Laura Lang – Time & Digital CEO Timing

Laura LangLaura Lang, Time Inc.’s former CEO, has kept a fairly low profile until lately. The Time Warner publishing exec’s plans for moving forward, on the mind of every associated publisher, Ad Week talked on Friday of her first real Q & A. According to the news, Lang’s team are “hard at it” creating what one attendee of her talk called “an aggressive new strategy.”

Named CEO back in January, Lang was the former head of Digitas, but is now at the center of all speculation over Time Inc.’s future. Will the company unload dead weight? How will Time leverage their great content? What is the bottom line for one of the world’s most famous brands? As is always the case before big moves, there are many more questions than answers concerning Time. But, an expert at brand management since her Quaker Oats Co. days, if anyone knows the PR and media industry, it’s certainly Lang. Even though many, (including Ad Week) voiced skepticism over Lang’s supposed lack of publishing experience.

With Time’s big brand names like People, recoiling from huge newsstand slumps, questioning the move by Time to tap a brand regulator, bears some fruit, but just. For the wise observer, Time tapping into the digital space by selecting Lang, is probably just what the publishing doctor ordered. Print publication will always have a place, but as we have seen, that place will be side-by-side with digital variants. Time Inc. is not the only company dealing with this prospectus.

Time Inc. logoFor those of you not convinced of the efficacy of print, this report by the Guardian UK’s Mark Hooper, offers up the juice on what people really want from their magazines. One key point in Hooper’s article, is the fact that nearly 90 percent of UK magazine readers prefer their poison in printed form. That may seem astonishing, but the truth is print is alive and well. And, despite predictions that digital will be the death of the medium, it appears online and mobile magazine variants probably compliment their inked counterparts. Food for thought as per Lang’s chances, the hill she has to climb, might read like; “What if magazine sales are tied to economic hardships?”

Now there’s a novel idea! People out of work, businesses cutting back, consuming less magazine stock. Not to seem cynical, despite Lang’s obvious qualifications, her predecessor may have lost his job a bit early. Jack Griffin’s “aggressive” moves may have scared some? Who knows the reasoning, but it seems clear that ALL print publications are in the soup. On the “strategy” side of things, The Guardian author references David Rowan, editor of UK Wired:

“For online brands, print is a neat way of gaining extra marketing attention and boosting their community, even if there’s no money in it.”

And there it is. Even if there is not one dime in putting your magazines on those waiting room end tables, brand and efficacy wise, publishers gain a lot more than they realize combining digital and print strategies. From our company’s perspective “integrated” approaches to content, engagement, communications, are not only superior, they are demanded. What is best for consumers, is also best for clients and businesses. Part of Hooper’s mindset mirrors a sentiment that says print content actually “anchors and resonates a voice for brands.” For us, this is not only reasonable dogma, it is as factual as any projected strategy could be.

Lang and Co.

Time Chief Revenue Officer Paul Caine, Editorial Director Martha Nelson &. CEO Laura Lang – Photo Credit: Ryan Mesina.

Back to Laura Lang (pictures above with other Time Inc. execs), one does not even have to look at her take on these issues. One of her contemporaries, Digitas’ current North American CEO, Colin Kinsella (appointed by Lang before she assumed the Time role), carries on a digital advertising machine of noted potential – like Lang, Kinsella is an evangelist of the “integrated” approach of ads and marketing. Kinsella’s direction is clearly focused on taking clientele into digital and mobile. Since his tenure, 80 percent of the company’s clients have some mobile integration. The video below of a discussion of his, pretty much reflects where the ad and content industry is. It’s not superb footage, but struggle through it and learn what Time’s Lang, and other practitioners know.

Video streaming by Ustream

Laura Lang is a careful decision maker. This by no means indicates she is too conservative. Consider the stakes here. Not only is her new position a bit volatile, but the decisions Time Inc. makes in the coming days will affect not only that company, but the industry as a whole. What is Time dumps Lifestyle Group, the brands America has come to know and love like Southern Living, Real Simple and This Old House? This is not just some sort of commodity exchange, but a trading (even betraying) of key brand efficacy. Southern Living being sold off, then stumbling after being out from under the Time umbrella? That’s a sort of regional PR nightmare of sorts.

These are not easy decisions, and talking about “aggressive” moves, even leaving Lifestyle Group on the table for discussion, these moves represent hundreds of millions, if not billions in future revenue. Just taking a drive-by of the Southern Living website (landing below), the design and value there is reminiscent of the table top version we all came to love. Beautiful homes, interiors, and the best of content. For a Georgia boy living here in Germany, the recipe of a pulled pork sandwich, well – this is one I’ll pass to me expert wife. And there anyone can see, is a lot more to Lang’s job than meets with scrutiny. I’ll bet she reads these magazines, everyone does sooner or later.

Southern Living

Southern Living landing page

Therein may reside some of Time’s answers too. Perhaps the world’s preeminent brand for superb printed publications – the company puts on the news stand some 130 magazines worldwide. “Experts” predict Lang will be forced to lay off workers, even with integrating mobile and other 21st century approaches into the Time money making mechanism. But then, so called experts are not in charge of icons either. Factoring in the economy, and realizing stable business is about investment, it’s Time Warner’s brand that is really important here. When everybody in the magazine realm is stumbling backward, what if Lang’s team finds a way to lurch forward? It’s not unheard of. And Southern Living’s not doing everything wrong, their Facebook contingent has 153,000 plus fans, with people talking. Their Twitter feed is 61,000 followers strong too. If Southern Living’s social aspect has a flaw, it is not in the quantity of video or other engagement, but in the quality. In our view, someone went a shade too casual with Deep Fried Fridays.

All that is needed is a bit more connective tissue between these elements, it seems.

Finally, let’s take a peek inside Time Inc.’s job offerings, just to see if there’s any indication of what Lang is up to. The list below is not all inclusive, there are hundreds of openings:

  • Content Director– Of special note in the full description; “…including but not limited to integrating online, mobile, social, video, and print…”
  • Associate Manager, Sales Planning – People.com – part of the job description is; …working closely with digital marketing and integrated marketing on custom programs, both digital only and integrated with print.
  • Managing Editor – This Old House – the ME will be responsible for (among other duties) research and production of all pint, online, tablet, and custom publishing for the brand…. maintaining the editorial budget for online video production, edit, and art for the magazine.
  • Director of Mobile and Social Ad Product Solutions – Time Inc. is looking for an entrepreneurial Director of Mobile and Social Ad Product Solutions to “envision” and bring to life advertising products and solutions for mobile (smartphone and tablet) and social platforms…

These are but a few of the positions Time Warner has offered across their vast media landscape. We filtered and selected the first few we came to of relevance. The last one however, may be the most telling of things to come for Time. And too, just the listing of such a position may indicate a degree of “unknowing” too. Lang’s strategy, set or dynamically searching, seems cemented in keeping Time Inc. a leader of a brand in print and digital, at least by our estimation.

Our “expert” opinion seems as good as any, but only the new Time Inc. CEO can elaborate further.

We’ll keep you updated as this story progresses.

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