Turning Successful Tech Brands Into Ad Network Dollars: 4 Questions For IDG CEO Bob Carrigan

carrigan.jpgIt’s tough to be a media company these days. But IDG, a leading technology company with publications like PC World and Macworld and their related brands, as well as events and a vertical ad network, seems to have girded itself against the worst.

IDG’s CEO, Bob Carrigan, told FishbowlNY that although 2009 was a tough year, the company has big plans for growth over the next three years. “The tech media category is not immune to the recession and has been challenged by that,” he said. “But our three-year plan calls for growth.”

That growth includes the less than two-year-old ad network, the IDG TechNetwork, which offers ad space inventory from 250 Web sites to technology marketers. Carrigan says its “one of the most successful businesses we’ve launched in a long time.”

After the jump, we talk to Carrigan about his company’s business model, the ad network and his plans for the future.

FishbowlNY: What are IDG’s main businesses?

Bob Carrigan: IDG is the world’s largest technology media company. We operate in roughly 92 countries, 300 magazines, about 450 Web sites, and we produce 500 or so events a year. Under the heading of technology, we reach everyone from the gamer to the CIO and we have brands that separate those audiences from GamePro to PC World, Macworld and CIO magazine…In the U.S., roughly 40 percent of our business is digital. Roughly 20 percent is events. Another 40 percent would be print. It’s a little heavier towards print internationally.

FBNY: IDG is very invested in the digital media and digital advertising space. When did you decide to get heavily into digital and how did you go about it?

BC: Digital has been a huge part of our growth because it has been part of this transformation in our business now for a decade. Our category is probably the most aggressive of the ad categories just because of the nature of the readers and advertisers that we have.

Certain customers guided us, but it was pretty obvious there was a shift in media. The peak of the print ad business was ten years ago in 1999. That was the top, and since then ad pages have declined. And tech marketers are spending more money abroad. So what are they doing? They’re shifting it to online and to events. We really started to notice that in the last decade.

FBNY: How did your ad network come about?

BC: There has been this big trend towards ad networks, aggregating and organizing audiences for customers. We realized it was a big opportunity to launch a vertical ad network in the tech media space…With the network, we basically have aggregated the largest audience of technology users. We have 250 third-party sites. We have IDG corporate sites that we own and operate, and we’ve had that for years. But now we have this third party network of 250 sites, about 80 million unique users, and it is a way for us to present and organize inventory to marketers that is outside of the IDG family. We’re doing this because there’s a lot of anxiety in media companies today over “Should we pledge inventory to networks?” or “Should we work with networks?” We started our own. This is a big difference….This has been one of the most successful businesses we’ve launched in a long time. We’re the leading company in the tech space and we feel that a category leading company should own the vertical networks in their markets. So strategically, we thought it was important for us to be the one to organize the category, so to speak.

The key thing we’re leveraging is the IDG brand and IDG’s reputation. We vet all the sites in the network, we make sure they are marketer-ready. That is the real competency.

FBNY: What advice would you give to other media companies that are struggling to find new forms of revenue and reconcile their digital future?

BC: It’s very hard when you’ve got heritage and you’re dragging around the institutional baggage of whatever your history is. But there is a certain inevitability to all of this. So my advice is err on the side of aggressiveness. It appears that a lot is happening in a reactionary fashion, and it’s very hard to be proactive and get out in front. So the good thing is that companies like Time Inc. and Conde Nast are leading companies that have an advantage. But that advantage is not going to last forever. And it’s not an advantage unless you execute aggressively. You can be very successful in new media but you have to be pretty aggressive about it. That’s hard to do when you have a lot of traditional business development. It’s what we deal with as well. We haven’t been perfect.