Events help Hearst UK reverse years of revenue decline

PPA Festival: Davis, Tye, Vidler and Wildman
PPA Festival: Davis, Tye, Vidler and Wildman

Publisher returned to top-line growth last year, according to CEO.

James Wildman, chief executive of Cosmopolitan publisher Hearst UK, has revealed that the company managed to return to growth in 2018.

The privately held company has not yet published its results for last year, but Wildman shared the news at yesterday’s PPA Festival in London during a panel titled "View from the top".

Invited by panel chair, broadcaster Evan Davis, for an example of good news from the past year, Wildman replied: "In the last year, we've stopped a long-term decline in terms of top-line revenue and we've returned the business to revenue growth. That's a first step in a transformation of the business."

Hearst's last published results in 2017 show that its turnover was £212.4m. This was a 19% decline from 2016 but largely attributable to the closure of its magazine distribution subsidiary Comag. However, the last time the company achieved year-on-year growth was in 2012, when its turnover hit £335.6m.

Wildman, who joined the Hearst in April 2017 from Trinity Mirror (now Reach), also disclosed that between 2017 and 2018 the company's digital revenues grew 40% and its event revenues nearly doubled.

"Events are a very big business now for us," Wildman said. "We had 1.2 million people come to our events last year. At the weekend, we finished Women's Health Live, which was our inaugural event at the Business Design Centre, which I think 6,000 or 7,000 people came to."

However, Wildman admitted "we are more reliant on advertising than a lot of other publishers in this room" and, when asked by Davis for examples of challenges, expressed concern about advertising trends and the sustainability of digital ad growth.

"The continued shift of advertisers towards internet platforms doesn't show any sign of abating, despite all of the many concerns that are increasingly being voiced about the shift. We're growing very quickly in digital, but long term we can see challenge coming."

Also on the panel were Dennis Publishing group chief executive James Tye and Centaur Media chief executive Andria Vidler.

Tye revealed that Dennis had a solid track record of growth every year since 2009 and waxed lyrical about the progress of The Week Junior, the spin-off from current affairs magazine The Week for seven- to 13-year-olds.

"The Week Junior has had a stratospheric growth curve," Tye said. "It's a very successful magazine for us in terms of profit and in terms of feeling good [about the future of publishing].

"We were told two things when we launched this magazine – children don't read print and parents will never subscribe to those magazines. Well, that's been proved doubly wrong. It's our fastest-growing subscription title by a long way, with the best economics. What it's proved to me is that children don't care about digital or print; they just pick up whatever is interesting at the time. 

The session was followed by a presentation by Magnetic chief executive Sue Todd about its recently launched "Pay attention!" campaign intended to demonstrate the power of magazine advertising.

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