A Heartland Company Leads the Media Race

Steve Lacy greeted me in his office as if we were old friends.

A top executive at the Meredith Corporation, he was a main driver of the company’s $2.8 billion acquisition of Time Inc. last November. With that deal, the 116-year-old Meredith Corporation became the largest magazine publisher in America.

When he spoke, it was clear Mr. Lacy took pride in Meredith’s unassuming corporate culture, so far removed from the New York magazine scene.

“In Des Moines, Iowa, we don’t have to prove anything to anybody about the Meredith Corporation,” Mr. Lacy said. “We don’t have drivers. We’d look silly, and it would be not in keeping with who we are.” He added, “I presume you know that if I want a black car, I can get one.”

Mr. Lacy, 63, is a trim man, born and raised in Kansas, with neat white hair. He steered me to a table by a large framed photograph of a bald eagle. Not far from his office on the 14-acre Meredith campus, a 24-foot sculpture of a trowel sticks out of the earth at an angle, as if tossed by a gardening giant.

He managed to keep the company thriving when his competitors were shutting down magazines. And now that the New York approach to the magazine business may have run its course, it seems that Meredith has tortoised the hare.

“You have to realize that the vast majority of all media companies’ consumers have a life beyond the Hudson River,” Mr. Lacy said. “The consumer we sell our product to has a very different life than what goes on on Manhattan Island.”

Meredith’s restraint appears to have been prescient.

Before taking on Time Inc., the company already owned some of the most-read magazines in the country, including Better Homes and Gardens, with its circulation of 7.6 million. In buying the House of Luce, the company gained People, which fits nicely into its portfolio of lifestyle publications, along with Olympian titles like Time, Sports Illustrated and Fortune, which do not match the company’s traditional areas of expertise.

Meredith has said that it may not hang on to all of the Time Inc. magazines. Company executives expect to complete their review of the titles this spring. Among the options under consideration are selling off Time and Sports Illustrated, or changing how frequently they are published. Time, for instance, could become a bi-weekly or monthly.

For now, Meredith owns 40 magazines to go with its 17 television stations and 50 websites. The Time Inc. deal gave new life to Meredith’s digital and video operations, increasing the number of unique monthly visitors to its websites from 80 million to 170 million. And Meredith officials say the company will generate $700 million in annual digital advertising revenue.
more at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/business/media/heartland-company-leads-media-race.html

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