About publishingsearchblog

Michael Foy (BS, Northeastern University) founded Publishing Search Solutions in August, 1997. Now with over 15 years of recruiting experience his precept for creating PSS was to provide maximum attention per select search assignments as opposed to minimal attention distributed over many search assignments. In 1992 he signed on with Management Recruiters where he set records for arranging interviews during his rookie year. Ultimately he achieved Elite Club status and placed several times in the top 100 of the "Positive Management Associates" list, an international association of recruiters. In providing recruiting expertise to book and magazine publishers across the country he has placed with such companies as Meredith Corporation, Rodale, Randall Reilly, Kalmbach Publishing, Pearson Education, Nature Education, Oxford University Press, Cengage, Houghton Mifflin, Sage, Wolters Kluwer, Blackwell, McGraw-Hill and many more.

Why Does Your Company Exist?

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions

Let’s start this discussion with the question in the title. Why does your company exist? Its success or failure depends on the right answer. Want a hint? It’s not to make money.

Have you ever heard of TED talks? You may have seen them on youtube or even their own channel if you have a smart TV. Basically, they are short talks by a sole speaker designed to promote thought and/or debate with a unique idea. The field could be economics, law, science, religion or even sex. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged. Today, it is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in all human endeavors.

As someone with a vested interest in the success of the publishing industry I’m always interested to learn of a tactical strategy that may provide an edge for my client publishing businesses to exploit. But also out of general curiosity I became fascinated by a particular TED talk given by Simon Sinek. He correlated the success of such disparate enterprises as Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright Brothers. What possible connection could a computer company, a civil rights leader and the inventors of the airplane have in common? After the talk, one wondered why one hadn’t seen the connection before. Simon is a British-American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant. He analyzed the difference between successful companies with great products and unsuccessful companies that -wait for it- also had great products. It has to do with the question, Why.

Before purchasing an iPod I had an MP3 music player that I used while running. Don’t ask me the brand since I’ve long since forgotten but I know I liked it. I liked it better than an iPod. It was slightly bigger than a Bic lighter and it had a thumbwheel to advance to the next song without even looking at it. That’s a big plus when you’re out in the cold with gloved hands. It also had what it called line-in technology. That meant I was able to plug it into other devices and digitally record songs or dialog or any audio. To me, it was superior to an iPod so why did it disappear? iPods became ubiquitous because they had the right answer to why. That answer led to a better looking product that stored more songs and was more durable. And it was continuously improved. Apple constantly innovates, constantly challenges the status quo. Someone once said that Steve Jobs creates products that we don’t yet realize we need. That’s Apple’s answer to why.

People don’t buy what you do or make. They buy why you do it.

That two sentence phrase shows up again and again in Simon’s TED talk. It’s repeated to drive home the importance of knowing why we engage in any endeavor because knowing why directly correlates to one’s success or failure.

In his talk, Simon draws three concentric circles to demonstrate his point. See the illustration at the top of this page. The innermost one is labeled Why, the middle one is How and the outer one is What. He calls it the Golden Circle Concept and it explains who rises to the tops of their fields.


And it also happens to correlate with how the human brain is organized. Deep in our earliest formed brains lies our basic motivations and emotional decision making behaviour. It is the ‘Why’ of whatever makes us tick. Talk to someone’s basic motivations and we’re inspiring a behaviour. Talk to the part of our brain most recently formed that understands features and benefits and we’re uninspired at best and bored at worst. Unfortunately this is how most organizations market and sell. They talk up the ‘What’ but ignore the ‘Why’.

People don’t buy what you do or make. They buy why you do it.

So now, as an exercise, get a blank sheet of paper or computer screen and write down the questions Why, How and What. Leave space for your answers.

The What should be easy. It’s whatever you produce or whatever service you provide. By the way, this is what most sales or marketing people emphasize. We make great cars or computers or furniture etc… There may be some benefits or features in the pitch. Want to buy one? Insert the sound of crickets here.

The How should be pretty easy too. In salespeak you create the best designs or use the fastest processors or procure the finest leather. So how about now? Want to buy? Still no?

The Why is the hardest to answer. It’s from the part of the brain that has no language, only gut feelings. But it’s the key to connecting with one’s customers.

People don’t buy what you do or make. They buy why you do it.

As an example I did the exercise myself.

Why: I believe publishing is a noble calling that’s beneficial to society at large. I left an engineering career to help publishers succeed in this age of digital disruption. I’m gratified when my clients thrive.

How: I’ve developed a network of tens of thousands to help me track down the best suited people for my clients’ talent needs.

What: I can get the best candidates for their executive openings.

If you had a compelling answer to Why, do your customers and clients know it? If not, it may be time to revisit your messaging. And, guess what, it may be time to revisit your messengers too. As Simon points out, you want people on your team that believe in your answer to Why. Otherwise they’re just there for the paycheck and not helping promote your all empowering answer to Why.

For your reference here is the link to this TED talk from Simon Sinek. You may have to endure five seconds of a commercial before you can skip to the video.

Who Gets the Most Bang Out of Their Employee Buck

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions

I’ve been an Executive Recruiter for over 20 years. In that time I’ve had the pleasure of matching talent to my clients’ needs and observing the impact of those matches on the success of those organizations. There’s nothing I like better than finding those that I placed still with those same companies years later after having achieved success for themselves and their employer. It’s a wonderful validation in my professional life. I enjoy seeing the success of a placement translate to the success of the organization particularly when that success is so obvious that the credit can’t be lost in the noise of a large company’s heirarchy.

Does that mean one can’t be noticed in one of those giant organizations? Not at all. But it’s much easier if the division or department is small and somewhat autonomous. Even better if it’s in a separate geographic location and enjoys a certain autonomy. Sometimes for the outstanding employee the best of both worlds is to work at a physically separate and smaller division of a large company that feels like a small company but with the resources of its larger parent.

I’ve worked with all sized organizations. They’ve included those with less than one hundred people that aren’t household names up to the behemoths that have global recognition like Harper Collins, Lexis Nexis, Oxford etc… But oftentimes the most dynamic work comes from smaller, perhaps more nimble workplaces like PPI in Northern California and Big Ideas Learning in Western Pennsylvania to name a couple of my favorite clients.

In servicing publishing and media houses, I’ve placed many types of individuals that have carried different titles from Editor-in-Chief, to Vice President of Marketing to Chief Technology Officer just to name a few. And with the ongoing evolution of the publishing industry into the digital age, new functions with new titles have emerged as well. Each title has it’s own definition of what it means to contribute to the success of the organization. The metrics of that individual’s success can vary whether one is on the business or content side of things. But everyone contributes in some way. For salespeople, as an example, the contribution is obvious relative to the bottom line. For content development experts the contribution isn’t so obvious even to them. I’ve had to remind them on more than a few occasions that one cannot sell from an empty cart as the old saying goes. In publishing and/or media the cart better contain compelling content. Guess who supplies that?

In all cases the addition of a star performer to a small team can have an outsized impact on a companies’ growth. But no matter the size of the organization, keeping team size manageable seems to go a long way to helping the individual contributors achieve their potential relative to the company’s success. When I’ve been instrumental in that performer’s addition I take pride in that company’s long term success as well. And I try to replicate that in my next talent search whether it’s a large or small client. Have you benefited by a key addition to your team recently? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Google Hires Managers Not Bosses

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions

Here’s a newsflash. Google does well and continues to enjoy exponential growth. Like most organizational success stories they have an underlying philosophy that they credit for this. Their Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, revealed some of this philosophy in an interview. He had just published a book called Work Rules. It is counter-intuitive. Want to hear his key to their success? Their managers don’t hire or fire or determine raises or bonuses. Yes, you read that right. And it bears repeating. Their managers don’t hire or fire or determine raises or bonuses.

Laszlo explains that employees that need to curry a manager’s favor for their rewards can’t wield their full creative abilities. If, however, a manager acts as an advocate, coach and procurer of resources the relationship turns much more productive for the organization as a whole. The less formal authority a manager has the more latitude his team has to innovate. Decisions are based on data not on managers’ opinions. Who chooses the projects you ask? They are oftentimes determined by the team or team member. Is it any wonder then that Google has been rated the “Best Company to Work For” an unprecedented five times as reported by Fortune magazine?

So Google, an international company, is the best workplace with tens of thousands of employees, very deep pockets, a 30 percent profit margin and an army of PhDs. With those advantages what else would you expect? But as Laszlo cites in his book another company with an equal reputation is Wegmans. Unlike Google, Wegmans is a family owned, Northeast based supermarket chain with a workforce made up of local high school grads in an industry with a 1 percent profit margin. They also provide an extraordinary environment to encourage employee creativity. Like Google, Wegmans enjoys a loyal, productive and stable workforce that provides the foundation for their success.

Treat your people well and provide for their creative freedom. Can that really work? As  proof that it does Laszlo cites several examples in his book. In one case, Mexican factory workers that were given more freedom doubled their productivity relative to those that operated with traditional manager/employee relationships. In another, Costco generated 87% better operating profit per employee as opposed to Sams Club. There are other examples in his book too but the point is to give employees a say and then trust them. If you already have and you’re not nervous you haven’t empowered them enough.

But now let’s address the elephant in the room. Would all employees automatically improve if they were given the freedom to innovate? No. And that’s even the case at Google. To start with any organization still bears the burden of finding and adding the best suited people.

As Laszlo Bock confirms refocusing on hiring better will have a higher return than almost anything else you can do. As such, Google has raised the hiring function to a science. Without getting into the details of their system Laszlo does call out certain truths in his book. A partial list follows.


  1. Top performers aren’t looking for work. They’re doing well where they are and are usually rewarded appropriately. Google spends considerable time and internal resources to court those that aren’t looking.
  2. Finding a great person from an inbound application is low. Countless hours are spent sifting through floods of applications from the likes of Monster.com etc… Google stopped posting to job boards in 2012 due to the poor hiring rates from them.
  3. It’s better to hire a high performer from a state school for instance as opposed to a mediocre performer from an Ivy League school.
  4. Finally, once identified, one must give unique candidates a reason to join.


Those are obvious, right?  In the interests of full disclosure they are to me maybe because I have the benefit of matching talent to unique working environments in my day job as an Executive Recruiter. Speaking as a recruiter, whether it’s Google or someone else I can appreciate when a client has a critical need for a talented professional that’s key to the company’s growth. But once the hard work of landing a candidate is done doesn’t it make sense to provide a working environment where that person can succeed? Google has learned to leverage people’s creativity to great advantage. But, as in the example of Wegmans, you don’t have to be a Google to do the same.

Did Business Analyst & Best-Selling Author Jim Collins Get It Wrong for Publishers?

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions


In my last article I cited Jim Collins studies of how great companies can recognize when they’re losing their way and how to get back on track. His conclusions were published in his book ‘How the Mighty Fall; And Why Some Companies Never Give In’. In it, he revealed the tell tale stages of a decline. The subject of this post concerns the first of those five stages or Hubris. Excessive pride can be the first sign of trouble for businesses in various industries as Jim suggests but I submit that the publishing industry in recent times may be a special case.

Is it believable that publishers would experience excessive pride as their first sign of a decline? It seems that there are other more contemporary indicators that a course correction is needed. Armed with this hypothesis I sought the opinions of executives who offered some well considered observations on what they see as the early signs of a decline. Here’s some of what they said.

Publishing tends to still operate in arcane ways. It can be easy to fall into arcane, or legacy thinking, when strategizing or even pricing. One needs to guard against it constantly.

Instead of pride some cited a tendency to ignore signs of a changing environment. Publishers have been more vigilant lately on how consumers drive content delivery changes.

The Internet came up many times as another potential pitfall among executives in businesses that sell ad space. Some Publishers have created strategies to compile more content to make up for reduced advertising income.

In the education market, Common Core was cited as an obvious challenge. This program shrunk the Supplemental market and made it more competitive. To cope large publishers have re-invented themselves in some cases by selling off non performing arcane parts.

Nowadays, skill sets to get books discovered is paramount said one executive. A teamwork approach coordinates the multitude of skills necessary for success.

Digital was confirmed to be a major challenge in the non-fiction trade market. Exceptions, however, were the ‘How To’ books where consumers were less interested in going digital.

Most agree that our industry is in a correction and that we’re only now becoming ‘smart’ about publishing as a business. On occasion I’ve been happy to facilitate that progress by importing ‘smart’ candidates and placing them on a rewarding career path in publishing. The trick is to find, vet and attract those candidates from either inside or outside the industry.

In spite of Jim Collin’s thorough work on determining the stages of a company’s decline, hubris was hardly cited at all as the reason for Publishers’ difficulties. But whether it’s pride or something else that threatens a Publisher’s success some remedial plan is needed. To execute that plan Jim Collins verifies in his studies that one must have the right people in the right seats. Then one must continue to add the right people to grow and build on that success. After all publishing hasn’t and won’t go away. There’ll always be a need for content to inform, educate or entertain.

How Formerly Mighty Publishers Fall, But Sometimes Recover

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions


As many of you know I’m a big fan of Jim Collins and his studies of how good companies become great, how some can choose greatness, how others weather the test of time etc… I’ve written articles on how these findings apply to Publishing Companies where I distill the lessons down to actionable strategies for our industry in times of change and disruption.

I recently read ‘How the Mighty Fall; And Why Some Companies Never Give In. After collecting and analyzing data over the course of years, a common pattern of decline revealed itself. This pattern can be broken down into five stages but overall the study showed that if a great company grows its revenues faster than it puts the right people in the right seats to sustain that growth it will fall.

For the sake of this article let’s picture a hypothetical Publisher that has experienced the pinnacle of their particular market. With historic and consistent success such a Publisher is vulnerable to the first stage of decline. And that stage is Hubris.

Not too many Publishers would be guilty of Hubris after dealing with recent digital headwinds in their markets. Conversely, those publishers that have dealt successfully with those or other difficulties may be even more vulnerable to this first stage. Hubris is apparent when the feeling that success will be automatic infects the decision makers. They take short cuts without adhering to the principles that allowed the organization to thrive in the first place. This leads directly to the second stage or Overreaching.

Overreaching entails growth into new areas that a Publisher cannot deliver with excellence. It’s described in Jim’s book as the Undisciplined Pursuit of More. It can take the form of an unwise acquisition or risking too much of the company reserves to expand too quickly. Not all acquisitions or expansions are bad, however. It’s just that a Publisher shouldn’t divert so much capital, particularly human capital, from the core business that one damages the original driver of success. Even if that success is being challenged by disruptive technologies one shouldn’t completely abandon the business’ core. Modify it? Yes. But don’t discard it. When Publishers change to meet the demands of the times and they dilute their human capital assets with the wrong agents of change they may feel the need for more discipline, more beauratic procedures. The right people who didn’t require rigid rules to support the Publisher’s goals before then tend to leave. See my article on ‘Do Publishers Have the Right People On The Bus’ for more of who the right people for our industry are.

The third stage is Denial. This occurs once one has started down the road of overreaching and returns on investment prove unpromising. Often due to unsupported faith that everything will work out, a Publisher will put itself at risk by continuing to support a losing venture. Evidence of this stage is when good news is amplified and the negative is discounted. Inevitably, the Publisher’s market share erodes. A typical reaction is to reorganize to no productive purpose.

Grasping for Salvation is the fourth stage. In many ways it’s very similar to stage two. The difference is that by this time in a Publisher’s decline it has realized its missteps. Oftentimes it tries to correct by repeating the overreach mistake with new ill advised ventures as opposed to rational and measured action plans.

The final stage is Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death. Going bankrupt or being bought out are the typical outcomes when poor decisions have depleted cash reserves enough so that an organization’s options have narrowed to an inevitable death.

All very gloomy but the good news is that stage five can be replaced by Recovery and Renewal. It can happen if the decline is recognized in stage one, two or three and even some times in stage four if one still retains enough resources to break the cycle of grasping and instead rebuild one step at a time. As recoveries go, a remarkable one occurred with the giant company Xerox which was losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Anne Mulcahy took on the top post when it was deeply mired in stage four. By making hard but sound decisions backed by empirical evidence, instead of grasping at straws, Anne turned the loss of over 350 million dollars in 2000 and 2001 into profits of 1 billion dollars by 2006. And she did it by reinstituting the original Xerox culture and employee model in spite of some very loud voices to blow it up and declare Chapter 11.

Talk about putting the right person in the right seat in the nick of time. But if you’ll recall the Jim Collins’ conclusions in the second paragraph of this article, all of the stages of decline can be avoided if one puts the right people in the right seats to support growth. For any organization, hoping to sustain a successful business model during growth, the process for finding the right people has to be a priority.

Are you familiar with a Publisher that started a decline but turned things around?


Who Likes Recruiters?

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions


Who does like recruiters? Candidates? Hiring Managers? I’ve been on both sides of that equation and now I am a recruiter. With the benefit of over twenty years of experience I now know that the answer to the question depends on when and how one avails oneself of a recruiter’s advantages.

Let’s tackle a candidate/recruiter relationship first. As an example I’ll recall a time before I joined the recruiting profession, a time when I came to them for help. I think my experience was fairly universal, sometimes comical and perhaps instructive on what a recruiter can really do for a candidate.

When I graduated college I took the summer off but not before contacting a recruiter to at least generate some interview activity. Naively, I thought of him as somewhat of an agent. He actually reinforced that misperception by, among other things, convincing me to take no other action in pursuing my first professional employment gig. That’s something I never ask any of my candidates. Getting a job is a job and it is unfair to limit someone to just one source of job leads. But at that time I thought this is great. I can just leave my fate in the hands of this professional of the job securing arts. In blissfull ignorance I did what most early twenty-somethings do with time on their hands. I went to the beach, socialized, took long rides and generally lollygagged a couple of months away. At least I had the foresight to check with him periodically. His response was always about the same. “You’ve got a good resume for a new grad and I don’t see any difficulty in getting bites on it. It’s just that there’s nothing yet.” Okay, I thought, even though it made me feel a little like a game fish.

Through June and July, I was satisfied with that type of answer and went back on my merry way in wasting time. But by August the light started to dawn on Marblehead. The recruiter had mentioned lots of possibilities to me but without any interviews to show for my faith in him, I decided to abandon that relationship and do my own searching. Ultimately, I landed a position for September. That was about the time he’d called me back to ask if I’d like to interview at three different companies.

The moral here is that recruiters typically do have a great many more connections than candidates. But not all their connections are looking at the same time a candidate is. Also, a hiring manager’s requirements are usually so specific it’s rare that a recruiter has just the right opening for a person in waiting. As an old mentor used to tell me, recruiters are paid to fill the jobs of our clients first, finding jobs for candidates is a happy byproduct. That said, if a candidate receives a call from a recruiter (as opposed to the other way around), expectations of a match can be much much higher. So it’s always a good idea for a candidate to be on a recruiter’s radar.

Next, let’s talk about approaching a recruiter as a hiring manager. From a recruiter’s perspective this is a more straightforward relationship. They’re paid to do a talent search, that in many cases has already been proven to be challenging, and to find the best match. As a hiring manager I had occasion to work with search firms. There were some good retained firms that were periodically paid to be focused but they usually took longer than I liked. And there were some good contingent firms that typically worked more quickly than a retained firm since they weren’t getting paid until the placement was consummated. The trouble with some contingent firms is that they tended to forget about you. From their point of view they’re not being paid by the hour so for difficult searches they’ll put in an initial effort but then move on to the next client if the talent pool didn’t yield immediate results. That was doubly true if they didn’t have an exclusive with the hiring company.

The bottom line is that one needs the right tool for the right job. The type of opening will dictate whether a contingent or retained effort is appropriate. I have often counseled hiring managers about what’s best for their particular needs. Sometimes the answer isn’t obvious. It can even be counter-intuitive.

Have you had any interesting experiences with recruiters? I’d love to hear about them.



Has the Type of People that Publishers Need for Success Changed?

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions


The answer to the title of this article is: Yes! But also no!

It’s yes because up to date technical skills have become indispensable. And it’s no because core personality traits still make for the most desirable employee.

For the sake of simplicity let’s assume that hiring managers are good at detecting positive core personality traits. Things like loyalty, passion, commitment etc… I know that’s tricky but that’s a subject addressed in an earlier article I wrote titled Do Publishers Have the Right People on the Bus, http://oreil.ly/ZKUmnk. For now let’s concentrate on what skill sets modern publishers need to compete and succeed.

Have you noticed the ascendancy of marketing these days? From my perspective of finding talent to strengthen my client publishers, I’ve frequently placed executives with some kind of marketing experience over the last few years. Not surprisingly these most desirable prospects have had titles like Director of Marketing and Vice President of Marketing. On the other hand, they’ve also had surprising titles like Editorial Director, Publisher, Managing Director/Business Development, Publishing Director, Database Marketing Manager etc… The point is that marketing plays a part in almost everyone’s role at a publishing company these days. Those shrewd companies, big and small, that cultivate this new paradigm have taken advantage of opportunities previously left on the table. And they’re increasing their market share.

So how do employees other than those in marketing departments contribute to getting the word out? Social media is part of the answer. Gaining market share can be correlated more and more to how prevalent one is on such vehicles as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. These sites and others are a great way to generate buzz amongst a following that you’ve grown and hopefully cultivated with compelling content. The object here is to create evangelists for your product or service. Evangelists in this context means people who are impressed enough with your product or service that they will sing your praises to people connected with them on social media. In effect they are a passionate (and unpaid) promotional team. Movie studios, like Lionsgate that put out The Hunger Games for instance, are masters of this. Needless to say that putting out a compelling product or service is a precursor for success.

Creating evangelists for publishers is best done with a team concept. So let’s create a team where everyone is cognizant of this goal and is willing to contribute to it. For instance there are some excellent editors out there but unfortunately some of those same editors are reticent to apply any of their time and energy to marketing functions. But who can better articulate positions on a publisher’s content than them? I know of at least one executive who recounted how people on his editorial staff had to be coaxed to write blog posts. Happily, however, they soon recognized the value of their posts when shown the impact it had on the publisher’s following and ultimately other metrics like market share and revenues.

So the bottom line is that there is at least a different mind-set that separates today’s productive employee from those of even just a few years ago. One may already have them on staff, ready to flower with just a little redirection. Or an organization may have to add people with the proper mind-set and talents to facilitate a successful business model for a modern publisher. But at least in that case a hiring manager can screen for those candidates that wouldn’t need to be coaxed.


Contact Me for questions or comments