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'Time' Stretches On for Publisher Search

News, Sports Groups could be reunited
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It’s been close to two months that Time magazine has been without a publisher, and Time Inc. is still on the hunt for a new head of sales for its namesake title.

Leslie Picard is said to be a strong inside contender for the job, which Kim Kelleher quit to run digital company Say Media. Picard would be an interesting choice for the role, having spent most of her recent career in corporate sales at Time Inc. and Condé Nast (her title is now president of Time Inc. Branded Solutions), save for a few years as vp and publisher of Bon Appétit. Sports Illustrated publisher Frank Wall and Money publisher Brendan Ripp’s names have been bandied about as well.

Filling the publisher slot at Time couldn’t hurt the magazine from a visibility standpoint. Time’s ad pages tumbled 19 percent to 539 in the first six months of the year versus the year-ago period, compared with a 9 percent drop for the magazine industry overall.

A holdup for the Time job seems to be tied to whether newbie CEO Laura Lang can find the right person to lead the News and Sports Groups. Lang, who is expected to hold off in making any big changes at the company until after Labor Day and post-Bain & Co. review, is looking at recombining the groups—breaking up the structure Jack Griffin put in place during his short stint as CEO (in turn, reversing his predecessor Ann Moore’s approach).

The hope was that grouping Time and SI together could help them leverage their weekly schedules and male-skewing audience with advertisers. The split-up under Griffin coincided with another attempt by Time Warner at synergy between Turner and Sports Illustrated. That relationship broke up late last year with SI taking back control of its online sales from Turner, which would seem to make it easier for a reunion with Time.

Optics aside, Time may not be Lang’s biggest priority, though. In terms of revenue, it pales in comparison to People, the company’s cash cow and now its big problem: its first-half performance struggled, ad pages down 9 percent to 1,541 and newsstand sales off 18 percent. Under Paul Caine, the magazine raked in the accolades for its performance, but now Caine is off doing corporate duty as chief revenue officer (leaving first-time publisher Karen Kovacs in charge). As such, it's the celebrity mag that’s expected to get the most serious attention from Lang.

“The speculation is that Laura sees the success or failure of People as a bellwether of her performance,” said a source with inside company knowledge.