American Media Names First Digital Chief, Plans 60 New Hires in Category

Digital Strategy Calls for $30 Million in Spending Over Three Years

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American Media Inc., the publisher of magazines including Star and Shape, has named Joe Bilman its first chief digital officer as part of a new plan for digital media that calls for adding 60 employees and spending $30 million over three years.

Joe Bilman
Joe Bilman
David Pecker
David Pecker

Mr. Bilman had been consulting for Isis Mobile Commerce, several phone companies' joint venture to develop a mobile wallet using NFC technology, and previously worked at Fox Mobile and Rodale Press.

"I've evenly split my career between web and mobile," Mr. Bilman said. "I spend a lot of time thinking about the consumer value proposition, what value we can deliver consumers in both of those channels, and making sure there's parity between what the consumer gets and what the business owner asks for in return."

American Media has some ground to make up in digital media. "We only have 3% of our revenue from digital," said David Pecker, the company's chairman, president and CEO. "When I speak to other companies it's 10% plus , so we see that there's a big opportunity there."

If 2012 seems a little late, perhaps, to adopt a plan for digital, Mr. Pecker said the company wasn't in a position to invest much until recently. American Media has confronted heavy debt and challenging advertising and newsstand sales, restructuring in 2009 and again in 2010 to make the company the property of its bondholders.

"We had our financial issues in the company," Mr. Pecker said.

Its struggles aren't completely over. Standard & Poor's revised its rating outlook to "negative" from "stable" in March, citing the company's financial performance. And last month American Media gave up on selling the fledgling Reality Weekly on newsstands, resolving to try it as a free tablet app this summer.

But since emerging from its restructuring, the company has also revamped the websites for Shape and Men's Fitness, developed single-issue digital editions sponsored by brands such as Special K, introduced an Enquirer Plus version of The National Enquirer for iPad and opened an e-commerce store for Muscle & Fitness.

It also hired MediaLink, the media consultancy run by Michael Kassan and Wenda Harris Millard, to develop the digital plan moving forward. "They came back to us with a plan to actually hire a chief digital officer, a chief revenue officer, to hire developers, to buy analytics for sales and marketing, to hire a separate digital sales force, to hire more designers and researchers," Mr. Pecker said.

The digital chief revenue officer position has not yet been filled.

American Media currently employs about 600 full-time staffers. The 60 planned new employees will combine with roughly 60 digital-centric staffers already at the company as it seeks to build digital revenue under Mr. Bilman. "We run around $400 million in revenue, so for us to build digital to a $50 million level that would be the size that he needs," Mr. Pecker said.

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