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Koten makes moves to bolster 'Fast Company,' 'Inc.'

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John Koten doesn’t mince words when addressing the problems that plagued both Fast Company and Inc. at the time they were bought last summer by Mansueto Ventures from Gruner+Jahr USA Publishing for $35 million.

“In the previous entity, [the magazines] were part of a huge corporate structure but were selling entrepreneurship, and that tended to get lost in the translation,” said Koten, who was named CEO of Mansueto Ventures last summer after spending nearly three years as editor of Inc.

Perhaps more troublesome was that Fast Company was still being lumped together with business magazines associated with the dot-com boom-and-bust era, many of which—such as Industry Standard and Upside—fell by the wayside.

 “We were associated with the dot-com craze but Fast Company was also always primarily about business innovation and what the most exciting companies were doing,” Koten said. “Fast Company needs to go back to being seen as an effective tool for b-to-b advertisers, and we need to do a better job of selling our audience.”

As Fast Company (750,000 circ.) gears up for its 10th anniversary this month, Koten is initiating several changes to reposition the publication with both readers and advertisers. For example, starting this year the magazine will reduce its frequency to 10 times a year from 12 to provide more targeted messaging from advertisers. It also plans to boost investment in paper quality, expand editorial and increase the feature well. What’s more, Fast Company’s events business, which was “dismantled” under G+J, will have to be built back up, Koten said.

Inc. (650,000 circ.) is also trying to spread its marketing and editorial wings. Koten recruited business publishing veteran Humphry Rolleston from The Economist as Inc.'s marketing director, and hired Jane Berentson away from Time Inc.’s Real Simple to be Inc.’s editor. He’s also expanded the popular Inc. 500 conference to two times a year from one.

Inc.com recently had a “significant redesign” that features “more dynamic options for advertisers,” Koten said.  “Joe [Mansueto, founder of Mansueto Ventures and chairman-CEO of Morningstar Inc.] wants to see progress and growth, but he understands that this is not a short-term project.”

Both titles struggled ad-wise last year. According to the Magazine Publishers of America’s Publishers Information Bureau (PIB), ad revenue at Fast Company fell 15% compared with 2004, while ad pages declined 20%. Things weren’t much better at Inc., where ad revenue fell 7% and ad pages were off 12%.

Mansueto Ventures lost nearly $10 million in 2005, according to an internal memo from Koten that he confirmed to BtoB.  So far, advertising for both titles has improved this year. In January, ad revenue for Fast Company rose 6% compared with January 2005 while ad pages were up 1%, according to the PIB. Inc.’s ad revenue was up 11% in January, and ad pages rose 8%.

For the first quarter, Koten projects Inc.’s ad pages will be up nearly 5%—the first quarterly increase in four years—while Fast Company’s ad pages are projected to be down 25%, but on one less issue.

Bob Crosland, managing director of media investment bank AdMedia Partners, said: “Everybody knows what Inc. stands for—growing companies. But I’m not sure people know what Fast Company stands for. It has always been a ‘What is it?’ magazine and always will be until they can establish a brand that stands for something.”

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