SalesRants 6: Big Media on the Block

B2B publishing outfits are being sold left and right—is Secret Sales Guy’s next?

Thank You for Your $upport
Let’s be honest, shall we? Secret Sales Guy (SSG) didn’t leave his comfy editorial position to go into sales because he loves it. No, sir. Secret Sales Guy has a cute wife who didn’t grow up on the Lower East Side—a wife who expects a regularly scheduled manicure, pedicure, and dye job. He also has two lovely children, who expect and deserve an education at the college of their choice (well, since they’re only in preschool, let’s just assume that they’ll expect it soon enough).

In fact, ever since leaving New York city, Secret Sales Guy has seemed to inherit two of everything: two kids, two cars, two dogs, and even a manly pair of love handles. Let’s not forget the monthly commuter pass, Metrocard, lunch money, school payments, babysitting, and anything and everything else that requires a modest amount of bread to capitalize. Anyway, you know the next part. SSG now has to find a way to pay for all of that so he can stay married, keep oil in the burner, and eat meat at regularly scheduled intervals.

 

In publishing, keeping this whole enterprise afloat ain’t too easy. At the very low end of six figures, I occupy a fairly annoying demographic position: people who are statistically “rich” but, by East Coast standards, live a fairly cash-strapped and frustrating existence. Despite the fact that the monthly commission check has been fairly chunky of late, most of it is well spent before it hits my bank account, and there’s a long list of people lined up to take a piece of it. Luckily, SSG has been lucky in real estate (like everyone else), so he knows that upon death, there may be something for the family to fall back on. For now, it’s root, hog or die.

So, dear reader. don’t underestimate the casual way SSB approaches sales. He may appear nonchalant, but that next big program he sells you just may mean the difference between pasta and beer versus a nice ribeye and a decent bottle of Cabernet. Agencies and clients: Won’t you please support SSG?

The Friendly Buys
I just read that a bunch of private equity guys finally bought a big competitor of Big Media Company, Dutch publishing conglomerate VNU. The owner of Nielsen (the TV ratings people), AdWeek (the well-written, yet somehow annoying media magazine), and a bunch of other prime periodicals, data companies, and trade shows. My beloved Big Media Company is probably champing at the bit to do the same. With print sales taking a bath and new media money not pouring in for publishers like everybody said it would, it’s time to get the hell out. Or, maybe, time to buy something else.

Coming on the heels of other groundbreaking B2B media deals, VNU’s sale was no surprise. Those private equity guys are about as gentle as an 18th century proctologist, to boot.

Coming on the heels of the Primedia deal, Hanley Wood, and some other groundbreaking B2B media deals, VNU’s sale was no surprise. Those private equity guys are about as gentle as an 18th century proctologist, to boot. Thomas H Lee, KKR, and Blackstone Group are all about the people, aren’t they? I can picture them, sitting around the old Polycom conference call unit, big jugs of Voss designer water in front of them, talking about how they can improve the company health plan and add an extra percentage point or two to the 401K matching contribution.

We’ll see how long it takes them to lop off a few choice divisions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my beloved Big Media Company doesn’t end up with a few of them. You know what they say: If you can’t grow revenue on your own, you can buy your way into some. Buy a few mags, fire all of their back-office and production staff, and double up your own staff’s workload. Same fixed costs—double the productivity!

Sure, you’ll lose about 25 percent to attrition, but the job market’s tough for the low-end employee, and there are plenty of folks out there willing to brave a four-hour round trip commute to make $35,000 a year. Now you’re talking about real margins. The important thing is, what does this mean for your loyal and dedicated Secret Sales Guy? Will I get another magazine to run? Will Big Media Company follow VNU’s lead and start shopping my magazines around? Stay tuned…

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/5/2006]

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