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2010 April 26

Beckman's Big Pitch

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Beckman in his new office at e5 Global Media Beckman in his new office at e5 Global Media
Giorgio Niro
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It would make me cry if I’d been here longer. But some of the great minds of the dark ages have been running these businesses. Their marketing strategies can be characterized as the bland leading the bland. Completely unimaginative. But despite what they’ve done, what we have is a highly profitable business—without doing anything ­creative and without any investment. So the opportunities are infinite.

Really?            

Well, what you have here are historic brands that have not had the right leadership, investment, or people ­running the businesses. Sometimes businesses are stronger than brands and sometimes brands are stronger than businesses. The brand here is stronger than the business. We just want to raise the quality of the business to the level of the brand. There’s not anyone in the world that hasn’t heard of the Hollywood Reporter.

With so much free industry coverage and analysis on the Web, how do you create a print product people are willing to pay for?               

The key to any media business is to be platform-agnostic. Once you create content that engages the consumer, how you sell it to them—whether it’s print, digitally, or wirelessly—is ­academic. When you talk to people who really don’t understand the media business, 100 percent of their focus is on the mode of delivery and not enough on what actually goes into it. But in terms of the Reporter, I sort of agree with you that it’s tough to be contemporary with a daily print product when you’re working on a five-­minute-refresh cycle. It’s not the best way of serving media content, but you can’t have one without the other.

You’ve been quoted as saying you want the Reporter to be "the Economist meets Vanity Fair."

Yeah, in terms of a visual package I want it to be as arresting as Vanity Fair while providing the insight of a weekly publication like the Economist. When I read the Economist, no matter how many stories I’ve read about the same thing, I’m smarter, and I think the texture and the back story is something that will appeal to people who follow the entertainment industry. And not just the people who are in it, but the top of the consumer pyramid. It’s about becoming B2I—business to influencer—as opposed to B2B. That’s where the real resonance will be ­created. B2I trades aren’t just for the industry; they’re for the people that shape behaviors, the tastemakers that set the trends in motion.

When did you know it was time to leave Condé Nast?

I could have easily spent the rest of my life there, but for the past two years I’ve had this burning desire to run a business where I was a partner. When this opportunity came up, it intersected on things I’m very passionate about with partners I like very much and have a great deal of respect for. ­Twenty-four years at one place is a long time for a guy who’s 50 years old. When I ­resigned to Si [Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast], we had a nice long chat and a cup of coffee. I’m not going to question their loyalty or mine. They did nothing but treat me like gold.

How much are you willing to spend to realize your vision?

Define “spend.” We’re investing, but there’s a return on investment. The lowest profit we’ll ever see is the profit I inherit. So I don’t see this as spending versus not getting a return on investment. Not even long term versus short term. It’s immediate.

Obviously, you’re a phenomenal salesman, but you won’t have the Condé name behind you this time. Does that worry you?

It actually excites me. Whenever I’ve taken over businesses in my career, they’ve been really distressed. When I took over as publisher, GQ had been off for nine straight years and was getting its ass kicked by every direct competitor. In four years we almost ­doubled ad revenue. Vogue was down to 2,000 ad pages when I took over, and when I left it had well over 3,000. Condé Nast is an incredibly prestigious company, but it’s also slow moving. Here, the opportunity is to be nimble and agile. I left with both eyes open, on my own two feet, without any hands at my back. This is what I know I can do.

Where did the “Mad Dog” thing come from?

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