove the roadblocks to success. How great would it be for the new CEO on his or her first day to be delivered a warehouse filled with thoughts, tactics and new product ideas from the current team of leaders, all laser focused on how they can strengthen the company’s market position and value?
2. Cure Big Data Analysis Paralysis: Time Inc. is sitting on one of the greatest customer profile data warehouses in the world, let alone the publishing industry. My counsel is to go live inside of this database right now. In the coming weeks, get focused on organizing user and prospect profiles into new marketable audience segments. Publishers have a great understanding of the legacy content intersections that have proven to be successful in drawing an audience that marketers and advertisers are willing to spend big dollars to engage. It’s time to identify new content intersections that are growing in terms of audience concentration and advertiser demand, as well as financial support. Get the audience development and editorial teams to work collaboratively on this project. Assemble the best minds in the search marketplace to help identify key words, phrases, topics, volume metrics and audience velocity/ concentration patterns in the marketplace. Just as the cable television business has been able to build micro segments in categories like cooking, entertainment, travel, etc., by understanding audience need and affinity, the goal of Time Inc. must be to identify a network of incremental content types and venues that will provide current readers, new visitors and marketers with relevant platforms where they can experience a unique and compelling Time Inc. experience.
3. Trash Can Irrelevant Content: In 2013, we really don’t have the luxury of creating irrelevant content. Relevancy is defined by the level of reader involvement and engagement metrics. A failure to monitor this data and adjust our product offering to stay in tune with consumers is deadly regardless of venue (print, online, email, social media ). Today we have the tools that allow us to know much more about our content, so why not leverage these tools? I have always thought that my content colleagues would welcome this insight and accountability.
In the coming weeks, the editorial leadership inside Time Inc. properties needs to do an audit of every content connection being made with readers. The day of reckoning in this regard is coming soon, so why not be ahead of it now? We can remain in denial about this issue or embrace the publishing reality and welcome the new CEO with this level of transparency and understanding.
Without great content, we have no chance of engaging a community of readers with a shared interest. It’s pretty simple. As a content provider, if you can’t engage the community consistently, marketers and advertising dollars don’t show up. The end of that story isn’t pretty.
4. Where have all the Advertisers Gone?: It’s clear that there is a serious revenue problem at the core of this issue. No need to wait on the new leader to start addressing this issue. No doubt the marching orders for the new chief will be to focus on ways to run the business more efficiently and grow revenue in lock step. Time Inc. can increase the overall value of the organization by charting a course to grow revenue in all areas of the business.
I have never believed that we can cost-cut our way to market leadership. Revenue needs to be grown by acquiring new customers, retaining the existing customers and most importantly, figuring out a way to win back lost and/or declining customers. Everyone in sales and marketing disciplines within the company needs to begin creating a new strategy for a fresh assault on the market. Leadership should be asking for sales metrics (number of calls, conversion rates, email touch points, call reports, etc.) to understand how much time is being spent in front of customers and prospects. Start working on pipelines that track advertisers by property that have left in the last 12 months and/or decreased spending in Time Inc.’s brands. The boss is going to want to know where these dollars went and why. Be prepared for that.
A new day of accountability and focus is coming for the revenue producing side of the business. The solution to the value creation problem is in the market, so they need to have the chops and focus to get after it.
Time Inc. is a great company with an amazing legacy as a leader in the communications business. There are surely a lot of folks like myself that would truly hate to see such iconic brands decline due to lack of interest, passion and focus. Time Inc. should be saved and restored to its dominant position in the marketplace. It doesn’t need to be “packaged” for sale or merged into another media company.
There is truly no time to waste over on Sixth Avenue.