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'Forbes' merging print and online staffs, cuts jobs

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In response to the sour economy and shifting advertising budgets, Forbes Media has decided to combine the staffs of its flagship Forbes magazine and its Web-based properties, including Forbes.com.

Forbes journalists and sales employees will now work in all media channels the company serves, and the sales and marketing team is being reorganized.

An estimated 43 employees were let go in the restructuring.

In an internal memo to Forbes employees, CEO Steve Forbes said the shakeup "will enable us not only to better weather the current economic storm, but to move ahead quickly and profitably when the global economies begin recovering.... One of the benefits of Forbes is precisely the ability to move nimbly and swiftly to respond to our clients and marketers in the way they want to do business."

The bulk of the job losses reportedly came on the sales side. But Forbes, in his memo, indicated that editorial consolidation loomed, saying of the print and digital products, "We are in the midst of conversations to discuss ways to truly integrate the great [editorial] talent in both organizations by sometime in early 2009."

"Forbes has been an outlier in the industry and, for a company so advanced in its online business, totally counter to the trend toward integrating print with digital," said Chuck Richard, VP and lead b-to-b analyst with media research and advisory firm Outsell. "The fact that Forbes maintained separate models as long as they did is actually surprising."

The combined sales and marketing team will be reorganized into three new entities: the brand intelligence group, a consultancy that will work with Forbes' biggest advertisers; the integrated solutions group, which will work to create multichannel marketing campaigns for Forbes customers; and the media sales and service group, consisting of the brand's regional sales employees, who will be consolidated into regional business centers.

"A lot of our clients and others are struggling with the best ways to set up these sales forces," said Reed Phillips, managing partner of media investment firm DeSilva & Phillips. "I will say that Forbes has been a poster child on how to do online right. They're definitely a bellwether operation that others will look at and wonder if they shouldn't be doing the same thing."

Among other changes at Forbes, the company's online brands, including Forbes.com, Investopedia and RealClearPolitics.com, will be combined. Meanwhile, luxury travel resource ForbesTraveler.com will be scaled back, and ForbesAutos.com will be shut down.

Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of Forbes.com, said the company had no plans for further online consolidation for now, but noted there are still wrinkles to iron out on how online and print content will be managed and delivered.

"To write and distribute everywhere is a good goal, but at the end of the day people consume information differently by device," Spanfeller said.

"We simply have to think about life, and how to put together a product called Forbes that appears on handhelds, computers, printed paper or TV. I don't think anyone has a firm answer yet, but collectively as an industry we will find out."

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