Interview: Bloomberg’s Pearlstine: Buying BusinessWeek Matches Need — And Desire

Last October, Bloomberg Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine told our Future of Business Media conference that the company was willing to look at acquisitions but, in the immediate future, wouldn’t be making “the major kind of acquisition that gets written about.” No, that took a year and it’s one that we’ll still be writing about next October. Pearlstine spoke with paidContent soon after the announcement that Bloomberg L.P. is acquiring BusinessWeek and that he will be the magazine company’s chairman once the deal closes. Pearlstine covered a lot of the “why” — why did Bloomberg shift gears about buying the weekly, why not to expect mass layoffs, and more but the “how” is going to take longer. Some plans are in place already, like expanding the number of editorial pages and committing to “true” weekly frequency. Much of it will take the kind of deep dive that buyers don’t get during due diligence.

Changing minds: Bloomberg shifted course during the BW sales process, sliding from “maybe” to “no” to a last-minute bid. What happened to change minds?

Pearlstine: “I think like others we took an initial look at it and it took us a while to figure out what the opportunities were and to get excited about it. The initial observation was that it was a publication struggling financially in a narrow category lumped together with Fortune and Forbes that were also struggling. The more we thought about it, the more we looked into it, the more we saw the opportunity to invest in a weekly magazine about global business — and that in doing so we could differentiate ourselves from what is typically thought of as competition for Bloomberg.” By combining the two, they decided, we can “create a unique and powerful brand that can do a lot of good things for us strategically — and over time will reward the investment that we put into it.”

All about editorial: But that doesn’t change the financial realities. How will Bloomberg break out of the financial struggle when McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP) couldn’t and Forbes and Fortune haven’t been able to? For Pearlstine, who was managing editor and executive editor of the Wall Street Journal and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., it all centers on editorial. “Every magazine begins with editorial and what we bring together … is a very talented editorial staff at BusinessWeek and at Bloomberg, 2,200 editorial employees in 146 bureaus in 72 countries. That distinguishes us from anybody else who’s going to be putting out a magazine. We have the resources to provide depth and breadth of coverage that will result in an extraordinary magazine. I have no doubt about it.” When I asked later what one quality he brings from his tenure at Time Inc. that will help him as chairman of BusinessWeek, Pearlstine said, “a gut appreciation of the editorial talent” at BW and Bloomberg. (Before joining Bloomberg, Pearlstine was senior advisor to The Carlyle Group