Media: All about ... Changes at IPC Media

Is its management reshuffle a step in the right direction?

IPC Media is, according to its own website, "A Leading Magazine Publisher In The UK". Which is nice, of course - but also, in its own way, a rather melancholy admission. What a world of difference one little word can make - because, until relatively recently, IPC wasn't just a contender among the best of the rest. It was "the" leading magazine publisher in the UK.

Out on its own. By a mile. Unassailable. Had been for decades, from its earliest days in the early 60s, when it arrived fully formed as the UK's first media super-group, courtesy of a merger bringing together three publishing titans: Newnes, Odhams and Fleetway.

Last year, it ceded market leadership to Bauer Media Group when the German-based publishing outfit acquired Emap's consumer media properties. Combined, the two UK halves of the group, Bauer Media and H Bauer Publishing, now sell more magazines each month than IPC. Not many more, it's true - and IPC sources say the upcoming July-December ABC figures could be interesting.

But still. A year on from the Bauer-Emap deal, in deteriorating market conditions and with a management reshuffle still underway following the departure of its chief executive, Sylvia Auton, there's a lingering sense that IPC will need to find a clearer sense of direction if it wants to regain market leadership.

Auton hasn't entirely flown the gaff - she remains the IPC Media chairman - but it's not too trite (given the economic circumstances too) to characterise the reshuffle as the end of an era.

Because, of course, not so long ago, the world was IPC's oyster. It had been acquired by the world's biggest media owner, AOL Time Warner - a company that was about to reinvent mass media for the digital age. AOL Time Warner had the vision and the clout to make it happen, but the vision would be nothing without content - and in a world where content was to be king, IPC was destined to be a real player, not just in the UK but in world media.

It hasn't quite worked out that way - and there's a suspicion, now that internet-delivered video-on-demand appears to be where the action is, that magazine companies are no longer staying the digital pace. Now, some say, there needs to be a new sense of purpose.

1. In addition to her role as the chief executive of IPC Media (a role she took in 2003), Auton was given extra responsibilities as an executive vice-president of Time Inc in January 2007. Last year, she divided her time between London, New York and Birmingham, Alabama, where she had specific responsibilities for overseeing Time Inc's southern states division, Southern Progress Corporation. In December, she was handed additional US responsibilities, which meant relocating to the States and relinquishing her UK role - though she will now take on the role of chairman of IPC Media.

2. Her successor is the IPC "lifer" Evelyn Webster, who joined the company as a graduate trainee in 1992 and has latterly been the managing director of IPC Connect, which houses the company's women's weeklies. Industry observers expect (and sincerely hope) that she will instigate a major structural review of the company later this year.

3. Webster will be succeeded in her IPC Connect role by Fiona Dent, promoted from her current role as the managing director of the company's TV weeklies division, IPC TX. Dent has been the TX boss since April 2007, when she took on the role following Philippa Brown's move to Omnicom Media Group UK.

4. Charlie Meredith, currently the publishing director of What's On TV and TV Easy, will now step up to fill Dent's shoes.

5. In November, IPC announced that Caroline McDevitt, IPC's managing director of advertising, was leaving the company at the end of the year. McDevitt, who joined IPC in 2005, had been responsible for all print and digital advertising strategy across the whole company, as well as its market research activities. IPC is not actively seeking a replacement and has indicated that her role will be overseen by Webster.

The company is, however, seeking replacements for two other senior advertising departures - Glenda Marchant, the publisher of InStyle magazine, and Claire Portis, the advertising director for IPC's women's general interest magazines, including Essentials and Woman & Home.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

CONSUMER MAGAZINE PUBLISHING

- There's a growing feeling (in some quarters of the advertising industry especially) that the magazine business desperately needs some big-hitters to come out and sell the medium in this country.

- That's been compounded in recent weeks by the news that we're not only losing Auton but Duncan Edwards, the chief executive of The National Magazine Company, too - he's moving to New York to head up Hearst Magazines International.

- The market also needs reassuring that the sector isn't being left behind by the digital revolution. It used to be taken as written that magazine formats in particular and editorial mindsets in general would transfer powerfully to the internet.

- With the focus firmly on video-on-demand these days, you hear less of such talk. It's up to the IPCs of this world to reaffirm the role magazine companies can play in the new world.

ADVERTISERS

- In the past, there's been a widespread belief that magazines are relatively recession-proof. When times are tough, so it is said, magazines are the one little luxury people would rather not cut.

- Thus, when advertisers are trimming budgets, they too seemed reluctant in the past to cut magazine spend. In the digital economy, the rules will probably change - which is why the ABC figures due out in a couple of weeks will be scrutinised so closely.

- Advertisers will seek reassurance in particular that IPC - because it holds an impressive portfolio of classic and heritage brands - is able to perform strongly in the current climate.