Canadian Magazine Industry News
15 December 2009,     AURORA, ONT.
Year end Q & A: Niel Hiscox
The second in our series of year end Q&A's is CLB Media Inc. vice president of publishing Niel Hiscox. CLB Media is a leading publisher of over 23 trade magazines, such as Canadian Lawyer, based in Aurora, Ont.

Masthead: What measures did your company take to weather the storm?"

Niel Hiscox: We did a number of things. We suspended publication of some of our titles.  In a number of cases we suspended the print magazine but
Niel Hiscox
Niel Hiscox
continued with the website and e-newsletters. Interestingly we found that a number of advertisers were quite happy to continue advertising with a digital-only brand, and didn't see the lack of a print edition as a problem.

We did cut back on staff.  Most of the staffing cuts we made were on new positions we had planned to fill as part of our original 2009 plan, rather than terminations of existing staff.  However, we did let a few people go, which is certainly never an easy decision.

We worked with a number of suppliers to find pricing and cost efficiencies that improved our expense base.  Examples include printing and paper. Technology also allowed us to bring some processes in-house that had previously been handled by outside vendors.  This saved some money as well.

We did not cut back on key areas like sales and editorial travel that are
critical to maintaining contact with our markets.  From the feedback we've had from many of our advertisers, that was appreciated.

M: How is the first quarter of 2010 shaping up for your company compared to the first quarter of 2009?

NH: Many advertisers are sounding more positive than they did at this time last year.  We hear from many of our customers that they are seeing gradual improvement in their business activity, which is easing the pressure on marketing budgets.  Those customers who took their advertising right out in 2009 are very conscious that they haven't had their face out there for awhile and seem eager to get back to some level of activity.  Having said that, everyone remains very cautious.  I expect we'll see much less contractual commitments to a full-year schedule and much more booking month to month, even for those clients who end up running significant schedules through 2010.

M: What was the highlight of 2009?

NH: We put a lot of time into completely redesigning how we take our digital products to market.  This includes new website templates, new editorial schedules, new web ad sizes and pricing, new measurement tools - the works.

I think the highlight for me has been how positively our customers have reacted to our new digital products.  They are seeing value where we believed they would, and that helps drive enthusiasm inside our shop. Change is not easy, and we've made enormous changes this year.  Our customers' reactions are validating what we've done, and that's the best feedback you can get.  It makes it worth all the effort.

M: What was the most challenging aspect of the past year?

NH: Revenue.  The revenue drop in most markets, particularly those tied to manufacturing sectors or the U.S. housing market, was very significant.

M: What, in your opinion will be the key to succeeding in publishing in 2010?

NH: The key to success in 2010 will be finding revenue growth.  I believe the key to finding that revenue growth will be a solid understanding of our customers' priorities, and how our products can align with them.  Even though budgets seem to be strengthening, I don't expect our customers to spend them on the same media mix that they did before the recession.

Advertisers are looking for more accountability, more focused tools, and programs that are more precisely aligned with their goals than ever before. Media reps who go in with the same old rate card expecting the kinds of
orders they got in the past will likely be disappointed.

M: The new federal Canadian Periodical Fund will be launched in April 2010. What effect, positive or negative, do you think it will have on your company?

NH: I expect the impact to be neutral in the short term, as it seems the program is being designed to come in that way. 

Over the longer term, I think there is the potential for a positive impact if the new program focuses its benefit on publishing innovation rather than a distribution subsidy. 

We've committed ourselves to new product leadership, which may well align nicely with the new program.  We've had tremendous success getting OMDC support for the initiatives we're working on, so that might bode well for future alignment with the new Periodical Fund.

— Val Maloney
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