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