Griffin Firing Baffles Buyers

Six days after Time Inc. CEO Jack Griffin was fired, an informal survey of media buyers shows there’s a lot of bafflement over Griffin’s sudden ouster.

“I was shocked, ” Scott Daly, executive vice president, executive media director at Dentsu America, said by e-mail. “I had heard nothing but positive feedback from my sales contacts at Time Inc. (up through the publisher level). Splitting the news and sports groups made complete sense (esp. for sports). I thought the Randall Rothenberg hire was inspired and spoke to their digital commitment/transformation.”

Rothenberg, whom Griffin hired as chief digital officer, decided to leave the company after his boss was fired. He’s returning to his old job at the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Some saw Griffin’s ouster in terms of a culture clash between the insular Time Inc. and Griffin, a rare example of a Time Inc. CEO who came from the outside.

“It’s a strong culture, and seeing someone come in quickly and leave quickly doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Peter Gardiner, partner, chief media officer, Deutsch.

Another buyer, who requested anonymity, said, “It feels that in this case a leader came in with new ideas but (apparently) didn't show respect to the team that built the company; the division he created between the old and the new was doomed to fail. It's a new day (especially in print-based media), and new leadership needs to think about driving the future—however, bringing in new blood to lead a culture that typically builds from within was indeed a gamble.”

One buyer said while Griffin’s firing won’t impact their investment in Time Inc.'s individual titles, the culture issues exposed by his exit don’t help the company’s image as it searches for a long-term strategy.

Time Inc. needs to move very aggressively into the future and understand the role of digital content, said Audrey Siegel, co-founder, president and director of client services at TargetCast tcm. “If Time Inc. is to be considered a leader and innovator, they’re going to have to find their way.”