Time Inc.’s Joe Ripp: “Our identity extends well beyond print”

Time Inc. has a storied history, dating to the launch of Time magazine, which was first published on 3 Marc 1923. Nine of the company’s US brands have been continuously published for more than 40 years; and The Field, a UK brand founded in 1853, is the longest continuously running publication. Time Inc.’s history also includes the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications in 1989, the Time Warner and AOL merger in 2000 and the more recent spin-off of Time Inc. from Time Warner that was completed on 6 June 2014, when Time Inc. listed as a fully independent public company.

Time Inc. is also home to celebrated events and franchises, including the Fortune 500, Time 100, People’s Sexiest Man Alive, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the Essence Festival and the biennial Fortune Global Forum. Hundreds of thousands of people attend these live media events each year.

Joe Ripp was appointed Time Inc. chairman and CEO in September 2013 to oversee the spin-off from Time Warner and subsequent (and ongoing) transformation of Time Inc., the same company where he began his media career in 1985.

Ripp will be the opening speaker at the FIPP World Congress (13-15 October) in Toronto, Canada (the provisional programme is here). He took time to answer eight questions, via email, ahead of the Congress.

1. Looking at the magazine media industry in general, at industry events in the US, Europe and elsewhere one senses greater optimism than before. Is this your experience, and, if yes, what would you ascribe it to?

I won’t speak to the mindset of our peers. At Time Inc., there is a real sense of possibility and a real purpose. Our identity extends well beyond print. Everyday we are igniting, fulfilling and elevating the world’s passions. The audience in this business is a booming one.

2. Focusing on Time Inc. in particular, the company went public in June 2014. From the outside it is clear things are changing since the flotation, but what has been the biggest obstacle to overcome in this process?

One of the major challenges was that our new senior leadership team came on board and was expected to go public 6-9 months later. We had to develop a plan from scratch that would win the confidence of investors and creditors and also begin to build management credibility. The corollary of this is that the organisation needed to transition from the mindset of being a small division of a conglomerate into a standalone public company where our actions and outcomes mattered. 

3. You have been quoted as saying ‘a big opportunity with a Time Inc.-centered (focused) management is to invest cash-flows for Time Inc.’ again. Which are the most important areas you are looking at investing in, and why?

We believe we have an advantage when investing in areas that are adjacent to our existing businesses, brands and competencies. This includes experiential or live media (e.g., UKCE, inVNT), digital platforms that service the passion points in our lives (e.g., Horse & Hound/Equo and SI Play), millennial and mobile-first content verticals (e.g., FWx, MIMI), commerce and data.

4. Acquisitions since the flotation have been fairly modest and non-print. Going forward, will we see increased acquisitions, and what criteria do acquisitions have to fill?

The first acquisition we made since I rejoined the company was the Affluent Media Group (formerly American Express Publishing). We’re extremely happy with the performance of these brands. Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine and Departures are a great fit given their focus on luxury and lifestyle. We would be very interested in other print-first acquisitions if we saw an opportunity to extend those brands well beyond the printed page. As a newly public company, we are building an acquisition and investment track record. My senior team is very disciplined when it comes to kicking tires and we expect an attractive return on investment for our shareholders’ capital.

5. Magazine media today are competing with a dazzling array of companies for talent. What is the hardest position to fill in your organisation today?  

I am extremely pleased with the talent that wants to come to Time Inc. (e.g., Dr. JT Kostman [as Chief Data Officer], Rich Battista [EVP of Time Inc. and president of People and Entertainment Weekly], Lynne Biggar [EVP of consumer marketing and revenue], Colin Bodell [CTO and EVP of Time Inc.])

6. You have spoken at length before about the importance of cultural change in transformation. How would you describe your ‘ideal’ Time Inc. culture?  

Leading transformation and culture change is about creating a social movement. At Time Inc. we have smart and talented people throughout our organisation who are accustomed to critical thinking and questioning. My approach has been transparency and candour about both the challenges we face and the sources of opportunity. The key to culture change is achieving grassroots buy-in from the middle.

7. If you could change one thing in the magazine media industry it would be? 

If there were one thing I could change, I would not have limited Time Inc. to the print box over the past decade. [But] I’m confident that Time Inc. is changing this legacy.

8. What are three of the things business colleagues might not readily know about you? 

  • I love to fly (as the pilot especially in fog),
  • My family is the centre of my universe, and
  • In college I wanted nothing to do with business

About the FIPP World Congress

Ripp will be the opening keynote at the FIPP World Congress, where 60+ other speakers and some 600-700 delegates from around the world will join him as we shine a spotlight on the magazine media (and related branded media) world. The Congress takes place from 13-15 October in Toronto, Canada. Register here to join.

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