Pat McGovern on IDG and the InterWeb

MediaShift . Digging Deeper::InfoWorld Leads Way as IDG Goes Head-First on Web | PBS

From the I-Can-Dream-Can’t-I? Department:

“With speaking fees and book royalties you could be making $500,000 or $600,000 a year, and the poor journalist is making $70,000 or $80,000 a year working as an employee. So there are a lot of people who are realizing that there’s a lucrative career making a name for themselves instead of being an employee.”

Pat McGovern — my ex-boss at IDG from May 2005 to January 2006 — is the subject of a great interview by PBS’ Marc Glaser, former columnist for the spectacular IDG-backed flame-out of flame-outs, The Industry Standard. [Full disclosure, I tangentially came to IDG after trying to revive the Industry Standard domain and archives in discussions with then honcho Kevin McKean, and ex-Indy Standard-InfoWorld web GM, Matt McAllister. Those discussions went nowhere].

IDG, or rather InfoWorld, received a huge amount of buzz this week when the news came out that InfoWorld, a stalwart print brand for the IT world, would cease printing and go online-only after its next issue. With a lot of bloggers and media critics watching avidly for a sign that the world of mainstream print media is toppling, there’s no surprise that the InfoWorld news had the legs it did.

Glaser gets from McGovern the best expiation of IDG’s shift from print-to-web I have ever heard, including my one hour one-on-one with Pat during my hiring process as the online general manager for the CXO group. Without divulging any internal secrets, the plan in early 2005 was, as enunciated by McGovern, then CEO Pat Kenealy, and online/biz dev VP, Colin Crawford, to go to a 50/50 print/web revenue split as soon as possible …. meaning the crossover date wasn’t being predicted, but the strategic decision had been made and digested to put the IDG wood behind online.
I gained a lot of respect for my online GM peers, such as McAllister (who’s team which included Chad Dickerson and Jon Udell were the leaders in driving IDG’s thinking about RSS, death-of-the-page-view model, and other concepts which, at the time, were truly ground breaking for a traditional print publisher to embrace), Martha Connors, ex-COO of the MIT Technology Review who was the online GM of ComputerWorld, IDG’s flagship brand, (and an utter operational blackbelt when it came to rebuilding web publishing environments for total analytic/revenue/traffic optimization), and Kevin Normandeau, the online GM at NetworkWorld, who knows online marketing cold and is a master at lead gen and direct tactics. Me? I don’t know what I was good for, but IDG wasn’t a great fit for me … I thought getting back in online journalism was what I was meant for, but it turned out my heart was more on the business side of online.

Anyway, back to the Glaser interview of McGovern. What comes through for me, as someone who knew the strategy two years ago, is that IDG will probably position itself as an online-only publisher sooner than McGovern is estimating, and will look for ways to distinguish themselves through three decades of accrued brand equity around the ComputerWorld, PCWorld, MacWorld, and InfoWorld franchises into a stronger destination proposition for IT users. IDG’s biggest problem, in my opinion, is buried in its 10 corporate tenets — a mission that made it for years one of Fortune’s Best Places to Work — and that tenet is the devotion to decentralization that McGovern had to implement out of necessity when he was building the world’s first and most complex global publishing operation in the 70s. In that decade, pre-email, pre-fax, McGovern had to decentralize to put decision control in the hands of his country managers. Today, decentralization for IDG means redundancies, e.g. how many content management systems are needed? Web ops, at the lower levels of the IT stack, should be consolidated, and if IDG can get all of its brands onto a common platform it will at least be on the same footing as CNET and the printless competition.

Once on a common platform, the challenge will be to look at editorial redundancy. One of IDG’s secret weapons is its news service, which covers the breaking news of global IT very effectively. Does each brand need to cover a virus outbreak? A product launch? The editorial value at the franchises should move from providing check-box/fungible story oriented delivery to user content, community facilitation, and interactive services built around data assets — not reporting. Think tools, lists, and databases. It got out of the pack in ’95 and could do the same for IDG, particularly if it can leverage its secret weapon which CNET and Ziff don’t have, IDC, its global research arm.

Another key strategic differentiator for IDG — China. Pat McGovern was the first publisher to open up an operation there, his VC arm is very well connected, and IDG is a very well regarded brand inside of Chinese IT and web publishing circles.

If IDG is able to consolidate IT and reporting redundancies, continue the innovation path set by McAllister, Dickerson and Udell, capitalize on its shared databases — both industry and customer — and present a really strong global reach message to advertisers ….

They will do fine and make the transition without too much crying and broken dishes. The political-cultural shift has already happened, now its all execution and I suspect InfoWorld is just the first to be transformed. The company shifted senior management during my brief stint, bringing ComputerWorld CEO Bob Carrigan up to fill Pat Kenealy’s role as head of global publishing (Kenealy famously made the goofy call to ban deep-linking to IDG stories). Carrigan — who had been a Kenealy protege before following IDG investment Spinner to AOL — gets the online joke and brought together the online GMs into a task force that did quite a bit to break down the decentralization and inter-brand competition that traditionally plagued IDG.

I know Matt dinged IDG earlier this week with a “deer in the headlights” comment, which Colin Crawford took umbrage with. IDG was stuck in the middle of the road when Matt and I were there. He left a few months before I did, and we both were privately critical of the pace and urgency of the crossover.

But, rather than look at InfoWorld (and recollections of The Industry Standard) as signs of failure and pessimism in the print world, I remain a half-full guy and think IDG was being pretty ballsy to make the move it did on Monday with InfoWorld by going all into online with at least one of its franchises.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Pat McGovern on IDG and the InterWeb”

  1. Interesting to read the recent flurry of discussion about IDG and online, and to see some folks who should know better take credit for leading them into the brave new online world. I had the pleasure of being a part of IDG’s online world for close to ten years, and what amazed me was not that the people who were there did not understand online (we did), but how hard the folks at corporate made it to compete against others who “got online” well before they did. We had no money for marketing, no money for audience development, limited staff–and we still grew great teams, launched a number of new pubs, services and communities. All the while we had to work against bizarre edicts such as the “no linking to us” policy that Kenneally put in place.

    Now they get it, there is money for true audience, technology and market development–and people are coming out of the woodwork to take the mantle of Online Pioneer. The real pioneers got shot in the back with arrows from some of these some people a while back, but we still did some great work that we’re proud of.

  2. Hope you don’t tar me with the brush of “folks who should know better taking credit” – heck, all I did was increase traffic a little bit on the same design and platform you built over the preceding ten years by having the editors (Janice Brand are you listening?) manage the homepage.

    A lot of the commentary I’m seeing, in reaction to the revisionist history discussion, is that the shame of it all is how slow IDG was to get off the starting line — the time when, as you say, they weren’t investing. Well, that’s the story of cash cow economies — the secret is knowing when to kill the cow. Question now is whether IDG can claw back in a world dominated by blogs.

  3. Yes, I’m listening. And I’ll tell you what you were good for at IDG: Moving a really complacent dinosaur to wake up and smell the incoming meteor that Thorgan and his ilk had been pointing to for years. You helped inspire a dispirited team at CXO to believe that the future really was online and not just lip-service this time. And tho most of that team is now far-flung from IDG, we did learn that persistence pays off, and that online and print are really about giving the reader great value for time spent. Oops, getting sappy. Time to get back on that ERG.

  4. An interesting comment to read:

    “the real pioneers got shot in the back with arrows from some of these some people a while back, but we still did some great work that we’re proud of”

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