Plenty of publishing businesses have been on heavy transformation journeys. Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO of Trusted Media Brands, sets out how her company managed the process.
How has the business changed in recent years and how has it evolved?
I think first and foremost, we have always been and have continued to be a customer-first business. We make most of our money from consumers paying us. Advertising is important, but we get most of our money from selling products and services to our customers. That has not shifted. What has shifted is that as we’ve grown our digital footprint to be so significant. We can now take that marketing ability and understanding of our audience and create new products and services, and also sell some more advertising too. But many things have changed. When I first got here, we were probably more of a print-first company. And now I would say we’re a content-first company. So it’s about the story that we’re putting out for the audience – and then what platform it goes on? That has made a huge difference in terms of the business that we’re in?
What’s the biggest change that has brought about?
I would say first and foremost it is people. My guess would be that over the past three years, we’ve brought in about 150 new people across our offices. Now, that’s been partially replacement of existing roles – but we had to bring in a lot of new people with a lot of new skills – and we’ve had to make sure we’ve brought in the right talent. We’ve primarily been hiring in Milwaukee and in Manhattan. Those are our two biggest areas of growth. Most of those people are, of course, digital in nature. And when I look back on the talent that we’ve brought into the company, it is an incredible achievement. We have brought in such an array of people from so many different, great companies, and it’s definitely made us much, much stronger digitally.
How have you managed to do that so well – how have you attracted the right talent?
I think on the hiring side, initially you bring in people at the top level who you know will attract others, who will be inspiring and who know what good talent looks like. I was very lucky in that I brought in Vince Errico four years ago as Chief Digital Officer, and he is awesome. Nick Contardo is a great Chief Technology Officer. I would say that it really starts with bringing in talent like the two of them. And from there, they have been able to attract an incredible calibre of people. Also, our head of programmatic, Scott McLean, is exceptional, and he has built a very strong programmatic team. I think we have also attracted strong talent because people want to be at a place where they can have a high impact – and people saw what we were doing. If you’re in your 20s and 30s, you want to be part of that. And, you know, sometimes being part of the bigger platforms, while it’s incredibly cool and exciting, you can’t have the same level of impact. We give them a lot of leeway. And we’re a very non-bureaucratic company. We can sit around the table and make a decision, and it’s done. And I think that’s very powerful for millennials. And it’s important to us.
And how have you managed other aspects of the transformation process itself?
In terms of the turnaround itself, what I will talk about in Las Vegas is that there really are many steps. I actually have several steps – which are what I’ll go through step by step in Las Vegas. The first is people. The second is culture – because without having that culture of accountability I just don’t think that you can attract and retain talent. The third part of our turnaround was divesting assets that didn’t form or fit with us, that enabled us to bring back quite a lot of capital that we could put back in the business. The next stage is going digital – building digital – we have rebuilt every platform here. Another step for us, which is very important, is protecting print. We love print and many of us are print natives, so we protect it. The relationship that we have with our readers is critical. We’ve also changed the focus from being a ‘fixing company’ to being a ‘growth company’ – are we thinking about fixing a problem or are we thinking about growing? Then, lastly, but certainly not least, is delivering results.
How do you ensure everyone comes along for that journey and is pulling in the same direction?
I think communication is very important – you can never communicate too much. For people to really understand what we’re doing why we’re doing it, you need to give them an opportunity to ask questions. I do a lot of small group meetings. I mean, when I first got here – I know it’s been written about – I met with over 100 people, one on one, for 20 minutes each, and you learn a lot. I also do new-employee meetings so that they can hear from me what it is we’re trying to do.
And how are you measuring success of the transformation process?
We have a number of metrics. On a corporate basis, of course, its revenue. But on a digital basis it’s the number of visits and its revenue per visitor. It’s engagement, too. Engagement is super important to us. We look at the number of minutes spent on our site versus competitors – and we pretty much always win, which makes us so excited. And I think that goes back to the strength of the content. On the consumer-marketing side, we measure the amount of subscribers we’re bringing in through digital channels, we measure how many people go on automatic credit card. So we are a metrics-driven company.