Few industries are hurting as the print media. Traditional advertising and subscription models have fallen sharply, leading to a graveyard of once highly profitable publications. As a result, SSA & Company thinks this industry is in need for consultants with industry experience and deep marketing skills to help media companies chart a new course. With that in mind, Consulting recently sat down with SSA & Co.’s newly hired Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Stephanie Sandberg, who brings with her experience as the President and Publisher of The New Republic and former VP of Marketing for Fortune .
Consulting: Why did you decide to join SSA & Co.?
Sandberg: I grew up in publishing, running a political magazine in addition to working with corporate media firms. And I loved it. It’s such a dynamic and thoughtful field. For the last few years, I was a consultant within the media space. I helped to launch a magazine here or run a marketing team there. But I really missed being with a team and being part of a group. Especially given what’s going to be happening within media, I wanted to be involved with publishing companies to help figure out what they can do to improve their businesses. I want to continue to help solve some of the unbelievably hard problems they’ve run up against. That’s wonderfully motivating for me. At SSA, I get to work across all of the firm’s internal groups and will help to grow our media practice.
Consulting: Obviously you’ve got deep media knowledge, but how is your background complimenting your new consulting role?
Sandberg: Publishing is all about multi-tasking and pulling various teams [editorial, sales, marketing, etc.] together. I think someone like me, who has had a wide professional range–I’ve been a publisher, done sales, had a seat on the board with other magazine leaders–knows how decisions are made.
Consulting: Do you anticipate other former media professionals getting into consulting?
Sandberg: There are a number of strong publishers on the street today. I had lunch recently with a former media executive who has a terrific strategic background, has wonderful people skills, but doesn’t want to go back into media. The last few businesses she ran had revenue upwards of $50 million and has managed large staffs of people. I think the consulting profession has room for people like her. The larger consultancies have plenty of people with media experience, but few with operational experience.
Consulting: What’s the typical first step for a struggling media company to regain its footing?
Sandberg: I think the most important first step is a grasp on reality. It’s the hardest, deepest reality check imaginable. Everyone is doing this at different speeds and with various levels of denial. Changes in consumer consumption and new technology platforms are the topics at every conference. But I know that sometimes the hardest thing is to get the CEO of a major publishing company to agree to a radical rework of his business model. But often, that’s what is required.
Consulting: We’ve seen so many publications fold already. Has the market changed too much, too fast for those that are still struggling?
Sandberg: It’s not too late. They can make changes today … absolutely. Even companies that have downsized by 25 percent to 30 percent need to figure out ways to leverage their brands online and perform a bottom up assessment to unlock the value of the company. Start with the assumption that you’re not going to go away and focus on how you’re going to maximize your approach going forward.