A lot of press attention has been focused recently on CEOs. It has almost become an annual ritual at publishing companies;this game of musical CEO chairs, with new CEOs at places like Reed and IDG. The publishing industry is not exempt from the rest of corporate America. Indeed, by some reports, the average tenure of a CEO at a publicly traded company is about 18 months.
But the real story may be elsewhere in the executive suite. Of course, new demands are being placed on media CEOs;demands for new product development, rethinking technologies, dramatic changes in audience habits, the threat of new Internet competitors;just to name a few. But the rest of the senior executive group is dealing with these same macro issues, and more.
Our COOs, CFOs, general counsels, publishers, production and circulation directors, and editors now all work in a different world. Longevity and tenure are far from certain. Regular ownership changes, competitive pressure, fundamental changes in cost structure and new marketing vehicles all combine to put added pressure on the executive team. A circulation director who doesn’t understand Internet marketing will fail. A publisher who isn’t sensitive to editorial nuance won’t last.
Ten years ago it wasn’t uncommon to see executives at the top of the heap who’d worked their way up through one department in one company, a CFO who spent a lifetime in his company’s finance department, a publisher who only knew sales, an editor who didn’t really understand circulation.
That’s no longer true.
Take my company, 101communications, for example. We publish nine publications with total circulation of over 500,000 and about 25 Web sites serving more than 14 million page views a month, all serving the b-to-b world of information technology. Our CFO has worked in textbook and legal publishing, cable television, and telecommunications. Our general counsel has been a CIO and is a certified Microsoft systems engineer. Our head of human resources spent a stint as a newspaper circulation director. One executive vice president who oversees four magazines started his career as an editor. Sure, we have the usual slew of publishers who came out of sales, but we also have top unit executives who’ve been editors or marketing directors.
A diversity of experience in different specialties, and in varied industries, is much more important than ever before in helping the successful executive navigate the tortuous path to profitability and quality.
No More "Command and Control"
New private owners, such as private-equity firms, expect consistent growth in both revenue and profits. Public owners can be even more demanding, expecting each quarter to outdo the last. Even family-run companies have to compete in this changed landscape.
In today’s demanding publishing environment, the old ‘command and control’ approach to management just won’t work. Executives at every level have too many other options, and the problems are just too difficult. It is naive to think that only those at the very top have the right answers. At 101, we pride ourselves on being innovative on the Internet front. A small part of that is that our top executives are in tune with what’s happening on the Web, but most of it is that we’ve tried to empower the people closest to the product, the software developers, designers, and Web editors, to create product that they can be proud of and that they think will attract readership. And we realize that what we did eight months ago may already be old and faded.
Turfs and silos, which were never good, but were often tolerated when all you had to do was publish a magazine, can be ruinous when you are also selling a database, publishing electronic newsletters, building new Web sites, and operating a trade show. Teamwork has become essential to success, and teamwork is only possible with strong, clear, and honest communication from all stakeholders in a process.
Teamwork starts in the executive suite. Even the janitor usually knows when senior executives are competing for attention, back stabbing, or building empires. Of course, no one can avoid the usual jostling about resource allocation and priorities, but to cite a cliche, when everyone is ‘on the same page’ about fundamental issues, success is much more likely.
It’s just that it’s not only up to the CEO anymore. Success is everybody’s job.
Jeffrey S. Klein is President and CEO of 101communications, a b-to-b publisher in the Information Technology market.