In the wake of Ziff Davis Enterprise being sold recently by its banker owners to lead-generation company QuinStreet Inc., former ZDE Chairman-CEO Steve Weitzner landed as CEO of Summit Business Media. The Summit post had been open since the departure of Andrew L. Goodenough late last year. At ZDE, Weitzner's last major move was the OmniDigital initiative in which the company ceased printing its magazines and converted them to digital-only formats for a number of screens.
Weitzner discussed with Media Business
his plans for Summit, which produces financial and insurance publications, as well as his thoughts about the prospects for the scores of ZDE employees who lost their jobs as a result of the sale.
What in your experience at Ziff Davis Enterprise and, prior to that, at United Business Media, will help you at Summit?
(Summit has) started a lot of work on digital transformation. They launched a whole new array of websites in the past year, and they have very strong management, (which is) trying to move the company toward digital marketing and lead-gen, all pieces that can add to revenue. Having been down that road now twice, I have some experience around that. This is a company that is largely a print and events company first; and, when you're not essentially digital, you tend not to realize how easy it is to try things. What you really want to do is throw a lot of things out there, and throw fuel on the fire of things that are working and get out of the things that aren't. Culturally, that's something I think I can help with at this company.
How are you looking at the print and events portion of Summit?
They have a very, very strong line-of-business management team. John Whelan is the media guy (exec VP-media division); Jonathan Moore (senior VP-managing director, events division) is the events guy; and Rick Kravitz (VP-managing director, reference division) is the head of the reference division. These guys want
to work together. I think what's going to happen is we're going to see some opportunities to grow. We've got a massive conference that ran (in February) in South Africa on mining investment. It's one of the biggest products in the company. We have an opportunity to build out that community in a year-round way online that hasn't really been done yet.
What are your first steps going to be?
The first step is I'm going to spend the next three weeks on the road meeting all of the employees, doing town halls in every location, listening to what are some of the things they've been thinking about and wanting to do, and what are their challenges. Then I'll bring that all back, boil it all down and, with the priorities the executive committee has told me about, put that together into an action plan.
You left Ziff Davis Enterprise after its sale to QuinStreet, which will apparently leave about 100 former ZDE employees out of work. What can you say to those former ZDE employees and their prospects for getting work in this industry?
I think they will (find work). Those people are on the forefront of what's going on in this industry. It's just unfortunate that we ran out of runway because they were building things that were the envy of the industry. I have been speaking with other CEOs, and there are quite a few positions out there right now. They're talking to my people, a lot of them. We had a culture of people who really worked hard and did more than their job. That was a very energetic, talented group. There's nobody there I wouldn't rehire if I did have a slot.
Is there anything at ZDE that worked exceptionally well that you might consider implementing at Summit?
In the last year, we managed product development very differently than we had done previously. Previously, we always had product development come up from the individual products and product silos. But we built a team for product build—that's all they did. We put some very talented people on that team: Anthony Adams and Ben Ronne, who we hired out of The Wall Street Journal.
With that, we really built more in an eight-or-nine-month period than we built in the two previous years. I am starting to be a believer in sort of a SWAT team for product development. That is something that I really thought worked well at Ziff Davis Enterprise. That's a group of people that would be extremely valuable for almost any media company to look at—the people who did the OmniDigital product platform.