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“Unique skillsets we never had before”: Why Bonnier restructured around enthusiast communities

Bonnier LLC, part of Swedish-based Bonnier AB media group, has restructured in its efforts to become a premier outdoor adventure destination in the U.S. Key to the restructuring is its focus on enthusiast communities rather than individual publisher brands. WNIP talked to Bonnier’s CEO David Ritchie to find out more.

Florida-based Bonnier LLC is an “outdoor adventure company” that fosters a love for fishing, boating, sailing, motorsports, hunting, and travel. The publisher boasts many of the U.S.’ premier collections of outdoor immersive events and brands, including Salt Water Sportsman, Marlin, Sport Fishing, Boating, Yachting, Cruising World, and Sailing World.

The company also produces TV programming and arranges fishing competitions, sailing regattas, and educational events across the United States, Mexico, Bermuda, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Australia, and the Virgin Islands. In short, it is heavily diversified and while print advertising remains its leading revenue source, events and immersive experiences come a close second.

Corporate restructuring to focus on passion-led communities

Last month, the publisher announced a new integrated structure in its ongoing effort to become the U.S.’ premier outdoor adventure company. The move followed a major restructuring in 2022 during which its Executive Chairman, Dr. Jens Mueffelmann, stated at the time, “We see ourselves almost back in startup mode”.

We’re taking on the mindset of a new company with a new mission and branding, a new leadership team and investors, a new structure and way of working, and a new future.

Dr. Jens Mueffelmann, Executive Chairman, Bonnier LLC

The 2022 restructuring also saw Bonnier adopt fresh branding, “We Are Outdoor Adventure and double down on its core passion-led mission covering fishing, boating, sailing, motorsports, hunting and travel. 

Fast forward to February 2023, and the publisher has taken the restructuring one step further, establishing a new, integrated structure centred around passion-led communities, reorganizing its activities around enthusiast pursuits: Sport Fishing Group, Marlin Group, Boating Group, Yachting & Sailing Group, and Travel Group. 

Crucially, the media group is no longer siloed within individual vertical brands, but instead has a new horizontal structure where its staff work across all of its brands and activities within its divisions.

Where previously senior managers held a specific role for a specific department, in the new organization, executive leaders hold functional responsibility across the entire organization.

Our head of creative, as an example, doesn’t just oversee our editorial and design teams, but he also has free purview to help shape our company culture, ideate new event concepts, pitch custom-content packages to clients, and more. His role is not limited by an org chart; it is limited only by his creativity in how he can impact the business.

David Ritchie, CEO, Bonnier LLC

The importance of prioritization and the challenges of a “Zoom culture”

Bonnier’s CEO, David Ritchie told WNIP that the move made strategic sense, “When COVID hit we seized the opportunity to redefine our business, make it more streamlined and to focus on the core of a more sustainable, long-term business model which would be more shielded from long-term publishing macro trends such as print advertising declines.”

We knew that if could connect our consumers and our clients through published media and experiential events we’d have a robust business model that is both profitable and sustainable moving forwards.

David Ritchie, CEO, Bonnier LLC

Whilst the restructuring has paid strong dividends in terms of revenue, it’s raised a number of challenges, not least with staffing. “There’s positive and negative. From a positive viewpoint, we are getting the benefit of unique skillsets that we never had before across our organization.”

Prioritization is crucial. There’s a bandwidth issue and you must be able to prioritize what’s important – when you’re working across an organization you can easily get stretched pretty thin.

David Ritchie, CEO, Bonnier LLC

“Also, trying to build a culture within a Zoom environment is difficult especially as we now only have one multipurpose office in Winter Park, Florida. By closing our regional offices we’ve boosted our P&L considerably, but building a culture when you’re not together all the time can be challenging.”

Onboarding new employees, especially getting them up to speed, is a lot tougher than it used to be. It takes far more time now, and is more intensive.

David Ritchie, CEO, Bonnier LLC

“We compensate for these challenges by placing special focus on team building, whether that’s by hosting regular all-hands Zoom calls, a summer barbecue with all our staff from across the U.S., an end-of-year town hall in Florida, and other steps we take to build a culture around a virtual workforce.”

Future plans

Ritchie feels that the progress Bonnier has made has been worth the effort, “We’re pleased how things have gone. We’ve not missed a beat in the quality of our products, we’ve been hitting deadlines, we’ve been hitting the financial targets.”

He readily admits, however, that there are still revenue opportunities Bonnier can leverage better, “Affilliate marketing is an area that we’re looking at and there is a lot of revenue to be had there.”

As for advice to other publishers, his answer is forthright. “I can only speak for ourselves but you need to focus solely on those things that have a future, using a pragmatic approach, and secondly you must ground yourselves in who you really are at your core.”

It’s all about fuelling the passion of our enthusiasts across all our various channels, whether that’s through content, tournaments, expeditions, regattas or expos.

David Ritchie, CEO, Bonnier LLC