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Does Laura Lang’s Appointment Signal The End For America’s Best-Loved Publications?

What do you get when you put the head of a suc­cess­ful glob­al dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing agency at the helm of one of America’s most tra­di­tion­al print publishers?

We’re not sure either, but Time Inc. is going to find out fol­low­ing the appoint­ment of for­mer Dig­i­tas CEO Lau­ra Lang.

As the Dot Com rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ues apace, can some of the country’s best loved mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers sur­vive a straight-talk­ing CEO who’s famed for turn­ing round the for­tunes of a run-of-the-mill direct-mail firm and turn­ing it into an uber-suc­cess­ful dig­i­tal brand agency?

Time Inc. Where Were They And Where Are They Now

In the five years lead­ing up to the appoint­ment of Lang, Time Inc. had not enjoyed much suc­cess. Over­all rev­enue had fall­en by 30% since 2007 and in the three months lead­ing up to March this year the company’s adjust­ed oper­at­ing income had fall­en by 38%, dri­ven by a 19% drop in adver­tis­ing revenue.

For­mer CEO Jack Grif­fin was shown the door after just six months in post; a rem­e­dy was need­ed and the senior execs and share­hold­ers clear­ly felt Lang was it. How­ev­er Time Inc’s 9,000 employ­ees had ques­tions, and whether print was dead was top of the list.

Time Inc.’s fig­ures for the three months end­ing June 30 make for inter­est­ing read­ing. While Net­work rev­enue is up on 2011 from $3.4billion to $3.6billion, else­where the firm is see­ing rev­enues drop on the same peri­od last year.

Film and TV Enter­tain­ment has dropped to $2.16billion from $2.8billion last year and telling­ly, pub­lish­ing has seen a down­turn of some $88million. In total Time Inc. has seen rev­enues drop by $286million com­pared to 2011.

Time Inc. Pub­li­ca­tions include:

  • Sports Illus­trat­ed
  • For­tune
  • InStyle
  • GOLF Mag­a­zine
  • Essence
  • South­ern Living
  • This Old House
  • Life
  • All You
  • Enter­tain­ment Weekly

The com­pa­ny also owns UK-based mag­a­zine house IPC Media whose titles include Marie Claire, What’s on TV, NME and Coun­try Life, and boasts 25 US web­sites, 95 world­wide titles and 48 glob­al web­sites. Its titles hold a 20% share of the domes­tic mag­a­zine adver­tis­ing spend and its sites attract more than 50million unique vis­i­tors and 1.5billion page views per month. Time Inc. is report­ed to have rev­enues totalling approx­i­mate­ly $5billion and engages 138million users in print, online and via mobile devices.

The New CEO — A Force To Be Reck­oned With

Lang cut her teeth as brand man­ag­er for Quak­er Oats, Bris­tol Mey­ers and Pfiz­er Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, before join­ing Dig­i­tas in 1999, where she rose to CEO of Dig­i­tas North Amer­i­ca in 2004 and was Glob­al CEO by 2008. Dur­ing her tenure at Dig­i­tas the com­pa­ny dou­bled its rev­enue and grew rela­tion­ships with key clients.

In 2007 Lang was named as a ‘Woman to Watch’ by Adver­tis­ing Age and was also includ­ed in BtoB Magazine’s ‘Who’s Who’ list in 2006. She’s also a breast can­cer sur­vivor and one tough cookie.

Tak­ing The Helm Of A Rud­der­less Ship

Lang’s pre­de­ces­sor at Time Inc. spent less than six months in post and the firm was a rud­der­less ship for a year before Lang took the helm. Under­stand­ably, her back­ground in dig­i­tal media meant she would face some search­ing ques­tions from employ­ees of a tra­di­tion­al print-based media com­pa­ny. She has kept a low pro­file since her appoint­ment, pre­fer­ring to trav­el to meet employ­ees face-to-face and address their concerns.

She has made no secret of the fact the that changes would be made and that the com­pa­ny need­ed to be more respon­sive to con­sumer habits – some­thing that Time Inc. seems to have resist­ed. Until now. Qui­et­ly can­vass­ing the opin­ions of exec­u­tives and employ­ees alike, as well as those of an out­side con­sul­tan­cy firm, Lang cer­tain­ly seems to be for­mu­lat­ing her strat­e­gy to drag Time Inc. out of the dol­drums and give it a new lease of life.

How­ev­er she has cer­tain­ly not ruled out the idea that this new lease of life may mean that some pub­li­ca­tions may soon only be acces­si­ble online.

By har­ness­ing the cus­tomer data already accu­mu­lat­ed by the com­pa­ny Lang believes she can offer adver­tis­ers the chance to apply their mes­sag­ing to appro­pri­ate issues of mag­a­zines, their online and app ver­sions and this very ‘dig­i­tal’ way of doing things is tak­ing hold as plans are made to start focus­ing the company’s offer to the dig­i­tal con­sumer – some­thing that has been large­ly ignored by Time Inc. until now, much to the detri­ment of it’s prod­ucts as high­light­ed by the recent drop in revenue.

Refo­cus­ing the offer

The com­pa­ny admits that pre­vi­ous­ly, any dig­i­tal cus­tomers were seen as an exten­sion of the print­ed media cus­tomer – an added bonus, but all that has changed with Lang’s appoint­ment. Time has since admit­ted that she didn’t arrive with a strat­e­gy for print-based media, but rather to address con­sumer need and to make the busi­ness proac­tive, respon­sive and dynamic.

Per­haps the most telling events since Lau­ra Lang’s arrival have been the appoint­ment of a mobile edi­tor at Peo­ple, ded­i­cat­ed to updat­ing and devel­op­ing infor­ma­tion for the mag’s mobile app. At the same time Lang was busy sign­ing a deal to make a range of Time’s prod­ucts avail­able on the News­stand of Apple’s App Store.

Make of that what you will…

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