When Meredith Corp. put Time magazine on the block following its purchase of Time Inc. in Nov. 2017, it tapped editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal to spearhead the process. Perhaps an unorthodox role for a career journalist, selling the magazine turned out to be a great calling for Felsenthal, who joined the publication six years ago following stints at the Daily Beast and the Wall Street Journal.
"It was my first experience with investment banking and hopefully last," he jokes in the latest episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "It was great for our team, the process. In a way it's a reporting exercise: I began every presentation by saying, 'Usually we tell other people's stories; today we're going to tell you our own'."
In telling that story, Felsenthal was forced to articulate what Time magazine had meant historically as a brand, what its current worth is—and what it can be in the future. "It turned out to be a great experience," he says. "The ultimate goal of the presentation is what are we going to be going forward."
Going forward, Time will be owned by Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne. When the Benioffs closed on their purchase of Time in November, the new owners were impressed enough with Felsenthal to name him the chief executive officer of the weekly, and said he would continue as editor-in-chief.
"The broader message to the interested parties was at a time when a lot of digital startups in our business are still struggling towards profit, Time is having a pretty great moment," Felsenthal says.
And indeed Time is on something of a roll: It won an Emmy in 2017, a National Magazine Award in 2018, and will see nearly 2 billion video streams this year. It has expanded upon its events like the Time 100 list of the Most Influential People. And, despite declining print revenues, Time continues to be the largest U.S. print title in news, with 2 million subscribers.
"I can't speak for Marc and Lynne, but two aspects of our strategy and approach seemed to have really resonated with them," Felsenthal says. "One is trust. It's Salesforce's core value; it's what we started every presentation to every buyer with. It's a thing no one can replicate from scratch and we have 95 years of it."
Meanwhile, Time, he says, had been focusing less on daily news churn than on areas of coverage around themes such as innovation—he points to a recent cover image about drones, created by drones—and issues pertaining to social justice, such as the opioid crisis, gun control, teachers' pay.
For Time's next act, then, the magazine can reinvest its profits going forward — as opposed to servicing its debts — and use its new resources to strengthen its core, Felsenthal says. The brand can lean deeper into video, health and business coverage and more events. "We ran Time in a pretty diversified fashion: we never leaned too far into Facebook, we never leaned too far into search," he adds.
It's also an opportunity to rebuild the brand's sales structure. Under Time Inc., the magazine itself didn't have a dedicated sales team: a centralized team would sell ad space by vertical across multiple titles.
"The Meredith people will tell you that's how they were able to buy Time," says Felsenthal. That structure led to deeper and faster print declines than its competitors, he says. "Rebuilding a Time-focused sales team, that's one of our biggest opportunities."
Listen to the podcast for that, and more of what Felsenthal has in store for Time. We'll also get into his own background as a journalist with a law degree who cut his teeth covering the Supreme Court for the Wall Street Journal—and what he learned when he took his chops to the Daily Beast as its first executive editor in 2008.