Corner Office: Finding Success at The Source
In August 2008, at a time when many magazines were folding, L. Londell McMillan—an entertainment lawyer, real estate developer and part owner of the New Jersey Nets—snapped up the ailing brand The Source with plans to revamp the New York-based "Bible of Hip-Hop Music, Culture and Politics." He went to work quickly. By December, McMillan's efforts had won back major advertisers such as Sony, Warner Music Group, the Army and the Navy. In February, the magazine announced that it had eliminated $3.75 million in outstanding debt—a sum that McMillan, who is co-owner and executive publisher of The Source, personally secured in financing to free the brand from this burden.
Despite these successes, McMillan says he still is battling to regain advertisers who felt burned by previous management's choices. As if to reinforce the new era, an "Under New Ownership" notification now appears on the cover directly below the magazine's title, a practice McMillan inaugurated with his first issue, the 20th anniversary issue in September 2008.
"We've got a lot of work to do. I understand and appreciate that I inherited a 20-year business that has had its ups and then had its downs," he says. "But I look forward to the opportunity to revise and revamp this legendary and iconic brand, and to showcase it around the world in a more responsible and creative way."
Here, McMillan discusses his business strategy for breathing new life into The Source.
What were the business reasons behind The Source's troubles?
L. Londell McMillan: There were decisions [made by] the prior owners that impinged upon journalistic integrity and objectivity, and it appeared to some as if The Source had become someone's personal media machine versus the legendary hip-hop media source. … Why did The Source lose advertising? Well, it's a combination of reasons. One was [that] all magazines started to lose advertising in the past two to three years. The music industry, which played a large role in The Source's advertising base, started to shift its marketing and advertising budgets away from print media to radio and television and Web sites. Three, [the magazine] lost a number of [its] very talented sales executives because these sales executives lost faith in the prior owner's leadership.