Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How McKinsey Saved BusinessWeek

There's been some ink recently on how Condé Nast has hired McKinsey & Co. to "rethink" how it does business. What none of the comenters apparently realize is that McKinsey has plenty of experience evaluating magazine companies. The soon-to-be-sold BusinessWeek, for example.

Back in the 1990s, a crackerjack team from McKinsey came to BW's offices and conducted an evaluation of the magazine's editorial operations. I don't believe it received any publicity at the time, that being the pre-blog era and BW not having the kind of gossipy staff as Condé Nast.

It was a mystery at the time, and still is, why McGraw-Hill brought in McKinsey. The magazine was far from the the wreck that it is today, with solid advertising sales and a respected editorial product. There were no evident defects with the magazine's editorial operations. It was a bit weird.

So the consultants came. I can't really say much about them because they never talked to me. In fact, what was a bit strange was how few people they talked to. Seems they only chatted with a select number of editors. (Maybe that's what consultants do; I don't really know.) I also did not see their report.

Scuttlebutt said that the report recommended that department editors--line editors expert in their subject matter--no longer edit stories, and that editing be centralized at the copy desk, consisting largely of part-time personnel. If that's what the report actually said, it would have been completely daft.

All I do know for sure is that the report was placed on a shelf and quickly forgotten.

UPDATE: And just to correct the record (too late, I'll admit) I'm told by an ex-BW editor that it was Booz-Allen, not McKinsey.

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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