BtoB

Cahners rethinks Web plans

By Published on .

Reprints Reprints

On a recent March morning, brilliant daylight floods Marc Teren's corner office at Cahners Business Information headquarters in New York. He has been CEO of the company since Feb. 1, and it still is his moment in the sun.

In the warm light, Teren reveals some of Cahners' Internet strategy, which seems likely to focus, at least initially, on content over genuine e-commerce. "The Internet is a medium regardless of its e-commerce potential," he said.

Teren, 43, was chosen by Crispin Davis, CEO of Cahners' parent, Reed Elsevier, in part because of his experience running Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. Teren's hiring backed up Reed Elsevier's promise that Cahners, which owns 130 publications, planned to step up its efforts on the Internet.

The company's broad strategy calls for Cahners to focus on vertical portals in electronics, manufacturing, construction, entertainment and publishing.

Teren appears uncomfortable with a publisher creating and owning an e-marketplace where buyers and sellers come together to conduct transactions. "At what point do we become a marketplace?" he asks. "It's a fragile line. The goal of owning marketplaces vs. facilitating marketplaces is something we need to think long and hard about."

To date, Cahners' Web success has been mixed. Its strong Web sites, such as ManufacturingNet, Variety.com and e-inSite.com, are offset by indifferent efforts in other vertical markets.

In February, Reed Elsevier formally outlined its Internet plan, and Cahners will share about $175 million that Reed Elsevier has allocated to carry out its b-to-b Web strategy over the next three years.

In his first few weeks on the job, Teren tended to non-Internet issues. In 1999, Cahners cut about 550 jobs; saw Bruce Barnet, its previous CEO, resign abruptly in September; and posted a 40% decline in operating profits on flat revenue. The fallout was a company with declining morale, insiders say.

A DELICATE BALANCE

In an effort to reassure Cahners employees, Teren has visited many of the company's sites across the country and answered pointed questions. "They wanted to know, 'Had [the job cuts] ended?' They wanted to know, `How are we going to get onto the Internet?'" he says.

He told employees the job cuts were completed and that Cahners is a healthy company that will move its brands aggressively onto the Web. He also has answered "hundreds" of e-mails from employees, he says.

Teren's effort to be open has been noticed. In a jab at Barnet's administration, one Cahners executive says, "Compared to what we've had at Cahners, there's no question he's more accessible."

for five months. With Teren's arrival, Nairn returned to his post as COO.

Teren says he and Nairn will oversee Cahners as a team. The two have traveled together visiting various Cahners sites.

Teren, who managed about 400 people at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, confided what most struck him initially about Cahners was "the scale." Nairn, he says, can provide valuable experience in steering the course of such a massive operation, with about 3,800 employees.

Teren compares the arrangement he wants to have with Nairn to one he witnessed while a young executive at Walt Disney, where Michael Eisner, chairman, and Frank Wells, president, were thrown together and successfully managed the company together. "We intend to manage the company as partners," Teren says of himself and Nairn.

Teren's inclusive management style will mean little if he can't articulate and implement a clear Internet strategy for Cahners. Much of the direction, Teren acknowledges, will come straight from Reed's Davis.

Cahners e-inSite, which is a portal for the electronics industry, indicates the direction the company may be headed with its Internet strategy.

ACQUISITIONS ENHANCE EFFORT

Around e-inSite Cahners has formed a joint venture with PartMiner.com, New York, and taken an equity stake in the company. Drawing from its 17 electronics industry publications, Cahners provides content for the site; PartMiner handles the e-commerce, providing sourcing and distribution of electronics parts.

Another glimpse of Cahners' Internet strategy can be seen at Variety.com, which is being bolstered by acquisition. The Variety Group recently acquired two companies: MarketCast, an entertainment industry market research firm, and LA411 Publishing Group, an online b-to-b directory for the entertainment industry. Both will provide Variety.com with enhanced potential for e-commerce.

ManufacturingNet, Cahners' portal for its 23 manufacturing industry titles, appears poised to make an announcement this week that will signal its plunge into e-commerce. Teren is content for each industry to pursue its own strategy. He says that while information will be the focus, some vertical portals will handle e-commerce themselves, others will ally with partners, and still others may explore the CNET model of generating revenue with leads.

Teren is not committed to any particular model. "We'll look at each industry site differently," he says. He is very passionate, though, about moving Cahners' Internet strategy forward.

He says the company has failed miserably in explaining to the press and to Wall Street what the power of Cahners' brands, such as Variety and EDN, will mean on the Internet.

How does he know Cahners has failed? "We've failed because the public markets still value VerticalNet higher than they do us," he says, referring to the Horsham, Pa.-based creator of vertical e-marketplaces, which has a market capitalization of about $6.7 billion, despite revenues of about $20 million in 1999.

Teren is talking tough, and Cahners employees are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the CEO. "People are giving him the benefit of the doubt," says a Cahners employee. "But soon they'll be saying, 'OK, let's start delivering.'"

And that's when it could really get hot in Teren's office.

In this article:
Most Popular