Former Managing Director of Prisma Presse and Senior Advisor, Jean-Pierre Caffin provides a perspective on transition management … and the crisis that the press is facing.
That was a year ago, through the Head of communications.
I’m a strategy consultant with Bain & Associates specializing in the media sector, where I spent a large part of my career. I also have my own consulting company. On a personal basis, I invested in an investment fund that finances seed capital for start-ups in the Internet and bio-technology industries. I am also a mentor to several start-ups in the French “Silicon Sentier”.
An engineer by training, I studied Financial Management at IAE Paris. I began my career in Paris at Norton, an American company specializing in industrial abrasives, where I successively worked as an engineer, then as IS Director, HR Director and CFO. I was later appointed Director of Finance & IS for Europe (7 subsidiaries). The company has since been acquired by Saint Gobain. In all, I spent 18 years at Norton which gave me a broad overview of business management. I subsequently joined the Prisma Press media group, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, as CEO alongside its founder Axel Ganz. I also stayed 18 years with Prisma Press where I was in charge of managing all group activities except for editorial content. When I left in 2009, the company had 1,000 employees and published 24 magazine titles.
The press has the good fortune to have two sources of income: the sale of its products and advertising. Over the years, groups have become “advertising-dependent” which, with the sharp drop in advertising revenue, has made the media business model fragile. Media groups have failed to take account of the emergence of the Internet and its rapid growth, causing a continuing decline in newsstand sales and a drop in operating profits. Almost all media groups have given free access to their content on the web, without anticipating the transfer of readership from print to digital, which has made it difficult to implement paying subscriptions on the web later. Hence the current crisis.
The most difficult challenge is finding the right balance between editorial freedom and publishing restrictions. The interests of the two parties often clash! The other problem is that journalists are usually very conservative about change and modernization. So the editors have been slow to master the web and mobile media.
These days when everything is changing fast, in particular media consumption, it is essential to overcome this fear if we want to avoid the risk of content becoming outdated too quickly.
This model should appeal to managers looking for a career change as they can continue to work while seeking a new position. It can also be useful as a pre-employment transition period in companies that they join as interim managers. Interim assignments are difficult since the work generally involves complex and sensitive issues and it is essential to become operationally effective extremely quickly. If someone made me a proposal that matched my abilities, I would no doubt be tempted.