Home LIFESTYLE Style News “We Showed Those City Slickers!”: Inside Meredith, the Triumphant Midwesterners Have Poured Some Salt in Time Inc.’s Wounds

“We Showed Those City Slickers!”: Inside Meredith, the Triumphant Midwesterners Have Poured Some Salt in Time Inc.’s Wounds

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For long-tenured executives at Meredith Corporation, the Iowa-based magazine conglomerate, the recent acquisition of Time Inc. wasn’t merely an opportunistic business move facilitated by a former competitor’s stumbles amid an increasingly challenging media ecosystem. It was the culmination of a feverish, half-decade-long conquest. “There are really five of us that have worked on this for over five years,” Doug Olson, president of Meredith’s magazine division, said in an interview with the industry Web site Mr. Magazine. Olson and his colleagues first tried to buy Time Inc. in 2012, when it was owned by Time Warner. But it would take two more attempts, and half a billion dollars in Koch cash, before Time Inc.—home to Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, People, Entertainment Weekly, and numerous other editorial brands—eventually submitted. As Olson put it, “We’ve stuck with it and now we’re here.”

In that sense, it’s not surprising that the Meredith guys—yes, the company’s top six business executives are men—are taking something of a victory lap. Last week, they landed a favorable profile on the front page of the New York Times business section. The article, which was e-mailed to the entire company, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, particularly the musings of Executive Chairman Steve Lacy, who referred to “life beyond the Hudson River” while also noting, “if I want a black car, I can get one.” “That piece didn’t go over well,” one company insider told me. Another elaborated, “There was just a little bit of, We showed those city slickers!” (“We have received positive feedback from employees across the company,” a Meredith spokesman said.)

Tensions like these are to be expected whenever one institution subsumes another, even more so when a less storied organization from the Great Plains acquires a Manhattan-centric stalwart of immense significance and lore. But the worst is likely only beginning at Meredith, where managers are still in the early stages of integrating (or, in the case of several publications that are expected to be sold, de-integrating) the more-than-7,000-person Time Inc. crew. For starters, the first round of layoffs is expected this week, with Meredith seeking to eliminate hundreds of duplicative back-end roles. (The Wall Street Journal reported that between 200 and 300 of “Time Inc.’s corporate employees in New York” could face job elimination.) The precise timing is unclear, but there’s chatter within the halls of 225 Liberty Street that a bunch of conference rooms are being reserved for unspecified purposes in the coming days. “People who feel like their jobs might be on the line are getting mixed signals,” an employee told me. “We’re all waiting.” Those on the sales side are said to feel especially in limbo, since Meredith is expecting to re-orient the former Time Inc. sales operation back to a brand-based structure as opposed to one based on advertising-industry categories. Many of these folks feel like they haven’t gotten their marching orders, raising the prospect that sales in the first quarter of 2018 will end up being down. “I’m seeing a lot of sales people inside the building who should be out selling,” the employee said. (The spokesman said the new sales organization has been finalized and will be announced to employees next week.)

Other adjustments are more cultural. This year’s invites to the always star-studded Time 100 Gala, scheduled for April 24, have Meredith C.E.O. Tom Harty’s name on them. During last week’s National Magazine Awards at Cipriani Wall Street, where Time was in the mix of winners and finalists, Harty and Meredith National Media Group President Jon Werther were looking thrilled as they celebrated the accolades at a table with Time editor in chief Edward Felsenthal. The internal Henry Luce Awards, named for Time Inc.’s legendary co-founder, have been merged with the Meredith Excellence Awards, a change that aggrieved some old-timers (although the winners will now have cash prizes to look forward to).

Meanwhile, the staffs of Time, Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated are facing uncertainty with the news last week that Meredith, as expected, has retained bankers to explore selling those titles, which aren’t in line with the company‘s core business: soft monthly magazines targeting women, like Time Inc.’s InStyle, Real Simple, and Southern Living. As I reported last month, inbound queries have been strong, with interested buyers including Jimmy Finkelstein (owner of The Hill). Still, sales of the titles are not a foregone conclusion, and some question whether it would make sense for Meredith to offload high-traffic brands like Time and Sports Illustrated since the company has tried to entice Wall Street bankers with a narrative about unprecedented scale.

Perhaps what stings most is a sense among Time Inc. talent that their Meredith bosses are off devising strategy and making decisions without input from the people who, at least in theory, know the Time Inc. businesses best. (The Meredith spokesman, Art Slusark, countered that the company has set up working groups including both Meredith and Time Inc. vets, and that input has been “encouraged and welcomed.”) “They seem like decent guys,” one of my sources said. “What hurts people is that [we’re] not being tapped for institutional knowledge. I mean for God’s sake, we were Time Inc. We do know a few things.”

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