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What does Bauer Media need to do to become a real force again?

bauer media

Update April 8: Today in the wake of Nick Chan’s appointment as Bauer Media CEO we revisit a piece looking at the future of Bauer Media.  

With Bauer Media closing titles and struggling to find relevance in the digital landscape, Mumbrella’s Miranda Ward looks at how things got to this point, and what a new CEO needs to do to fix the company’s fortunes.

Australia’s largest magazine publisher, Bauer Media, will look back at 2015 as something of an annus horribilis. In the past 12 months it lost a CEO, the editor of its most high-profile publication, its sales director, and closed three major masthead magazines, while its digital strategy failed to get off the ground.

The company’s issues boil down to three core problems – bad management, no coherent digital strategy and no real budget for content.

Fundamentally Bauer has failed to transform itself from a legacy print publisher to a digital media company. Insiders say the digital strategy came to a “screeching halt” under former CEO David Goodchild, while budget cuts have also diluted the quality of some of its flagship print products, as more and more international content crept in.

The closure of icon, Cleo, proves no title is safe as Bauer looks to reinvent itself. But how much of its rich history does Bauer need to shed to move forward?

The historyACP logo

Bauer Media’s Australian history dates back to 1936 when Consolidated Press was formed, combining ownership of The Daily Telegraph and Frank Packer’s Australian Women’s Weekly. It rebranded as Australian Consolidated Press in 1957 and acquired The Bulletin in 1960.

The first issue of Cleo

The first issue of Cleo

In 1972 ACP founded Cleo – with Ita Buttrose at the helm – and sold off The Daily Telegraph. The publishing company also took over Publishers Holdings, claiming Australian House & Garden and Wheels in the process. In 1974, the formidable Kerry Packer took over the business and in the late ’80s the company acquired Fairfax’s magazines, including Woman’s Day, People, Dolly and Good Housekeeping.

The early ’90s saw ACP merge with the Nine Network to form Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (later known as PBL Media), with Nine handling ACP’s digital assets.

In 2012, Nine parted with ACP Magazines in exchange for $525m. A month later the company was rebranded as Bauer Media Group – the Germans had officially taken over.

At the time analysts were divided over whether the price represented a “fire sale bargain” or a “clever deal” by Nine.

Mark Day, a former Playboy editor for ACP and at the time a media columnist for The Australian, told the ABC: “I would imagine it would be Bauer’s intention to continue to publish them [the big titles], and maybe you’ll see the introduction of some of their other, more profitable titles from overseas.”

Zoo WeeklyBut since the change of ownership, Madison, Grazia, lads’ mag Zoo Weekly, Top Gear and most-recently Cleo have all been shut down.

Women’s Fitness was on the chopping block but was saved at the last minute by Citrus Media which bought the title under license from UK-based Dennis Publishing. Last August Citrus Media also bought Australian Motorcycle News, Australasian Dirt Bike and Motorcyle Trader.

Buying ACP and expanding into Australia – a market 24 hours away – was probably more of a shock than expected for the Bauer Family.

“A business that had stepped out of Germany to go into the UK and the US and had been pretty tight in those two places for 30-odd years, suddenly thought it could conquer the world,” an industry insider told Mumbrella.

“This is a family-owned business based in Hamburg and the man who built the business, Heinz Bauer, ran it for the best part of 40 years, (and) handed it over to his daughter, Yvonne, who’s in her 30s. If you didn’t know anything else, one of the things you might surmise is that complete change of direction was the new generation acting on its own instincts.

“The other thing that has changed tremendously at Bauer – there was a time (when) the business’s only international points were in London and New York. It was a time when policy and strategy for the whole business was conducted over the lunch table on Sundays, in Hamburg, and then one of the daughters would be despatched to London or New York to hand down the latest decision.

“You can imagine it’s rather more difficult when Sydney is 24 hours away,” the source added.

magazinesThe source said Bauer’s understanding of the magazine industry was based on what it already knew – that magazines generated revenue from their cover price as opposed to the ads within.

“They completely misjudged the trends in the magazine market. Because they had been in the magazine market for a long time, they were in different kinds of magazines. They simply didn’t know what was already happening in the magazine market when they shelled out for EMAP and ACP one after another.

“They underestimated what was going to happen in Australia and they didn’t even think how difficult it would be to manage a business through a tough time so far from home.”

Bauer bought into the local market when it was beginning to struggle – digital had arrived but no one knew what to do with it, print circulations were dropping and advertising spend was shrinking.

Australia’s magazine market is very different to the US and to Europe in that with a smaller population magazine titles are very reliant on advertiser revenue rather than cover price revenue.

Standard Media Index figures for Bauer show media agency spending has been on a downward trajectory for the past eight years.

They show ad spend from media agencies – which doesn’t include any direct advertising revenue – has dropped by almost 70% since 2007, when Bauer took over it was almost $200m. Last year it only bought in $57.5m.

“Clearly they were buying a business that was coming off the boil there, partly because of market and partly because it had been maxed out; there hadn’t been a lot of investment under private equity ownership. They were buying a business vulnerable to the kind of disappointment you’re seeing now,” an industry insider said.

The CEO vacancy

The departure of Matthew Stanton in October 2014 came as a surprise and left the business in a challenging position. Stanton had been with Bauer since August 2008 when he joined as chief operating and finance officer. He was then promoted to CEO in January 2012.

Stanton:

“It’s been a complete clusterfuck since Matt Stanton left”

Stanton also understood the need to have a profile in market – talking to media and keeping in touch with advertisers and agencies alike. But in late 2014 he announced he was leaving for a new role with Woolworths.

It’s been a complete clusterfuck since Matt Stanton left,” an industry observer commented.

His replacement, David Goodchild, was parachuted in from Bauer’s UK operations, but a Bauer insider described him as “old school print down to his boot laces”.

In a letter to staff, global CEO Yvonne Bauer said it was time to have “the best person at the helm” to take on the challenges of market.

In the letter Bauer acknowledged it had been a tumultuous period for the market in light of the global financial crisis and the digital revolution that was quickly killing the print industry. She emphasised the need to have the “best person at the helm” to take on the challenges in market.

'The David Brent of Park Street': Godchild

‘The David Brent of Park Street’: Goodchild

According to Bauer, this was Goodchild. However he lasted just one year in the role, stepping down from the position at the end of last year. Described by a few people as “The David Brent of Park Street” (a reference to Ricky Gervais’ character from The Office), Goodchild had little understanding of the intricacies of the local market, according to Bauer insiders.

“If you hire a German who sits in his office, isn’t familiar with the agencies, doesn’t go and press the flesh and talk to journalists and tell the story – there’s a natural gravitational pull away from you,” they said.

Digital disasters

Under Goodchild, the company’s digital strategic direction not only stagnated, it came to a “screeching halt”, a Bauer insider said.

However the company’s digital problems started well before Goodchild’s arrival.

During the ACP years, the company’s digital strategy was tied up with Nine Entertainment Co.

Ninemsn managed the digital assets for the publishing house’s mastheads as part of a joint venture.The partnership meant digital sales were handled by Nine’s commercial team rather than by ACP’s sales team.

Clearly they have strong brands and the future is in digital. There is no future for them if they don’t nail their digital strategy,” an industry insider said.

“The historical issue there – the reason they’re in such bad shape – is when Packer did the deals for Ninemsn, he gave the digital rights to Ninemsn. The ACP titles, the digital rights were owned by Ninemsn.

“There just wasn’t any passion in Ninemsn for the magazine brands the same way there was for the overall Ninemsn brand.”

Once Bauer had bought ACP Magazines it had to then work through the Ninemsn digital arrangements. In April last year Bauer took over full trading responsibilities for its entire digital inventory. This meant Bauer was building a new digital strategy from scratch.

“Now they have those back, is it too late? Did they wait too long? Can they create some relevance? It’s going to be a challenge,” mused an industry insider.

Its first move was designed to coincide with the launch of the ‘To Love’ digital women’s network.

Bauer Xcel Media However, in February, Bauer Media had decided to separate its print and digital businesses, creating Bauer Xcel to manage its digital properties.

“They’ve been really slow into digital. In the last year they’ve announced this centralised structure called Xcel. Two years ago that was late, they started a year ago, that’s surely late.

“It’s something all media companies need to be across – there is no alternative,” an industry commentator said.

“The difficulty for traditional media companies, particularly those in print, the most difficult competitive decision to make in expanding in digital (is) usually if you can afford to compete with yourself.

“You’re competing with digital-only services who don’t have to worry about protecting an existing business which you, as a traditional business, do have. That isn’t easy.”

The separation of the print and digital businesses meant that publishers in charge of magazines no longer oversaw the digital strategy of their product.

cosmopolitanfeb

Cosmo’s Australian edition

Marina Go is the rare exception to this, as the bridge connecting the joint-venture between Hearst and Bauer Media.

As general manager of Hearst-Bauer, Go has a multi-platform brand portfolio including Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

However, the separation of the print and digital businesses is a strategic decision that means print publishers aren’t responsible for digital, creating a disconnect between the online and the print teams for a masthead.

For a few months, online editors couldn’t even get into editorial meetings,” a source said.

In August Bauer launched its ‘To Love’ digital platform with the launch of Food to Love.

It was a strategy informed by external consultants, but as one Bauer insider said “we got what most people get out of consultants”.

“There’s been some pretty bad strategic decisions. You can’t deny the ‘To Love’ platform has been a disappointment,” said the insider.

“It hasn’t made the splash management had hoped. That doesn’t help the confidence of management, who are old school print types, to increase their desire to want to invest in digital.”

Food To LoveFood To Love launched in April and was followed by Homes to Love in September. The planned Family to Love and Health to Love portals still haven’t launched, despite being touted for the second quarter of 2015.

It is thought that these sites are finally set to launch this year.

Sources say the Bauer Xcel’s headcount grew “massively and quickly” to manage the To Love network.

“They overspent and over-hired on the To Love network,” a source said.

On the company’s digital future an industry insider is not confident Bauer can recover.

“Being late to the party in digital makes it challenging-to-terminal,” they said.

It’s not a fair and natural assumption to say powerful brands in a print environment are going to be the winners online.”

However, for Bauer Xcel a digital overhaul of Bauer’s flagship brands, Woman’s Day and The Australian Women’s Weekly, was on the agenda. The new sites were launched in April, with the Weekly’s new website featuring a video push.

Australian Women's Weekly

Editor-in-chief, Helen McCabe, hosted a weekly video segment ‘Let’s Talk’ produced in collaboration with Brand New Media. The segment saw McCabe interview pairs of “interesting women”.

“You had to just let it fail, it was just such a bad idea and it was flying face in market data,” an inside source said.

Video can be a good strategy for a publisher online; it is highly searchable with both Google and Facebook algorithms prioritising video content and driving time on-site to help audiences better engage with a brand; however, the video interviews petered off, with the last ‘Let’s Talk’ video interview dated April 29.

Women's WeeklyWorse still: the relaunch hasn’t exactly resulted in the Weekly’s average unique browsers skyrocketing.

Last December, an average of 19,352 unique browsers visited AWW.com.au. But in December 2014 an average of 28,161 unique browsers visit the site.

In March last year, the month before the new website was unveiled, the site had 25,626 unique browsers. In April, when the new site was unveiled, 22,957 unique browsers visited the revamped AWW.com.au – that is a drop of 10.4% on March.

Women’s Day unique browsers are not audited, however, its digital paid subscribers are. For the July to September period they were 2,447 – up 8.5% on the subscribers for the same period in 2014.

The Women’s Weekly also audits its digital paid subscribers – looking at the same period it was 17.5% down on 2014. For the July to September period the magazine had 7,055 paid digital subscribers compared with the 8,554 it had during that time in 2014.

dolly magLooking to the future, the refocus of Dolly as a “digital-first property” will be an attempt to revitalise the digital strategy currently in place. But is it too little too late?

In an internal note to staff announcing the changes to Dolly and confirming the closure of Cleo, interim CEO Andreas Schoo, said: “The year ahead will no doubt have its challenges, however there’s much to look forward to at Bauer Media in 2016 as we build upon the ‘To Love’ digital women’s network that launched in 2015, and expand our 360-degree approach to content publishing.”

The focus on the young women’s segment to further push Bauer’s digital strategy makes sense. The millennial age group is more interested in apps and content they can view or read on their phone than regularly buying a print magazine.

But Bauer is falling behind.

With no mention of an off-platform distribution strategy it’s clear Bauer remains focused on itself as opposed to really thinking about what the consumer wants.

And what the consumer wants is content where they are – Facebook, Snapchat and even Apple News.

Many publishers are already experimenting with distributing and monetising content directly through these platforms.

While Cosmo is already on Snapchat, Bauer needs to seriously consider this for other young women’s titles. Furthermore, Bauer Media needs to be open about where these platforms fit into their wider strategy and what it will mean for audiences and for advertisers.

Bauer Media also needs to consider NewsLifeMedia’s news.com.au digital strategy – that is having a website that is not matched to any of the mastheads.

An industry insider said the company’s current strategy is to be a “second tier” player, like a Mamamia, and reach a niche audience “rather than being a news.com.au and becoming a big reach player”.

“Ultimately they’re going to have to make that separate type of play,” the insider argued.

The closure of Cleo

cleo jan 2016According to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, Cleo magazine had a circulation of 42,212. The magazine’s direct rival, Pacific Magazines’ Girlfriend shifted on average 37,541 copies a month during the same January to June period last year.

Indeed, a source inside Bauer described the closure of Cleo as a “squeezing out”.

“That audience was gobbled up by Cosmo and Elle,” they said.

Rival titles, also owned by Bauer Media, were well up on Cleo, with Cosmopolitan reporting a circulation of 77,181 and Elle posting a circ of 60,139.

However, according to an industry insider, the closure of Cleo had been on the cards even in the days of ACP – well before the launch of Elle.

The magazine’s fundamental problem was Cosmopolitan which, as mentioned above, has historically had a higher circulation than rival Cleo.

What saved Cleo was that Cosmo is a joint-venture. It’s 50% owned by Hearst and 50% owned by Bauer.

“If both had been 100% owned, Cleo would have closed earlier,” the industry insider said.

“There was no financial incentive to target Cleo when you had a JV and contractual restrictions on closing Cosmo.”

The departure of Helen McCabe

helenmccabe-468x312 (1)

Helen McCabe’s announcement that she was quitting The Australian Women’s Weekly rattled the industry. It was a shock. McCabe has helmed the country’s most influential magazine for the past six-and-a-half years. She turned a mumsy magazine into an agenda-setting title that celebrated women of all walks of life – not just celebrities.

The Guardian’s Weekly Beast reported that Bauer management “is keen to get back to the magazine’s roots in middle-class suburban life and away from the focus on news, politics and executive women that marked McCabe’s tenure”.

The Weekly Beast quoted a magazine insider as saying, “In a very pretentious way Helen tried to turn that magazine into Vanity Fair.”

Indeed, a source told Mumbrella the Weekly’s publisher, Matt Dominello, wants the Weekly to go back to its “mumsy” roots.

Bauer management will now be looking to find McCabe’s replacement – and someone cheaper will most likely be the strategy as Bauer attempts to scrape savings from every part of the company budget.

De Brito

De Brito

Freedman

Freedman

The Guardian’s Weekly Beast has suggested Kate de Brito, a former News Corp journalist who is now editing Mamamia, the former editor of Mamamia, Jamila Rizvi, and Daily Telegraph columnist and editor, Sarrah Le Marquand, could all be potential candidates for the role. Mamamia founder, Mia Freedman, has also been thrown around as a potential contender.

Andreas Schoo, interim CEO of Bauer Media, has rejected suggestions the company was set to merge the editorial teams of the Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day.

Speaking to The Australian, he said: “That’s absolutely not true. Both of these brands are really iconic brands for the Australian market, and we know this. We care for this market and there are no thoughts to bring both of these magazines under one leadership…I’ve never thought about this.”

But the question on many people’s minds is how long that will last.

Who will be the new CEO?

Attention now turns to the question of who will permanently replace Goodchild. Several names have been thrown around in market.

Nick Chan

Chan

Chan

He has almost ten years under his belt helming Pacific Magazines. He’s been in the start-up world since departing Seven West Media, where he was most recently chief operating officer after handing the Pac Mags CEO role to Peter Zavecz at the end of 2014. Chan led Pacific Magazines through the beginning of its digital transition, the important question is: would he be 100% committed to completing such a job for the second time?

Nicole Sheffield

Sheffield

Sheffield

It would be naive to assume Sheffield isn’t on Bauer’s radar for the top job. She’s been the CEO of NewsLifeMedia – News Corp’s lifestyle operation – since March 2012. She joined NewsLifeMedia from Foxtel’s LifeStyle Channels group where she was GM for four years. Sheffield also has seven years at Pacific Magazines under her belt.

During her time at Pac Mags, Sheffield was involved in the company’s early adoption of digital and has been a driver in ensuring NewsLifeMedia is a competitive player in the digital space. NewsLifeMedia has been named Consumer Publishing Company of the Year for the past two years at the Publish Awards. But News Corp likes to keep its executives close, so it could be a struggle for Bauer to lure her away.

Marina Go

Marina Go

Go

Go is currently the general manager of Hearst-Bauer Media and looks after the print and digital assets for Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Cosmopolitan. She also spent almost three years as the CEO and publishing director of Private Media, the publisher of Crikey and Women’s Agenda. She’s the chair of Wests Tigers Rugby League – no easy task in the current climate.

Go has the editorial experience and she also has an understanding of what it takes to steer a business. And she gets the digital space. She also has an appreciation for the need to marry digital and print together and could be key to helping Bauer overcome its digital problem.

Paul Dykzeul

PaulDykzeul

Dykzeul

Dykzeul fits with Bauer’s tendency to hire internally. He’s been CEO of Bauer Media NZ since 2008 and has been around the magazine traps for a while. He was the CEO of ACP Media from 1991 before moving to ACP Magazines Australia. In 2000 he joined Murdoch as managing director of publishing and in 2006 he was appointed publishing director of Pacific Magazines with responsibility for New Zealand and international licensing. He returned to Bauer Media NZ as CEO in 2008.

His knowledge of the business on his side and CEO experience make Dykzeul the leading contender if Bauer is looking to appoint from within. The New Zealand market is similar to Australia both in size and its reliance on advertising revenue.

Keith Falconer

keith falconer

Falconer

Sticking with the internal hiring tradition, Bauer’s CEO of its Trader business in Australia and NZ is also being bandied around. He was appointed to the role in 2004 and is responsible for all the Bauer Trader business in Australia and New Zealand.

Falconer appears to be an unknown quantity. However he could be a good choice for the company given his experience in the more niche products such as Wheels, Motorcyle Trader and Trade-a-boat. The trader side of Bauer also publishes classified and directory websites such as TradeTrucks.com.au. However, this means his more generalist consumer experience could be limited.

Eugene Varricchio

eugene VARRICCHIO

Varricchio

Bauer’s operations director is also seen as a contender. He’s been the director of operations, sales and marketing for the past six months. Previously he was the director of operations and retail sales for just over four years. He’s been with Bauer since 2002, when it was known as ACP Magazines. Varricchio also holds a non-executive director position with the Audited Media Association of Australia, a role he’s been in since March 2013.

While he clearly knows the business, Varricchio seems to be an outside shot for the role. He’d have a clear idea of the operational difficulties of the business and the need to be more loud in market when it comes to marketing.

Sources indicate while it is hard to get an exact read on Bauer management’s thinking, it’s understood they are looking to buck tradition and hire outside of the Bauer talent pool – looking to appoint someone with previous experience in running a publishing house. Meaning Nick Chan or Nicole Sheffield could be the likely front-runners – that is, if they even want the job, of course.

Consensus suggests an external appointment is what the company needs. It needs a CEO who “hasn’t been pushed down by the Bauer machine”, an industry source said, someone who will demand autonomy.

An industry insider said it would be a “mistake” if Bauer “hired from within their own ranks”.

Private companies tend to only trust people they’ve worked with previously. It will be a mistake. This market requires a very unique touch. You have to have credibility with the creative community who produce editorial but also with the advertisers and the media buyers,” the industry insider said.

“In light of what they’ve just experienced over the past 12 months, a further external appointment will set them back enormously.”

What does a new Bauer CEO need to do?

New Idea colouring book coverSpeaking to insiders, it’s apparent the company needs to nail down its digital strategy and 100% commit to it.

As mentioned, NewsLifeMedia has a large digital presence with News.com.au – the site was the number one news and current affairs site, according to Nielsen’s digital rankings, for the entirety of 2015.

Pacific Magazines is powering ahead in the e-commerce space, as well as looking at trends it can tap into – such as the adult colouring-book craze and selling wool via Better Homes and Gardens.

Industry experts suggest value remains in specialty magazines; however, the longer they leave it, the harder it could be to get into.

“Speciality magazines still work, if you’re doing a boating magazine or a wine magazine, where you have a clear affinity audience,” an industry insider said.

Bi-monthly fishing magazine Freshwater Fishing Australia, published by Australian Fishing Network, saw its circulation grow by 16.8% in the January to June period last year compared with the year before.

Of course for every positive story there are the struggling titles as well, with Just Car’s circulation down 7.4% in January to June compared with that same period in 2014.

What the new CEO needs to do is to come in and assess the business quickly, lay a roadmap down and be flexible with that. Digital needs to be on the agenda as does off-platform publishing.

The role of events and other revenue streams needs to be focused on, and creating bigger and better brands from the magazines that do exist will help as the company tries to transition from a large, legacy publisher into a more nimble, digital-first publishing company.

An industry insider placed emphasis on the new CEO’s ability to energise the talent of the teams, raise morale and push the category as a whole in market.

“You have to go out there and build confidence with the key distributors, with media buyers and key advertisers and attract and retain good people,” they said.

“Advocacy of the category. You’ve got young people who work in media agencies and they don’t read magazines. It’s always a challenge where the people who are spending money and the people who decide where it gets spent aren’t consuming your product. You need a CEO who’s prepared to go out there, fly the flag and tell the story.

“Now they’ve contracted the business by closing a lot of titles, they need to get someone in there who can energise the talent of the teams that work there, restore morale and give direction.

“Retain good people, recruit good people, get them excited and create a vision that people can buy into.”

Action is key to Bauer Media’s future success. Digital has proven it’s here to stay and the market is going to continue to move ahead with pace – Bauer needs to catch up quickly to take advantage of what remains of the shrinking magazine market.

Industry insiders speak highly of the talent within the company, what it needs now is a leader who can harness the talent and charge ahead.

“The structural changes are irreversible. They have accelerated their structural decline through mismanagement and poor decision making,” said an industry observer.

“The impacts are felt most in those areas where the profit has historically been the greatest and they haven’t, in time, created online identities that give them that clear transition, that bridging strategy.”

Bauer’s ability to adapt its business model is not just good for the company, but for the category as a whole, which needs Bauer to be healthy competition.

Magazines need to prove to advertisers, and those holding the purse strings, they are still a good investment for ad dollars. And that is why the appointment of the next Bauer Media CEO is being watched very closely by the entire industry.

  • Miranda Ward is the public relations and publishing editor at Mumbrella
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