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If there are indicators as to where Time Inc.’s new chief executive officer, Jack Griffin, might take the publishing behemoth, they can be found in the flatlands of Iowa.
As reported, Griffin comes from Meredith Corp., where he spent the better part of the last decade overseeing the company’s National Media Group. And what clearly landed him the Time Inc. job was his transformation of the once-sleepy Meredith into the version 3.0 of the magazine world. In other words, Meredith is much less about publishing — it’s now a marketing organization with a publishing arm.
This story first appeared in the August 13, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Between 2006 and 2007 alone, Meredith Integrated Marketing bought three interactive marketing agencies — Genex, O’Grady Meyers and New Media Strategies — and picked up customer research and database specialist Directive. Last month it closed on Hyperfactory, a buzzed-about mobile developer.
These businesses enable Meredith to grow its ability to offer advertising deals across all its titles and digital holdings via its Meredith 360 division, offering services ranging from those of a traditional ad agency as well as consumer research, digital development and even brand development (for example, Hyperfactory is creating stand-alone e-reader apps for Kraft Foods).
The strategy could indicate he’ll drive Time Inc. to find similar deals.
But perhaps as integral to the success of 360 as Griffin has been consumer magazine president Tom Harty — and even Griffin and Meredith ceo Steve Lacy recognize that. Not surprisingly, Harty has succeeded Griffin as head of Meredith’s National Media Group.
“We have a chief revenue officer, Tom Harty, who divines how we put all of our assets together into these programs,” Griffin said on the company’s fourth-quarter conference call last month. “And he’s in the pivot position to make the critical decisions. And we do that deliberately and, I think, with good judgment and great skill, and it has been central to the share gains that we talked about earlier.”
Harty himself was equally sure to spread the credit. He told WWD on Thursday that other executives such as senior vice president Jeannine Shao Collins played a role in implementing the strategy. He was also sure to cite other untraditional sources of revenue for Meredith’s gains.
“Certainly Meredith 360’s success has given us the ability to work with clients on a deeper and more engaged level, but we’ve also seen strong growth in other segments of our business including individual brands, such as Family Circle that speak to what’s important to the moms of teens and tweens, as well as with the tremendous expansion of our licensing and branded product programs,” Harty wrote in an e-mail.
Those share gains have been head turning — especially in the New York corner offices of the likes of Hearst, Condé Nast and Time Inc. According to its own figures, the company closed fiscal 2010 touting an all-time-high 12.3 percent share of total magazine industry ad revenues. On a conference call last year, Griffin explained the firm’s approach in the recession: “We go to market with our 360 and our cross-platform activities in a very aggressive and very disciplined way, and think we’re taking big pieces of share at both the client and agency level before the deals even get done.”
Griffin, 49, has been the face of Meredith’s publishing success since his arrival there, in 2003, from the publisher’s chair at Parade. The year Griffin showed up to run it, the National Media Group posted an operating profit of $139.3 million on revenues of $808 million. At its prerecession height in 2007, the unit recorded profits of $219 million on $1.27 billion in revenues, and though it lagged with the rest of the publishing world through the Great Recession, it still fared better than most, and late last month sported its first annual profit gain in two years.
All the same, several industry experts don’t expect Griffin to bring his Meredith playbook to the nation’s biggest publisher. Like Meredith, Time Inc. already derives about 50 percent of its revenues from advertising. And an open secret to Meredith 360’s success is the fact the company’s stable of magazines has a remarkably similar audience, which helps to engender the cross-platform business. It’s a far cry from the situation at Time Inc., home to a group of publications that sprawls from InStyle to Sports Illustrated to People and Time itself.
“I doubt his approach to Time Inc. will be the same as Meredith because the companies are structured very differently,” said one industry source. And for all the talk of digital acquisitions and multiplatforming, Griffin is still adept at more traditional forms of management.
“I spent a lot of time at his behest looking at where we could take out expense without taking out people,” said Mike Lafavore, former editorial director of Meredith Corp., who added Griffin tends to work within a group of close confidants.
That may not be comforting news to the higher-ups at Griffin’s new employer. After all, Time Inc. hasn’t hesitated to lay off the rank and file in recent years, but it’s been some time since its last real executive shake-up. All key members of its executive team have been in their roles since 2008. Griffin’s arrival no doubt has all the Time Inc. hierarchy (and there’s lots of it) a bit nervous.
Regardless, numerous people in the usually cynical publishing crowd described Griffin as the smartest person they’d ever worked for or met — adulation that is a far cry from Griffin’s predecessor as Time Inc. ceo, the much-less-popular Ann Moore, who, for now, will remain on as chairman. But while Griffin’s success has had him buzzed about for years (several sources said he’d been the target of unsuccessful poach attempts by Hearst), he has always been, as his former editorial director pointed out, a little inscrutable.
“I always said I thought he should work for the CIA because you never know what’s going on inside his head,” said Lafavore.