Smart Money picked up a Dow Jones story reporting that Michael Copps, a Democrat and member of the Federal Communications Commission, is voicing a growing concern over the big private equity dealsâ€”particularly in media. Seems he's a bit skittish over the volume and size of these deals over the last year, especially in light of the subprime fallout and a grim economic outlook for the coming year.
"There's been a whole raft (of acquisitions) involving private equity in recent years and I think we need to ask questions about them," said Copps, who also believes that ownership structures are becoming unclear, which apparently makes it tougher for the FCC to crack down on companies when something goes wrong.
FCC chairman and Republican Kevin Martin so far is downplaying Copps' concerns.
Nevertheless, Copps is exposing what might be a tricky year for over-leveraged deals, and a situation that might work its way into all sorts of corners in the private equity deal landscape.
As New York magazineâ€™s blog the Daily Intelligencer not-so-subtly points out, there appears to be a striking similarity between the cover of Portfolioâ€™s latest issue and New York magazineâ€™s July 30 cover. (Daily Intel also makes the valid point that Womenâ€™s Wear Daily has become something a mouthpiece for its parent company, CondĂ© Nast.)
Did Portfolio steal from New York?
When I asked for comment, a spokesperson for Portfolio sent along the following note: "Thanks for getting in touch. We are actually going to take a pass on commenting on this. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do."
Guess youâ€™ll have to decide for yourself.The undeniable similarity recalls Pablo Picassoâ€™s famous words: â€śBad artists copy. Great artists steal.â€ťIt also recalls Picassoâ€™s other famous words: â€śWhatâ€™s with all the hamburgers?â€ť Scientific American put out its own burger cover this past September.Feel free to leave any other examples of hamburger-cribbing in the comments below.
Hachette Filipacchi Media's announcement this morning of its appointment of Todd Anderman as SVP, digital media seems to have elicited a number of queries into where the company's previous head of digital, Marta Wohrle, ended up. Wohrle joined the company a couple years ago to build out the digital media group, first as a consultant, then fulltime. She made our FOLIO: 40 last year for essentially creating Hachette's e-media business from scratch.Turns out Wohrle has been busy developing her own sites, and plans to do some investing herself. Here, via Hachette spokeswoman Anne Janas, is what Worhle passed along:"I am starting my own web content business: www.truthinaging.com. It is in Beta and next week I am launching truthinhaircare.com. I am also looking at investing in early stage digital content businesses with private equity backing."Interestingly (strangely?) Wohrle describes herself as a "digital media amateur" in the About section of Truthinaging.com.
Left, Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman; right, influential tech blogger and new FastCompany.TV contributor Robert Scoble.
UPDATE: He apparently gets the Philip Seymour Hoffman thing all the time.
Who knew FOLIO:â€™s Web site would become a forum for debating abortion rights issues?
Since posting this story Monday ("Pro-Life Groups Outraged Over Vogue Photo Spread") about how a photoshoot for a Vogue column on partial-birth abortions has angered religious and pro-life groupsâ€”who say it makes the controversial procedure appear fashionableâ€”thousands of people have stopped by to read it, and many have posted passionate comments rationalizing all sides of the issue.
Our story was even picked up by Page Six today, which may or may not be a first for FOLIO:.
Note, we weren't looking for page views, necessarily, but we got them.
As FOLIO: first reported yesterday, Blenderâ€™s sponsored â€śRock Nâ€™ Roll Userâ€™s Guideâ€ťâ€”with a sponsorâ€™s logo straddling an editorial section, making it look an awful lot like an advertorialâ€”has drawn the ire of the American Society of Magazine Editors, who call it a â€śclear violationâ€ť of ASME guidelines. Blender declined to elaborate on the deal, only to say it is committed to following ASME guidelines at both Blender and Maxim, both titles owned by the Alpha Media Group.
Leaving the relative merits of the violation aside for a minute, the jab by ASME raises a legitimate question about the powerâ€”or lack thereofâ€”ASME has in an industry that has been besieged by stuff like advertising dollars going to the Internet, rising paper and postage costs, and the volatile economy in general.
As one industry observer told me: â€śI mean, so Blender violated ASME rules. Who cares? Theyâ€™re not winning any National Magazine Awards anytime soon, right?â€ť
And remember, too, Kent Brownridge, Alphaâ€™s top dog, has famously shunned membership in the Magazine Publishers of America. Heâ€™s not looking to impress anyone.
So, now the question is this:
Does anyone care about ASME rules?
NOTE: Drop your opinions in the comments section below ...
I admit that itâ€™s a pretty bleak headline, but itâ€™s the cold, hard truth. Quite the prophet of doom, arenâ€™t I? â€śYou will be fired.â€ťThatâ€™s the first thing I said to a class of eager magazine writing students at the University of Alabama. I happened to be in Tuscaloosa recruiting a new associate editor for the magazine I was editor-in-chief of at the time, but I added the qualifier: â€śIf you have a typical career in magazine publishing.â€ťGranted, I was speaking from my own experience (and I had only been fired once at that point) but everyone Iâ€™ve known in the industry has been fired, let go, laid off, phased out ... however you want to put it. Itâ€™s not pretty but itâ€™s a reality. And trust me, itâ€™s a hard scenario to prepare for, especially when it happens a week and a half before Christmas! Yes Virginia, there is a cold-hearted corporate entity.The best defense is a good offense. This is where having a varied experience comes in handy, as mentioned in my previous post about the benefits of being a generalist. Also, it helps if your clip file is as varied as possible. This will not only come in handy for an interview within a specific niche market but it will showcase your ability to write and understand a plethora of topics. If the editor interviewing you is savvy, he understands that you can adapt to anything and thatâ€™s a good position to be in, but be prepared to prove yourself time and time again.There is job security to be had in publishing for us editorial types. I found that association/non-profit was the most stable. More than likely, the association has been around for generations, so itâ€™s not going anywhere. The least stable? Pretty much everything else, as the daily news blasts and headlines relentlessly inform us. However, in my experience the b-to-b/trade realm was especially harsh. At one of the â€śbig housesâ€ť I worked for, after seeing magazine after magazine sold off or closed altogether, my publication was folded and out we went. And winning a prestigious journalism award didnâ€™t make a whit of difference either! Another case found me downsized out of a position with two monthly trade pubs where I was the managing editor when they became a single trade magazine. Although I queried as soon as the merger was announced as to whether I should update my resume, I was assured that there would still be plenty to do, what with a trade show and a larger online presence. Remember, the job I lost a week and a half before Christmas? Nice!But in all that time I was only out of work for a total of two months since 2001, not a bad record if I do say so myself. My best advice to any up-and-comers (and down-and-outers) is to â€śdiversify your portfolio.â€ť Garner clips on as many topics as you can. Also, it never hurts to network. Donâ€™t be afraid to call on former colleagues. Iâ€™m proud to say I still have friends from everywhere Iâ€™ve ever worked in my career (except for the eight days I spent in academic book publishing! Sheesh, I wouldâ€™ve rather temped than dealt with that drama!). I would feel comfortable calling on them or asking their advice if I ever needed to, and I have done so on more than one occasion. Being a member of professional associations, alumni associations, and other trade associations is a good idea too.Also, donâ€™t get too comfortable where youâ€™re at right this minute as you read the words coming off of my fingers. You may have a great corner office with awesome views, but you better have a versatile and freshly updated awesome resume to match! NOTE: If anybody else has some â€śfiredâ€ť stories, please share in the comments section below!
Ms. Magazineâ€™s refusal to run what appearedâ€”at first glanceâ€”to be a benign advertisement touting female Israeli leaders, as FOLIO: first reported last week, has caused a bit of a stir in the American Jewish community, who are claiming the magazine is being anti-Israel. The magazine claims it is merely being anti-political:
"Ms. magazineâ€™s policy ... is to only accept mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote womenâ€™s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence. The ad submitted by AJCongress for consideration appeared to be a political ad, and as such, was inconsistent with this policy. With two of the women featured in the ad from one political party in Israel, Ms. concluded that in accepting the ad it could be viewed as though it was supporting one political party over another in the internal domestic politics of a country.â€ť
It also begs an interesting question for all you freewheeling magazine publishers out there: What sorts of advertisers have you turned down? And why?Publishers, we want your horror stories! And blacklists! Please leave them in the comments section below. Anonymity is guaranteed.
The buzz in marketing circles is about "customer engagement," ways of interacting with customers to advance marketing goals. cScape, a London based digital agency, has released a survey of 1000 "Customer experience professionals, showing the level of interest in programs that move customer engagement along. There is lots of it.
Here's the catch: the creators of the study are not big on "traditional advertising" and have not included even interactive advertising as part of the the study.
This is instructive for media sales people to see just how far this "engagement" concept can go without ever mentioning advertising.
From the study:
"Traditional marketing communications is almost an 'us and them' situation. The logic is that if we say it loud and often enough, some of our message will stick! Modern web-based businesses need to deploy a much more subtle of our message will stick! Modern web-based businesses need to deploy a much more subtle line of interactive communications. One thatâ€™s all about mutual interests. People coming to a site want it to work and to work well. A site that achieves this is one that gets the business and generates the kind of 'feel-good' factor that brand marketers strive for."
On your next call:
Don't bring this study. But do think about the part of the "non advertising" dialog our advertisers are having about engegement that this study represents, and think about the marketing dollars that will drain away if you cannot make the point stick that interactive and magazine advertising can be extremely engaging. We sell many media that engage customers in many ways. On your next call think about how you can bring that point foreword.
Download the entire study here (registration required).
If you've read my blog in recent weeks, you know I've grown very worried about what 2008 will bring for b-to-b publishing. A few days ago, I wrote that it's "time for b-to-b editors and publishers to build some fighting holes"-defensive positions from where they could ride out the coming onslaught of bad economic news.I promised then that I would "post some of my thoughts on what a b-to-b fighting hole looks like." And given the news that the smartest guys on Wall Street think a recession is coming, I think today is the day for me to start discussing tactics.Let's start with a little story.A few weeks ago I had coffee with a long-time friend and journalist. We got to talking about new media. I told him about the remarkable work being done by Rob Curley's team at Loudoun Extra, and I told him that he should go straight home, log on and check it out.But my friend said that he did not have an Internet connection at his home.When my shock wore off, I asked why. And my friend, who makes pretty good money, said he didn't want to pay for Web access. "It doesn't seem worth it," he said.I was reminded of that conversation earlier today when an anonymous reader posted a comment to an earlier post of mine. That reader complained that"employers aren't doing much to train their current employees and prepare them as online journalists."
That's true, I thought. But I don't care. I believe that journalists need to learn these skills themselves. As I said more than two years ago"... at this point, you can't blame the boss for not teaching these things. The difficult truth is that people who can't insert a hyperlink, who won't read a blog, who don't know how to work with Photoshop and can't upload a video file just aren't worth having around anymore."Now, as difficult times loom, I'm taking an even harder stance. I'm urging employers not to offer any training in Web journalism. There are two reasons for this. Here they are:1. You cannot train someone to be part of a culture.For someone to work on the Web, they must be part of the Web. That, after all, is what the Web means. The Web is a web. It exists as a series of connections. An online journalist isn't a journalist who works online. He's a journalist who lives online. He's part of the Web.It's a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn't already become part of the Web. And there's no need to teach skills and technology to the journalists who are already part of Web culture, because the culture requires participation in skills and technology.Or, to put it another way -- I cannot teach the Web. No one can. Yet all of us who are part of the Web are learning the Web.2. When the fighting begins, the training must end.We had a good run. For the past few years, life has been pretty easy for b-to-b publishers that have embraced the Web. We have been an army that has known nothing but victory. But if I'm right, the easy times are over.We have moved too far, too fast. Our lines are overextended. Our advance has been halted. We are vulnerable.
We cannot move backward to round up the stragglers and train them to fight. It's too late to try to convince print journalists that the Web has value. It's too late to tell them that an Internet connection is worth a few dollars a month. As revenue shrinks, we can't spend money on training. We can't gather up the print folks and "prepare them as online journalists."
You can't prepare people to dig a fighting hole. You just tell them to dig. And the ones who don't dig fast enough, deep enough or well enough, die.[Some readers are sure to be thinking -- "Is he nuts? Isn't training newsroom staffs part of what he does for a living?" To which I reply, "Yes. I am nuts. And I do offer training to newsroom staffs." Odds are there's something valuable I can offer to the staff at your publication. There are certainly non-training services I can offer your company. Send an email to inquire (at) paulconley (dot) com and we can talk about it. Just don't ask me to teach another "writing for the Web" course. There's no room for Web newbies in a b-to-b fighting hole.]
Print has a short behind-the-scenes look at New Yorkâ€™s recent section reshuffling:
Thereâ€™s been some sadness around this office that New York decided to get rid of their High Priority feature, a half-page graphic that opened their listings section each week. Created by a different designer every issue, High Priority showed off the talents of designers new and established, with the only restriction being that the design be done in red, black, and white.* Chris Dixon, the magazineâ€™s design director, jokes that they â€śran out of typographersâ€ť after three years, but adds on a more serious note that High Priority had a tendency to be â€śa little removed [from what the magazine was actually recommending] for the readerâ€™s good.â€ť
Dixon and his team also bumped the crossword puzzle a few pages and introduced a new back page infographic, Artifact, which the magazine's editors describes as â€śpure observation, a moment grabbed and preserved.â€ť Dixon adds that they â€śhad been looking for the perfect end note to the magazine for a year or so,â€ť and that â€śthis seemed to be the best way to finish off the experience of the issue.â€ť
More here ...[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]
One of my favorite people in the industry is straight-shooter Jack Semler, President of the Readex Corporation. Readex is best known for ad readership studies (like Starch and Harvey) although they also do a healthy business in more general subscriber studies and other types of research. In any case, WE publishers are their customers. If WE are really worried about business next year, we will do fewer paid outside studies and Readex's forward business outlook for 2008 should be down.
Well, here's what Jack said; "As for our indicators, we are kicking butt right now.Â The ad effectiveness study count will be up and the number of proposals we are writing for custom studies is above average.Â IF all holds up and doesn't crash under the 'self-fulfilling prophecy' weight of the media reporting 'Recession,' then we will be running at an 18%-20% increase over 2007."
Gosh, I hope Jack is right and that this IS a leading indicator for all of us.Â The tea leaves for my business are spread before me and, well, it kinda depends how you arrange them! Forward contracts were flat, but followed a 35% increase the year before. Business at the end of December - a flurry of activity in 2006, was this year, like Old Marley, "dead as a door-nail." But it has picked up noticeably in January as marketers realize that the sky has not quite fallen.Â Yet, anyway.
So call Jack Semler a positive leading indicator. For me it's still cautious optimism. With heavy emphasis on the cautious.