When you hear about a legacy publisher going "digital first," it’s not often backed up by an internal review and overhaul, from personnel to infrastructure, as intensive as what Hanley Wood has been going through lately. In simple terms, instead of grafting a digital strategy onto its print operation and infrastructure, the company is rebuilding its core to drive a digital content, audience and advertising operation that print and other formats live next to.
Since the company’s new ownership structure was put in place and the return of Peter Goldstone last May as its CEO, Hanley Wood has made a series of top management hires that have been driving these changes. Bob Benz was hired in February as president of content, Chris Veator joined in August as president of market intelligence, Dave Colford arrived in September as the newly-created chief revenue officer, and Andy Reid was moved into a new role as president of digital.
In addition to Colford, Sarah Welcome also left Geeknet to become Hanley Wood’s senior vice president of audience operations—resulting in the departure of Nick Cavnar, Hanley Wood’s vice president of circulation and database development. After a transition period, Cavnar will leave the company at the end of the year.
This activity, along with major infrastructure investment and changes that Goldstone says are costing in the "millions," has come directly from new owners Oaktree Capital Management, Strategic Value Partners and Tennenbaum Capital Partners, which in January reduced Hanley Wood’s debt from $440 million to $80 million and also injected $35 million of operating capital.
In strategic terms, the company has been focusing its multiplatform efforts around its keystone brands like Builder, Architect and Remodeling while making second-tier brands digital-only. "We’ve moved to a much more ambitious digital portfolio model," says Goldstone. "We have 30 media brands and our core hub brands are multichannel—print, digital and event. Big audiences that have high value for us will get the multichannel solution, but not all brands are created equal."
Additionally, Goldstone and Reid describe a comprehensive digital-first operation, whether a brand lives on multiple channels or one. And the company has been rebuilding its infrastructure to accommodate that new content and business flow. "Digital will support all of the other platforms and businesses," says Reid.
Using Welcome’s arrival to the company as an illustrative example, Reid says the audience data around brands will be integrated on a much bigger scale. "She’ll not only be running circulation, but digital and print and the production of those as well. What you see about these changes is instead of having a print infrastructure that digital lives around, we’re making digital the core of the infrastructure and having print live around that. Digital supports all of the other platforms and businesses."
Immediate and major investments will be tied to overhauling the database to free it from a brand-focused hierarchy to a broader audience-focused structure and integrating that with a lead-driven platform that better targets Hanley Wood’s marketing efforts as well as its data delivery to brand partners.
The database and lead-gen investments will be coupled with a new CMS as well that, says Reid, will "reflect the editorial changes, but also make sure from a front-end perspective all of that reflects capabilities from the audience’s view."