Richard Beckman, the publishing vet who was tapped early on by the group of investors that paid an estimated $80 million to buy Nielsen’s b2b publications a year and half ago, is seeing his role reduced at the company, now known as Prometheus Global Media. He’ll be moving out of the role of overseeing the trade mags, which include The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and Adweek, and will instead be running a new division devoted to branded content, according to a memo obtained by the NY Post. Representatives for Prometheus were unavailable for comment.
Updated: In an interview with The Daily Beast, Beckman derided the NYP’s story as “stupid,” adding that this was merely a shift in responsibility that was common for a new company. “I will continue to be the CEO of Prometheus” he said. “People can interpret or say whatever they want, but that’s the fact.” Separately, Chairman Jimmy Finkelstein also denied any diminution of Beckman’s role. told WWD “Richard was, is and will be the CEO.”
Original Post: Daily operations will be assumed by Prometheus Chairman Jimmy Finkelstein, who initially rounded up the investors to buy the magazines and related conference businesses.
Finkelstein, through his role at Pluribus Capital, became chairman of the b2b trade mag company, which was originally named e5 Global Media, after rounding up Guggenheim Partners to help back the acquisition. Beckman left his post as CEO of Condé Nast’s Fairchild Fashion Group in Jan. 2010 to join Finkelstein and his partners in completely overhauling the Nielsen magazines.
Beckman, a Condé Nast veteran for 24 years, held the Fairchild post for less than 10 months. Beckman was famous for his aggressive sales strategy (his nickname, in a part a reference to his British background and his sales tenacity is “mad dog,” a moniker he resents). He was so highly regarded by Condé Nast Chairman S.I. Newhouse, that Beckman was able to keep his position as publisher of Vogue after being involved in a lawsuit regarding an injury to a staffer that he caused during a sales meeting. As a testament to his skills as a salesman and in corporate diplomacy, Beckman has been able to put that decade-old incident behind him.
The idea of placing someone like Beckman in charge of the magazines was meant to reflect Finkelstein’s rejection of the standard b2b model of dry, just-the-facts, “Inside Baseball” type news coverage. In its place, the reformed THR and Adweek represented the clearest form of that vision, which instead valued buzz-worthy features and edgy profiles that sported lively illustrations and portraits as opposed to stock images of campaigns and official corporate photos.
While the look and feel of the magazines has surely captured attention. But it’s not clear that Beckman’s attempt to go from b2b to “b-to-i” (the “i” stands for “influencer”) has had advertisers and subscribers clamoring to get into the various’ titles pages.
Beckman explained the b-to-i philosophy to Bloomberg BusinessWeek last April in a profile that described the executive as one of the last of the old time publishing moguls, as “your product is talking to not just the industry but also to that top-of-the-pyramid consumer who follows those industries.”
As Adweek Group’s editorial director Michael Wolff, who along with Janice Min as editor of THR, was one of Beckman’s most notably hires, told me the week before the Adweek relaunch in April, the model he was pursuing was similar to Politico, which meant that it would cover the news in a granular, entertaining way, in that it would have wider appeal beyond the ad agencies on Madison Avenue (especially since most of the exciting agencies are not on that famous street anymore).
As b2b magazines struggled with how to manage the internet and social media, the Prometheus magazines would emphasize breaking news online and offering broader features and sumptuous images inside. And months later, many initial doubters have told me that that magazine looks and feels more alive these days. And traffic to the websites are generally up. However, it’s not clear that just being more enjoyable to read has spurred more subscribers and ad spending at the Prometheus titles, which are coping with anemic growth for magazines’ ad dollars generally speaking, as business people continue to shift their industry news consumption to quick — and more often than not, free — bursts of information on the web and mobile phones.
Given the amount of money that has been spent on building Prometheus’ audience, the payoff is surely a long ways off. Beckman’s move to this unnamed new division could be a way of easing him out. Or it could be that Finkelstein is pleased with what he’s done and hopes Beckman can work some quick magic in drawing out revenues through a branded content play. Either way, it sounds a lot less important than seeing if it’s possible to remake a collection of traditional business magazines for the online age.