Over her 30-year career at Time Inc., chairman/CEO Ann Moore has had a hand in launching some of the country’s biggest brands (In Style, Real Simple) while taking others (People, Sports Illustrated) to new heights. But with magazine industry revenue growth sagging and readers shifting online, Moore has presided over a shrinking empire, closing or selling niche and unsuccessful titles and laying off hundreds while trying to transform the remaining titles into cross-media brands. Moore shared her thoughts with Mediaweek senior editor Lucia Moses shortly before she’s due to receive the Henry Johnson Fisher award from Magazine Publishers of America at a Jan. 29 luncheon in New York.
I hear you’ve been meeting with employees in small groups. Are you doing a lot of reassuring these days?
We’re in uncharted waters. It’s a real opportunity to have a dialogue and find out what’s on people’s minds. I give them two things to read and four questions.
One of the things I’m very focused on in 2009 is training. I think this is an opportunity to have the best-trained workforce. So I ask them, what would you want to teach? What do you want to learn? I think that’s a competitive advantage for us.
Are you seeing any signs of an ad turnaround?
No, not really. We’re expecting 2009 to be a rough year. It’s pretty gloomy in the first quarter. It’s very hard to see visibility. But I still believe after 30 years we’re in a wonderful business. Editing and packaging of information in a world of too much information is a core competency that’s going to be needed more, not less.
How did the recent reorganization of Time Inc.’s magazines into three business units set the company up for the future?
For anyone who didn’t think it was radical, I think they were completely off base. We anticipated the business would be bad. We were very decentralized, individual brand-focused and we completely flipped that.
We were able to get the organization aligned in these three groups. We merged print and digital completely together to really be platform-agnostic. I changed the compensation system to align everyone. Often, divisions were in conflict with the greater good. In an upmarket, you can afford the inefficiencies of a decentralized organization.
You yourself are now leading the new Style & Entertainment Group. Why did you put yourself back into an operating role?
It was my old group, and it was a lot of fun. I think it was a good signal that I was able to roll up my sleeves. I’m asking people to wear two hats, and I thought it was good to set a good example from the top. And some of the most fun jobs are operating jobs. I miss the hands-on creation of product.
Why keep doing this when you could be sitting on a beach?
Fun is probably not the right word, but I get a lot of satisfaction from it. I still think our journalism is better than it’s ever been. We’ve just come through an Olympics and an election year, and the financial meltdown. The work we do day-to-day hasn’t changed at all. We may have lost some of the perks from the old days, but I don’t really miss those days. These are tough times, and we need experience to get through.
Right now, I’m studying deflation. I still see a lot of signs we’ll still be around. Real news is making a comeback. In really tough times, people are going to turn to entertainment and fact-based news. But the magazine industry has changed. We don’t use the word “magazine” as much anymore. We’re in the content business. Our Web sites are doing well, and we’ve got some profitable Web businesses.
What about proceeds from the planned sale of Time Warner Cable—do you think you’ll get some of that money to make acquisitions?
It’s one of the questions I’ve been asking: where are the holes in the portfolio? What are the opportunities? I want to position us to emerge stronger than ever. We have very strong news and service assets. I’m a big believer in news. I believe fact-based reporting is very important, and will remain so.
Bloomberg reported Time Warner CFO John Martin as saying the company was reviewing some of its smaller magazines. Do you expect to close any more magazines?
No. We shut down Cottage Living, but the Time Inc. magazines are profitable. There was a little dustup over that. That’s not on my agenda.
Do you think you’re done with layoffs?
As hard as it’s been on everyone, you do layoffs, and I don’t think you’re ever done. I believe in continuous improvement. But there are no major layoffs planned.