Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Can magazine publishers really run global operations?

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Increasingly, publishers are growing and unifying their operations across the globe as they look towards the future. But efforts at integration and internationalisation will depend on how the people involved come together.

Arguments against cross-border bureaucracies might have won the day in Brexit Britain – well, England – but in Magazineland, narrow nationalism is so last decade.

Earlier this month, magazine giant Hearst announced a decidedly europhile corporate strategy under the One Hearst Europe banner, unifying its European teams to ‘unlock talent’ across the group. The strategic move is designed to align four owned and operated markets –  the UK, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands – under an integrated approach to commercial objectives.

The One Hearst Europe move creates a cross-market structure, organised by function instead of country, around three key pillars:

  • Digital acceleration
  • Revenue diversification
  • Growing print share

Hearst country managers will continue to operate in their respective markets, managing their own  P&Ls. But they will work within four collaborative European business divisions, sharing best practice and looking for cross-market partnerships.

The cross-border consolidation from Hearst comes less than six months after global competitor Condé Nast announced it’s own international shake up. Last summer, the publisher of Vogue and GQ announced a new global leadership structure, bringing Condé Nast and Condé Nast International management together.

Condé Nast’s newly formed global leadership team was announced as a move to accelerate the company’s ‘evolution into a 21st century media company’. Hearst’s European restructuring  was billed as a move to create a more collaborative, future-facing media company.

Coincidence? ‘21st century media company’… ’Future-facing media company’ No, there’s a common theme here, and it’s mostly about people.

In the restructuring announcement the CEO of Condé Nast, Roger Lynch,said, “I’m confident that our new global structure will better enable us to collaborate across teams and markets and, ultimately, deliver unparalleled experiences for our consumers and clients.”

Hearst, looking to leverage audience and operational scale, is also keen to make the most of its people. James Wildman, President Hearst Magazines Europe said, “By aligning our exceptional talent across our markets, we will become even more innovative and effective.”

In an increasingly complicated and competitive media market, setting the brightest and best in your organisation on the biggest challenges, regardless of where they sit, is a smart move.

Tech supports talent

Developments in organisational technology have made collaboration and cross-country administration easier. And it’s not just about Slack messaging or group chats. 

The TX Group – the Swiss publishing company formerly known as Tamedia – has recently implemented a new, cloud-based software  system to support cross-border finance, HR and procurement processes.

With a new name, The TX Group now operates with four largely independent business units focusing on classifieds and marketplaces; advertising across Switzerland, Germany and Austria; commuter media; and paid-for newspapers and magazines.

“We are running many different businesses, in many different areas, and we have to bring these together in terms of accounting,”Simon Maurer, head of development and projects for corporate services at TX Group told Diginomica.

The right technology can help streamline operations, making it easier to identify and manage efficiencies. 

Technology investments deployed across multiple office locations also become more cost effective. But the real global technology play lies in serving international audiences and the border busting realities of digital publishing make cross-country teamwork all but inevitable. 

“The rise of digital media has led all businesses to be international whether they like it or not,” James Hewes, CEO of global media network FIPP, told me last year for a piece on Licensing.

James said publishers can no longer think about just licensing one element of their property in isolation. The same is true for global publishers running multiple international editions, but with an online and social media presence that is inherently international.

The balancing act for every would-be global publisher will be to take advantage of international efficiencies of scale, operationally, in sales and marketing and in content creation, while keeping local audiences happy.

In the guiding principles for its global operations, Condé Nast has specifically guaranteed to preserve ‘local editorial voice and authority’. But the drive for a global offering runs from Anna Wintour’s mission to advise on global content opportunities to the newly formed consumer marketing organisations role in creating ‘consistency across consumer experiences on every platform’.

Common sense consolidation

From the boardroom perspective, it makes perfect sense to build best practice around a common product offering and shared best practice with a unified admin and publishing infrastructure. 

In the world of newspapers, bigger is becoming more common, if not always better. In America’s local newspaper market, consolidation is everywhere. Newsonomics author Ken Doctor described the merger deal between Gatehouse and Gannet as the first in a raft of potential buy outs. He has raised the prospect of five of America’s biggest local newspaper chains could become two in 2020. Against this background, and equally driven by ‘standard operating principles and efficiencies’, moves for magazine publishers to consolidate internally make absolute sense.

But, efforts at integration and internationalisation will depend on how the people involved come together.

In a wonderfully visceral picture of corporate collaboration, Drum Media correspondent John McCarthy imagined Hearst’s top European talent ‘butting heads’ to create cohesive continent-wide initiatives.

Having worked for a time as Content Director in the European offices of an American business publisher, I’ve felt the pain of working in international teams that didn’t always see eye to eye. 

In that role, one of my objectives was to foster greater collaboration between the UK and US editorial offices and eventually I came to manage editorial teams either side of the Atlantic. But my first task was to beg the publisher of one of our US titles not to sue their UK colleagues for repurposing US originated content. That was one special relationship that needed work.

And for Hearst, Condé Nast and any other global publisher to run a truly global operation, the people in the organisation will need to make it work.