BoSacks Speaks Out: IMAG-MPA A like-minded group of business anarchists where traditional rules are an impediment to growth

By Bob Sacks on July 26, 2017

 I have several media conferences that I relish and greatly look forward to each year, and IMAG-MPA is one of the best of them. Imagine what is like for a long-time publishing enthusiast like me to be in a room filled with like-minded entrepreneurs who happen to be in the magazine business. Intoxicating yes?   Here we have publishers whose companies range from $5 million to $100 million in revenues, and yet they play very well together regardless of pecking order.  

The opening night was a smashing success when we all hopped aboard busses and attended opening night cocktails and dinner at TEN: The Enthusiast Network Headquarters. The TEN building is huge and row upon row of computer work stations almost as far as the eye can see, generating and executing the placement of content in the automotive media sector. TEN covers the automotive in-market and automotive after-market services. Perhaps their most famous tile is Motor Trend, but there are dozens of other media enterprises under the hood at TEN. It was quite a display of energy and success in these troubled media moments.  

One of the constant threads of the whole IMAG-MPA event was kicked off by a discussion by Mike Benson, Head of Marketing, Amazon Originals. Right out of the box and continuing for the next few days from many speakers was a conversation about magazine media and video. (I wrote last week that my reaction to the video conversation was that video was of course a revenue thing but not the revenuething for the future of our business depending upon what sector your franchise is in.)  

Tuesday morning, Scott Dickey, Chief Executive Officer, TEN: The Enthusiast Network, opened the main part of the conference with an interesting and sober comment. He said, "We know what it's like to be down 21%, but we also know how to survive."  Bravo for such honesty in an open forum and, Indeed, TEN is not only thriving but sharing how to do so. Scott suggested that in next few days, "We will share information and we are in some way partners."  He went on to say, "This big ideas showcased here is transferable to your businesses." Within reason I think that is correct. Not every idea is transferable to any and all businesses, but with creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit, most good ideas are worth "borrowing" and bending to your own enterprise's needs.      

 Following Scott's opening remarks, Linda Thomas Brooks, President and Chief Executive Officer of the MPA, prefaced the meeting with a few observations.  Linda discussed an on-going dialog that I have heard repeated at several conferences. It is a discussion of the science of magazine readership. Daniel Dejan of Sappi Paper Company parallels Linda's thoughts in greater detail and his talk is worth watching some time. Linda discussed what she called "magazine mindfulness." She suggested that magazines are taking back the conversation and that in these trying times magazines are an enormous differentiator. We were told that Simmons Research concluded that magazines are more trusted and motivating than any other media.  

Next up to the to speak was Eric Zinczenko, Chief Executive Officer, Bonnier Corp.  He went on to make a case demonstrated with several key points that the Bonnier Corporation has successfully redefined what a media company can be. A few of the notable points were how his company was able to successfully "unlock assets and triple EBITA with 18% fewer employees." (EBITA is an acronym for earnings before interest, taxes and amortization).  

He went on to quote I believe Jonathan Stark, saying, "Today is the slowest rate of change we will experience in our lifetime." The observation went on to explain that the speed of change has had and will have tremendous effect on all our companies. Accepting that premise, the question put to the audience was, "Should we move to new models or preserve the models we have?" Always a good and thought-provoking question. Eric went on to suggest, "legacy problems are only getting worse." And the kicker was that he added to the discussion that "We don't have time for best practices." My understanding of that comment was that in many cases best practices are/were holdovers from legacy business models and are of a slower time gone by. Eric called for constant reinvention rather than reliance on what might have worked before.  

Eric is the first speaker I can remember quoting the former boxer Mike Tyson, when he said, "Everyone has a plan till they get hit." In an interesting way that follows the thinking of General Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."         

Now Eric went on to discuss another theme common at almost all events that I have attended for years. It is of the need to change the corporate culture. I have listened to this plea all over the world. I have heard it in Germany, London, Toronto and New York. I have additionally listened to this line of logic irrespective of geography from small publishing events to the biggest. I deduce from this that changing the culture isn't enough, because as Eric pointed out early on, "Today is the slowest rate of change we will experience in our lifetime." That means if change is not only constant but speeding up all the time, any culture that resides in any company today is obsolete the day it is initiated.   Interestingly Eric went on to quote Peter Drucker who said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  

Eric concluded his talk with a few Bonnier principles: 

We must break the orthodoxies that confine us.

The older the brand the less likely for continued returns

We not a magazine business any more - We are in the audience development business

We first focus on the WHY and then build the product

We are in the business of improving the lives of our audience

If it makes money, it makes sense

The best outcome is income 

Eric concluded by quoting Peter Drucker, "The best way to predict the future is to create your own."  

As you can tell, this was an outstanding opening to an outstanding event. I have pages more of notes from other speakers and will try to write about them in the next few days. But for now, let's both take a break.  

I will close pretty much as I started. I am and always have been comfortable with game changing entrepreneurs. It's intoxicating to be in a room full of like-minded business anarchists where traditional rules are an impediment to growth and sustainable successes.   IMAG is filled with media revolutionaries of the highest order. 

By Bob Sacks| July 26, 2017

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Bob Sacks

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