When David Levin took over as CEO of United Business Media in 2005, the company generated about two-thirds of its revenue from print. Now, that total is less than 15%.
Of course, some of that decline was unavoidable as print revenue has diminished at virtually every b-to-b media company. But Levin has used a series of innovations to transform UBM from its printcentric model into a company that generates a large majority of its revenue and profits from live events and data.
Levin zigged when most others in b-to-b media zagged: He kept buying during the downturn and focused on acquiring trade shows outside of Europe. His biggest move was the $287 million deal for Canon Communications, which was primarily a trade show business. UBM has also bought a number of events in Asia, Brazil and elsewhere around the globe.
Levin has said face-to-face events for professionals are like concerts for music fans. “Why is it that people are still going to concerts and paying a ton of money when they can download the music for free?” he asked rhetorically in an interview with BtoB
. “It's for the human interaction.”
He also decentralized UBM—for example, breaking up the former CMP Media into three businesses—long before many others saw the value in deep expertise in a vertical market. “It wasn't universally acclaimed in the business media at the time,” he said.
This decentralization was accompanied by a flattening of UBM's organizational structure. Levin said this is reflected in the company's Wiki, an electronic forum for employees to share best practices and ask questions of their compatriots. “People are sharing by saying, "This is what I'm doing very well,' ” he said. “I think that's very innovative.”
UBM has also dived headfirst into virtual events and marketing services.
The results of these various moves are clear. UBM reported first-quarter operating profit totaled $72.6 million, up 18.6% from the year-earlier period. Revenue increased 7.5% to $386.7 million. The company realized these gains even as its print business was experiencing a 13.1% decline. —Sean Callahan