By any measure last week was a big one for Bauer Media Australia. The legal battle between Bauer and Rebel Wilson came to a head with the Melbourne-born Hollywood star awarded more than $4.5m in damages, which was headline news around the world.
The company parted ways with former Australian interim CEO Andreas Schoo and new CEO Paul Dykzeul revealed his new management team. Dykzeul moved from New Zealand to Sydney earlier this year, taking over from Nick Chan.
Mediaweek visited Bauer’s Park Street HQ to speak with Dykzeul about Rebel, his new team and what change lies ahead.
The timing of the management team release seems significant with the Rebel Wilson case behind Bauer…or is it? (See below.)
“I haven’t come here to run the status quo,” Dykzeul said. “I am not the slightest bit interested in that. I have had an extraordinary life and times in media. I had a fantastic time in Australia and at ACP and the opportunity to come back was very, very attractive.
“I feel very strongly that the business here needs a really new focus and a reshaping. That will come with its difficulties.
“We are going to do things that will be uncomfortable. We will review the titles we have and there will be some job losses. I am not going to shy away from that if it needs to be done.
“The endless speculation about the end of print is unbelievable.
“There is an extraordinary business around the print model – for newspaper companies and magazine companies. What has got to change is the model. Not the outcome.
“The way we do it has to change.”
Dykzeul said he has a strong mandate from the owners to drive change. “I have spent a lot of time at Bauer head office in Hamburg talking about the business. They have the confidence in me to make changes. They are not being prescriptive about what those changes are.
“What they want is a better and more profitable business that will be a foundation stone on which they can build something bigger.”
Dkyzeul said just having the two publishers across the titles means they will drive a lot of change in the way Bauer operates.
“We are producing magazines in a way which is still a little bit historic. There will be structural change within the teams and the way we do things and we have already started some of that.
“The question everyone asks is will that mean job losses. The answer to this is, I’m sorry, but yes. The numbers we are talking about are relatively small in relation to the overall size of the business.
“If you are a publishing company and you are not changing your business, then you are going backwards.”
Dykzeul said the onus is on Bauer to make some noise. “We have to be louder and prouder of what we do and why we do it. The role of media is incredibly significant in society.”
New management team
There are only three significant changes in Dykzeul’s team with all other executives retaining their posts. Fiorella Di Santo moves from ad sales to publishing, Paul Gardiner moves from New Zealand to take her role, and Eugene Varricchio departs.
“I have had a really good look at the team structure. Andrew Stedwell who is the CFO and John Hanna who is our CIO and operations person will pick up a lot of the responsibilities that Eugene looked after.
“The most significant change is Fiorella’s shift. In the time I have been back here in the building I have been very impressed with her. I want to make significant change at the business and significant change to the magazines.
“She has a very commercial bent and people historically have thought publishers should come from editorial backgrounds. From my experience that is not necessarily the best choice. The focus of a publisher these days is very commercial and outward focusing.
“I want to drive change so I need executives who can drive change. Fiorella is one of those people and she demonstrated that in our ad sales team.
“Jayne Ferguson, our other publisher who looks after The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day, TV Week and eight other brands, is doing a good job.
“Paul Gardiner, who I worked with in New Zealand for 10 years, is a terrific operator and he has always wanted to play on a bigger field. The opportunity to come to Australia was very attractive to him and he will bring his wife and children to move here.
“We need a much more outwardly focused commercial side of the business. All media businesses are changing with such speed that if you don’t change you get left behind and to some extent we have been left behind.”
Woman’s Day and Rebel Wilson
“It remains a difficult issue for us,” said Dykzeul, indicating they were yet to decide what the next step would be.
“[The judgment] is a massive document and we are working our way through it. There are some significant issues for media generally in that document, which we want to consider.
“No one goes out of their way to get it wrong and to defame people. The company has been through this on many occasions and I have been through it when we lost the biggest case ever in New Zealand some time ago.
“This won’t materially change our business. I am not suggesting the amount of $4.5m is insignificant. [Celebrity coverage] is the nature of what we do. There are risks attached to what we do and we have to accept those risks.”
Dykzeul implied the publisher didn’t have insurance that would have covered the payment. “I don’t know too many media companies that have cover. One of the reasons is that the insurance company will then want to read every story and that just doesn’t work.”
This is an excerpt of the full article, which appears in the latest issue of Mediaweek magazine.
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