MEDIA: HEADLINER - Emap chief endures the heat for taking the hard decisions. Kevin Hand believes in his plans despite what critics predict. Ian Darby reports

Oscar Wilde's observation that 'ambition is the last refuge of the

failure' seems to sum up the current situation at Emap. Critics say the

stock market darling of the 90s is struggling because it has

over-reached itself in attempting to grow in overseas markets.



The man taking the flak for falling ad revenues and a collapse in its

stock market valuation (resulting in its ejection from the FTSE 100) is

Kevin Hand, the publisher's 47-year-old chief executive.



Hand led Emap into the US two years ago with the acquisition of Petersen

for £720 million, and has been responsible for an aggressive

programme of magazine launches in other markets, including an investment

of £20 million in launching a US version of the lads' magazine

FHM.



Critics of Hand argue that the Petersen acquisition has not worked.



They say Emap should sell the US publisher of titles such as Guns and

Ammo, Skin Diver and Dirt Rider to focus on its core market of UK

consumer magazines.



One senior industry source says: 'Emap paid far too much for Petersen.

The logical thing to do would be to flog the bulk of it and do something

clever with the remaining components to impress the City. Emap is

struggling due to a bit of bad luck, but mainly because of a large

amount of hubris.'



Emap's shareholders are laying the blame for this hubris at Hand's

door.



Reports two weeks ago suggested he will be given six months to turn

things around before they demand his removal.



One source close to Emap says this is unfair: 'The job is very big and

Hand doesn't get much support from the chairman (Robin Miller). The

problem with Miller is that when things go well he takes the credit, but

when they go badly he becomes invisible.'



Those who know Hand say he is remarkably determined. He is also

admirably calm under pressure. Hand says: 'This is a high-profile media

group, but I don't think there is any pressure on me. My aim is to

out-perform the market we are in and to make Emap even more of a

multimedia group.'



Evidence of multimedia activity includes the launch of digital TV

versions of the music magazines Q, Smash Hits and Kerrang! and a digital

version of Kiss 100. Online projects include Q and FHM.



The jury is out on whether Hand will survive. Analysts predict he can

save his job if Petersen is sold off and performance in UK consumer

magazines improves. However, one source close to Emap believes Hand will

be forced out. He says: 'It's difficult to survive when the City gets

its teeth in.'



Hand is adamant that Emap is not selling Petersen. 'This is all

speculation. It has taken us more time to get Petersen working than we

thought. The product improvement has been difficult, but we're getting

there.'



In Hand's favour is the relatively diversified nature of Emap's

investors.



It has no single large investor with the power to force him out, as in

the case of David Montgomery at Mirror Group.



Hand has been an Emap man since 1983 when he joined as circulation

director from the publisher Link House. He was appointed chief executive

in 1998, having earned his spurs by performing a remarkable turnaround

of Emap's French operations where he was appointed managing director in

1994.



Since taking the chief executive job Hand has conducted a restructuring

of the UK business with the formation of Emap Advertising, which has

integrated sales teams across digital, radio and magazines. Hand says

this will 'help us out-perform the market with cross-media deals', but

there is little evidence of this so far. He says the first large-scale

deal has been struck with an advertiser but refuses to say more.



The restructuring also saw the creation of four networks (Emap Elan,

Emap Performance, Emap Health and Emap Automotive) and a separate

division for digital services, Emap Digital. The restructure has so far

produced disappointing results and Emap has been forced to halve its

three-year investment in digital services from £250 million to

£120 million.



However, last week's ABCs provided some encouragement for Hand. Elle's

circulation was up 6.8 per cent year on year, FHM's was up by 2 per

cent, and Heat's by a staggering 137 per cent. There were, though, some

blips, including falls for Red and the music magazines Q and Smash

Hits.



Hand now needs to address the issue of falling UK ad sales (they were

down 8 per cent for the six months to September last year) and declining

profits in the UK (down from £36 million to £28 million for

the same period).



There are good signs, including strong growth at Emap Performance and an

aggressive period of UK launches starting with the music magazine

Kingsize next month. If Hand can control his, and Emap's ambition, he

may survive.



THE HAND FILE



1974: National Association of Boys Clubs, information officer



1978: Link House, marketing director



1983: Emap, circulation director



1994: Groupe Emap (France), managing director



1998: Emap, chief executive.



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