Q&A With Time Inc. CEO Jack Griffin

Jack Griffin, who was named CEO of Time Inc. today, was a rising star at Meredith Corp., where he helped diversify the magazine unit’s revenue.

While Time Inc. has begun recovering from the ad recession and successfully transitioning its megabrands like People, Time and Sports Illustrated to digital platforms, it still faces the broader challenge of attracting print advertising in an uncertain ad market. In a phone interview, Griffin weighs in on the strengths and shortcomings of print, the promise of tablets, and an upcoming new direction for the MPA.
Mediaweek: You’re leaving Meredith after pulling off record results there. What attracted you to Time Inc.?

Griffin: This is amazing company with amazing brands and people, inside a company [Time Warner] that is navigating the landscape extremely well, with an explicit emphasis on creating excellent products and a focus on the consumer. Time Inc. has the biggest stable of brands in the business and relationships with 100 million consumers. I don’t think these opportunities come by all that often.
MW: You’re widely admired for changing the business model at Meredith to increase its reliance on digital and marketing services revenue. Could the same approach work at Time Inc.?

Griffin: Marketing services is what everybody is talking about. [At Meredith], it became clear that marketers wanted to be served by content companies on those levels, but a diversified revenue stream is one of the most important aspects of a viable business. We’ve all seen what’s happening with advertising. Time Inc. generates a huge amount of advertising. But there is a lot to be said for a business model that has a diverse revenue stream that insulates companies from cyclical downturns.
MW: Magazines are seeing some recovery this year, but it’s unclear if they’ll ever get back to their record level of 2007. Do you think print can grow in an increasingly digital media world?

Griffin: I am personally and professionally very enthusiastic about it. If you look around the media and marketing world, magazines have what everybody’s trying to get. We have the customer. The customer has paid. The customer has opted in. They’re highly engaged in the content. What we haven’t done a very good job as an industry is making explicit how powerful magazine advertising is around those dimensions. We’ve got to do a better job as an industry of making those facts explicit.
MW: Time Inc has been charging ahead with developing editions of its magazines for the iPad, while Meredith has been focusing on mobile. Given their sales are tiny so far, what do you think the magazine industry’s priorities should be right now?

Griffin: The installed base of people with tablets that render magazines is still pretty small. But what I think is so promising is, the creation of magazines leverages the strength of magazines—to render high quality content in a context. Consumers have shown us they can and expect to pay. There’s this wonderful opportunity for magazines in the tablet world to leverage the heritage of magazines and embrace the wonderful capability tablets have to offer. The business model has to emerge.
MW: Next Issue Media, the r-reader consortium Meredith, Time Inc. and others are backing, has been pretty quiet since it launched last fall. What’s happening at the consortium now, and is it still moving towards its stated goal of creating a digital newsstand for magazines?

Griffin: There’s a lot of exciting work over there. It has a new CEO [Morgan Guenther]. It’s pressing forward with its goal to have a store up by the end of the year. It’s a very important part of the way magazine companies are going to be successful in the tablet environment.
MW: You’re incoming chairman of the MPA. Is having “magazine” part of the name an anachronism, given the increasingly focus on brand rather than the medium?

Griffin: This past year we’ve been working assiduously on some very exciting initiatives around identity that will be unveiled at the annual conference in October. [The summer’s] leadership changes, MPA work…it’s a very positive and hopeful time to leverage the strengths of our industry.