Are Traditional Media Silos Hurting Time Inc.?
Like an ancient mythological motif woven into a dramatic tale, one of the secondary themes running through much of the coverage of Time Inc. CEO Jack Griffin's abrupt firing on Feb. 17 was perhaps publishing's oldest: friction between editorial and advertising camps. In this analysis, editorial (or content) focused folks—like Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who is reported to have said his (Bewkes') many years at HBO left him unqualified to weigh in on advertising matters; and the interim reigning triumvirate of top editor John Huey, CFO Howard Averill and General Counsel Maurice Edelson—felt threatened by, or otherwise could not abide, the ad-focused perspective of Griffin.
Evidence supporting this theory came quickly on the heels of Griffin's departure, as Griffin-appointed Chief Digital Officer Randall Rothenberg returned to head the Interactive Advertising Bureau, where he had been president and CEO from 2007 to 2010, after only 2 months at Time Inc. Clearly, Rothenberg must have felt his particular approach was incompatible with Time's without Griffin at the helm.
In a memo to employees after Rothenberg's departure, Huey, Edelson and Averill said, "Getting to know Randall better has been a great benefit to Time Inc., and partially as a result we are redoubling our commitment to the IAB." They assured employees that Rothenberg's exit "will be mitigated by his assurances that he will continue to work closely with Time Inc." The memo also included some reassuring words from Rothenberg himself about the IAB continuing to help Time with its digital transformation.
Maybe it's just a difference in management style, but Griffin did not seem at all concerned about whether he was paying sufficient attention to editorial perspectives, as when (according to several media outlets including AdWeek) he did not invite Edelson, Huey and Averill to a brainstorming retreat focused on new revenue ideas.
It's been theorized that Bewkes was worried about the three longtime executives leaving if he did not jettison the newcomer Griffin. Maybe he should have been more worried about the potential loss of someone like Rothenberg. No media company can survive and thrive without a committed focus on how to monetize digital media; if the fall-out from the Jack Griffin drama truly does lead to Time Inc. executives "redoubling our commitment" to navigating the fraught waters of integrated marketing, data gathering, consumer privacy and brand building/extension across many platforms, maybe it will ultimately be a positive—a little execu-shock therapy for the many-headed Time Warner beast.