Helmers focuses on expansion

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When Steve Robbins rejoined Helmers Publishing in 2003 as an equity partner, he picked his own title. He chose exec VP, even though he was charged with leading the company.

"I felt that I'd have more of an `in' [with advertisers] than if I was president," Robbins said. "I felt that if I was president, they'd expect a much higher-level discussion to go on. I wanted to travel with my editor, and I wanted to talk to them about sales. The [president] title was kind of off-putting."

Two years and a magazine launch later, Robbins is comfortable enough to see the word `president' on his business card. After taking on the new title in September, he no longer leads the sales charge, enabling him to devote more time to expanding Helmers beyond its two monthly titles, Supply Chain Systems and Desktop Engineering.

In January, Robbins oversaw the launch of Chief Supply Chain Officer, a quarterly that next year will become a bimonthly title. The company this year also began a quarterly special issue, Elements of Analysis, which accompanies Desktop Engineering.

Robbins also just formed a custom publishing unit that has signed up three clients and formed an events division, something that Helmers has not had since 1999 when Advanstar Communications acquired Sensors magazine. Robbins, who had been at Helmers from 1995 to 1999 and served as Sensors' publisher, went to work for Advanstar as a group director after the sale.

"[Helmers] wouldn't be around much longer if we didn't do events and custom [publishing]," Robbins said.

In addition to working at Advanstar, Robbins' resume includes 12 years at International Data Group. Despite spending most of his career at large companies, Robbins rejoined the small, privately held Helmers because he decided what motivates him after 22 years in trade publishing: "I came back to get equity in a business as opposed to working for a large publishing company," he said. "I'm much more entrepreneurial than that."

Helmers was established in 1979 by Carl Helmers, founding editor of Byte magazine.

Robbins admits that working for a small publishing house can mean remedying misperceptions. Size can be a problem with advertisers, but it also has its upside, like an ability to move quickly.

A case in point: While researching its subscriber base for Microsoft Corp., which was interested in a list rental, Helmers found two dozen subscribers had the title of chief supply chain officer and others were serving as strategic decision-makers in the corporate supply chain. Based on the findings, Helmers decided to launch Chief Supply Chain Officer.

Now Robbins is considering a magazine on outsourcing.

"Our long-term view is to grow the company," Robbins said. "We look at this company as a long-term company, and our motivation is not to sell this company six years down the road. Our constraint isn't to say someone's going to buy us in three years and we'd better watch out." 

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