Justin Smith’s plan for where Bloomberg Media goes next

It has now been 100 days since former Atlantic Media CEO Justin Smith took over as CEO of Bloomberg Media. He has used that time to craft his vision for where Bloomberg goes next.

In Smith’s eyes, Bloomberg Media’s opportunity is immense. It has unique advantages others do not: an entrepreneurial culture, global reach and, not least, the cash cow of a terminals business that affords it a long-term orientation. Smith sees Bloomberg Media expanding well beyond its roots in markets and finance news to become a global, multiplatform business media juggernaut. Here’s how he put it in a memo sent to Bloomberg Media:

Seizing this opportunity will require long-term investment and a large appetite for transformation, risk, as well as a tolerance for intermittent failure. But the Bloomberg culture, long defined by urgency, entrepreneurship, and adaptability, provides a great foundation for this work.

Bloomberg Media is setting out to build a leading digitally-led, multi-platform media company for global business. We want to become the indispensable source of information for the world’s most influential people. To do so, everything we do – from digital and TV to live events and magazines – will require ongoing re-imagination and re-invention.

Smith spoke to Digiday about his plans for Bloomberg Media, why digital will be the center of its strategy, and why print is still an important part of it.

What’s the vision of what Bloomberg Media will become?
It starts with the foundation of Bloomberg Media, which is one of the largest global business media companies today. It continues with looking at the context we’re operating in, which is in this exciting and tumultuous global media environment that presents huge risks and opportunities. Bloomberg has a unique market position given our business model, our culture and private company status that affords us a long-term horizon. It presents us with a very large opportunity to build one of the world’s leading digitally led multiplatform global business media companies.

How do you broaden the Bloomberg audience from finance?
That process began long before I arrived. It began with the rapid expansion of Bloomberg News over the last decade. The heart of the coverage is finance and markets, but [those consumers] care about business. A seminal moment for the company was in 2009 when we acquired Businessweek. It was an acknowledgment that Bloomberg was already reaching consumers outside the core finance market.

Your plan calls for the creation of digital-first brands.
The strategy calls for a portfolio of multiple brands with digital at the center. The digital piece of it is tied to the priority we’re placing on where ultimately the business media audience and media business models are moving. Given the trend lines, digital is going to be the largest business opportunity down the line and the largest opportunity for influence.

Why not build around the twin Bloomberg and Businessweek brands?
We believe the global business market is large. We’ve made some strong inroads into it. Our ambitions are such that we believe to truly serve the market in totality and with great depth, we must think of that market in terms of the various segments. We think creating brands with digital at the center targeting those segments is going to be the most effective way of achieving our goals.

You mention Businessweek is finding its footing in digital. What’s the opportunity there?
It’s the same opportunity all great brands have, which is to express the core of your brand DNA in a different medium in the rhythm of that medium. Businessweek has been down that path. What we envision going forward is to focus even harder on the question of how the Businessweek brand can best express itself, not just day-in, day-out, but minute-by-minute. Our goal is to serve that audience at Internet speed.

You mention print and radio are still important. Why isn’t print doomed?
The engagement metrics are clear to all. There are very large and influential segments of readers in the global business market that find print to be a fantastic delivery medium. We see that in the metrics, in the resilience of the subscription revenue stream. There’s still strong demand for these products, and the audience they reach is very important to us. The core of our strategy is to surround the global business audience with different platforms. As a lot of our competitors look to disinvest and retreat from print. There will be more opportunities.

You identify digital video as a large opportunity. Why?
The main advantage is we are in the video business 24/7 around the world. We have large live television and digital video operations in New York, Hong Kong and London. We have the ability to produce a quality standard that’s different than what you’re seeing from a lot of the other entrants who come from other platforms outside TV.

Bloomberg has a lot of unique advantages as a media business, especially with its powerful terminal business. But the furor over reporters using terminals in reporting showed there are some disadvantages.
We view them as important parts of a broader formula. The media and news divisions are very important providers of content to the terminal. All of the content Bloomberg Media creates goes to the terminal consumer first. There’s a baked-in set of benefits and value supporting that core model. The branding and marketing value it brings is important as well. The model is not only unique but extremely well thought out in terms of the parts supporting each other.

What’s the secret for traditional media companies in building a digital metabolism?
A lot of it is the alchemy between talent and culture and the right vision. What’s remarkable about this company is how strong the entrepreneurial culture has remained here. You feel it in the lobby and the open-plan offices and the whole environment. That foundation is a critical part of this. It’s combining that with the great talent that exists internally and new talent we bring from the outside.