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Conlin keeps IDG on steady course

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As head of an integrated media company with operations in 85 countries, International Data Group President-CEO Kelly Conlin is well versed in the nuances of expanding a company globally.

Since taking over IDG in 1995, Conlin has overseen the company's expansion into foreign markets vital to the company's revenue growth. Two thirds of IDG's $3.1 billion annual revenue comes from outside the U.S. The company publishes more than 300 newspapers and magazines and 4,000 book titles.

BtoB: What do you see as the emerging markets in b-to-b publishing?

Conlin: One of the things that has changed is how you define a market. You have to think much more creatively in terms of whether you're going to start with a trade show, a conference, or something beyond a full-scale print product. There's a whole host of new opportunities to provide products that speak to building out the Internet. That could include wireless, broadband, virtual networks and seamless software solutions.

BtoB: How will the expected slowdown in ad spending next year affect IDG titles? Five years ago, 80% of IDG's revenue came from advertising. Now it's less than half. What areas of the company are picking up a larger share of revenue generation?

Conlin: The fastest-growing area is research. In times of anxiety, the opportunity for research blossoms because customers are looking for an understanding of technology trends.

Our events are moving at a faster rate, too [expected to grow 30% in 2001]. One of the outcomes of the digital economy is that people spend more and more time hiding behind their computer screens and they're using events to overcome the isolation.

BtoB: What are the keys to opening overseas markets?

Conlin: You first have to be fortified to know the market is still emerging and not yet fully developed. [IDG Chairman and founder] Pat McGovern developed a joint venture in China one year after a law was passed allowing U.S. companies to do that. Now [China] is poised to be the largest IT market in the world. You have to find excellent entrepreneurs who have a keen understanding of local markets and trust them. We have a knowledge network of the best practices, but ultimately, the decisions have to be made on the ground.

The American instinct is to export intellectual property instead of looking at things like a network of knowledge servers. U.S. companies have to be ready to accept that there is talent and expertise globally and inject that talent and expertise into an intelligence network.

BtoB: IDG is known to grow titles organically rather than acquire products. What do you see as the benefits of organic growth and the risks of acquisition?

Conlin: The risk of acquisitions is that 80% of them fail. So the odds against synergy are hard to justify the benefits of acquisition. It's hard to merge two disparate companies.

The benefits of growth are that they provide a wonderful lab for employees to help grow successful products. Our culture is built around new ideas and entrepreneurs investing into an existing company and existing units and then continuously innovating.

BtoB: Does decentralization on the Web-as IDG is set up, with each of its titles having its own Web site-work well?

Conlin: The IDG model reflects the Internet model, which is a whole network of highly targeted communities. We don't believe that one size fits all because the world is not one size fits all. As complex as technology is, you can't serve your customers with just one brand. It's too narrow.

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