Mag Lab: Carey and Carr Talk Shop

Carey and Carr at NYU Media Talk

Are “two pizza” teams the future of media? Championing the value of start-up staffs being small enough to share, well, two pizzas, Hearst Magazines President David Carey praised the entrepreneurial spirit at the latest NYU Media Talk. Sponsored by The NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing, “Magazines 2011: The New Conversation” featured Carey and David Carr, Media Columnist for The New York Times, talking about important issues facing the industry. “There’s never been a better time,” Carey began about working in magazines. He described his faith in publishing as a ship that can change course, reroute and stay solvent (with proper leadership) in any tide.

Carey is widely known as an eloquent speaker about media. It was David Carr who had suggested him to Center for Publishing Director Andrea Chambers as perfect for the Media Talk. To be sure, Carey was a timely choice: earlier this month Hearst Magazines completed their $900 million acquisition of Hachette Lagardère, acquiring nearly 100 magazine titles in 14 countries, including Elle, Elle Décor, Womans Day, Road & Track, and Car & Driver. The merger is a bold gesture that now makes Hearst the largest publisher of monthly magazines internationally, and a dominant player in all sectors of lifestyle publishing. Carey addressed the importance of emerging markets for publishing  such as those in China and India) and commented that Hearst’s aim is to have a heightened presence in those climates, meeting the growing demands for consumer goods and Western culture. Next up for Cosmopolitan, noted Carey, was a possible move into Mongolia, though the magazine “takes a different tone” in such climates. While making a zealous push for print expansion, Hearst is also taking strides digitally. Carey addressed his reasoning in making Hearst the first publisher to sign on with Apple’s subscription plan. “We learn a lot from our [print] subscribers, but from our digital subscribers we’ll have new ways of finding out information about our readership.”

Hearst Corporation also revealed its new App Lab this week, a mobile media development center in New York intended to better optimize digital content. Carr tried to get a few digs in at Carey by praising a young start-up app, The Atavist, for its innovative content management strategies. Showcasing long-form writing that can convert from a reading experience to an audio book (and allowing you to tilt the tablet to change the speed in which you read), the Atavist is pretty daring. “You sit on thousands of people,” Carr needled Carey. “But I don’t know if they can come up with anything as cool as what these three guys from Brooklyn did!”

Conceding that the App Lab faces challenges in trying to be nimble and pioneering within the confines of such a “great big blob” (read: Hearst), Carey cited the entrepreneurial spirit of small companies like Flipboard, Foursquare and Amazon in its early days. He noted that Hearst in the next 100 days will be revealing a new product developed by a staff of just five people.

While Carr was no doubt dying to know more, he contented himself with asking Carey to talk about his famous failure in his previous career as Group President at Condé Nast. Carey was the launch publisher of Portfolio, a glossy high-profile business title that ate up $50 million dollars and closed after 24 months as the US plunged into a financial crisis. For all the unfortunate circumstances of Portfolio’s timing, Carey never shied away from what happened. As Carr pointed out, Carey didn’t disappear or balk at explanations. “You learn a lot when you get your nose broken,” Carr added. Truly, Carey’s optimism and self-assuredness were inspiring.

If Portfolio was a low point, Carey’s seven years as publisher of The New Yorker were glory years when he worked with Editor David Remnick to seek a new audience, increase advertising categories, and create branded events such as The New Yorker Festival. Carey added that he has always been attracted to products in breaking points, where a team can benefit from good leadership and an entrepreneurial streak. In his twenties, he wrote business plans for magazines for fun. (“You’re such a nerd!” quipped Carr.)  Carey also worked on the business plan for Smart Money.

Reflecting on what he now regards as the stepping stones to success, Carey mentioned a strong work ethic, getting to the office early and being aggressive in goals and pursuits. He believes in pooling large groups of people and picking the best. When reviewing employees in a recent Hearst training program, Carey says he was impressed by applicants who created surveys to better understand their products and who scoured all the social media strategies of the company.

Ending on an optimistic note, Carey explained that every business category has its opportunities: “It [success] takes enormous creativity and effort, but if the naysayers say it can’t be done, time and time again, it’s been shown that’s not the case.”

by Jackie Linton

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