John French: Life–Learned–Lessons In Magazines And Magazine Media. Linda Ruth Reporting From ACT 7 Experience

April 28, 2017

John French, co-founder of French LLC, may be the man you need when you are in really deep trouble. He’s the turnaround guy. If you’ve got a troubled business, he will come and possibly save the day. At ACT 7, held at the Meek School of Journalism on the campus of the University of Mississippi, French shared some tips for publishers who find themselves in that situation.

The best way to create value for your publication, French advised, is to raise the top line: add revenue to the company. “The magic of a media company is to be the one who creates revenue,” French told the audience. “If you are a leader and not adding value—you have no value.” The reasons to create value are here to improve operating margins and to build your strategy for exit. And whether or not you are looking to exit, it is never too early to identify potential buyers—even in the business plan of a potential launch.

When analyzing your portfolio, French advised, play the hand you are dealt. Like a player on a football field, look for openings and run towards the daylight. “A huge way to create value is through events,” French advised. “But suppose you look at what you’ve got, and the big events aren’t a possibility? Find something else. Digital, data. Work with what you’ve got.”

Look at your management team and split them in two columns. Column one are the people who add real value to company. Column two is the people who, well, don’t. Get rid of the ones in column two. Do it with kindness, treat them with dignity, give them great severance. But do it.

Then find your buried talent. There are people in there who are smart and visionary. Often in troubled companies the management team will push these people down. When you take out the people who are not doing a great job, the ones who might, begin to emerge. It might be they are proactive people in a reactive culture; it might be that they are women in a male-dominated culture. Find them nourish them, help them advance.

Question everything. Always ask: why do we do that? And never accept the response: because we have always done that.

Put together a “skunkworks: groups drawn from all levels of the company to propose new ideas, new products. Put out a call for volunteers. You’ll find that the groups will be self-qualifying: people who want to be part of something new. Their failure rate will be high, but they will have great hits as well.

Be bold to launch, and just as bold to shut down and move on. Don’t hold on to the losers.

Be a leader in all things digital and data. This means you personally: don’t use delegation to fake it. There are moments in sports, business, and life known as “golden eras.” This, French said, is the golden era of data monetization. Who is receiving your product, who is managing your data, how much do you know, what can you predict? It’s the moment of data, and it’s rich and exciting, offering a transition as big, significant, and game-changing as the change from print to digital. But you need to own it, know it, lead it.

Don’t ask people to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. Learn. Hydrate your mind. Never give up. Set the vision, and stay the course. You may fail. But don’t decide to do that. Make up your mind, and keep going untill you get there.

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