published 23 Oct 2014 by Evelina Karakusheva in Slovakia 6 minutes 5 seconds to read

The strength in a team

Dow Jones veteran Kelly Leach combines the forces of Piano Media and Press+ to lead content creation to a new phase. We talked about the challenges of merging two companies and making the sum greater than the parts.

It is hard to catch Ms. Leach. She is always on the road - if she isn’t courting new clients, she divides her time between Vienna, New York, London and Bratislava. She tries to split it evenly between the US and Europe, as she is focused on integrating new teams after one of the biggest recent mergers in the paid content business. Piano, a young little Slovak company that helps news organisations set up digital paywalls, recently announced the purchase of its US competitor, Press . In the aftermath of the merger, Leach finds that it is the people, who make a business successful.

Even while we are talking Leach is packing her bags on the way from Amsterdam to New York. As overwhelming as it sounds, it can also be a source of energy when you identify yourself with what you are doing. And this is exactly the case with Kelly Leach.

Turning News into a Business

Leach was appointed CEO of the new company when it was created in September, and sounds satisfied and passionate about the job. Instead of coming from another venture Leach comes from publishing: three years at Time Inc and 12 years at Dow Jones, working on The Wall Street Journal. She believes that quality news requires proper financing from several revenue streams. “So I thought it was very smart when the journal decided to have both a subscription and an ad model.” And now, working at Piano Media she gets to help other news outlets find the means for quality reporting too.

She feels that her 15-year experience working for publisher companies gave her extra insight into the key points and challenges in this business. On the other side, the Wall Street veteran admits her integration in the recently merged companies is still in process, but she likes to step up to the plate. “This is when you show who you are and what you are capable of,” she says. “I feel that I’m learning a lot after being at one company for almost 12 years.”

Moving the conversation back to Piano Media, Leach says she encountered the company a long time ago and she immediately got interested in their concept. “For publishers that started very early in the paid content business there wasn’t a lot of choice in terms of ventures that will support their strategy,” says the CEO. Already passionate about the business, Leach confesses she was excited when she was approached about the idea of combining U.S. Press with the Slovak Piano. “I thought it made sense because they work with so many publishers, really know a lot about the best practices and they see and know what experimentation is and how is it happening across the industry”.

Today, Piano Media works with 70 different publishing houses that have multiple titles so that the actual number of individual websites using the platform is over 500. “It is a great opportunity to bring these companies together, because there are many practices to be shared,” adds Leach, keen to take on this fresh challenge. Piano Media entered the paid content market in 2011 with its national subscription solution in three countries before later licensing its metered solution to publishers in Europe. Leach believes that “paid content is in an early stage of its development as a revenue stream, so there is a lot of experimentation in the business”.

The power of an individual

Talking about Piano Media, Leach admits she is impressed by the passion of people to help their clients. She has been encouraged by the amount of time the teams spend talking about not just sales, but also about their clients’ challenges and how are they helping them grow their business.

Leach also wants to concentrate on making people feel empowered, having a sense of ownership over the area they work on and knowing what they are contributing to. “One interesting facet of working at a smaller company is that what each individual has a tremendous impact, and this is an interesting change for me,” she says, explaining that seeing personal impact and understanding exactly how your actions influence the whole business is much harder in a larger company.

Now, Leach wants to contribute to the company growth, because being a part of helping to start or to grow something is incredibly satisfying for her. “In my mind helping to grow this company will mean success.” But, she thinks, success and prosperity are impossible without the support of colleagues and friends, and this started with the encouragement she received in her decision to become CEO of Piano Media.

“Marcus Brauchli, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, worked with me at Dow Jones and knew a lot about my skill set and my work style and he was a big supporter from beginning.” She also mentions Gordon Crovitz, one of the founders of Press , who told her about the advantages of working in a smaller company and in more entrepreneurial environment. “It’s nice to have people who are supportive and want the best for the company. They are both good advisors to me in my new role.”

And again Leach feels lucky to have worked with such an inspiring managers like Todd Larsen and Robert Thomson, who have given her quite challenging tasks - “this helped me to develop more courage and confidence in my work”.

Open Road Ahead

Looking towards the future of the company, Leach is enthusiastic about the new possibilities, explaining that the merger allowed them to take advantage of the now large scale and the customers each respective business had before. The sum in this case really feels bigger that the parts and there is a “stronger sense of community and shared experience to help accelerate [the] business”.

Leach’s major job now is working on integrating the teams and updating their product map to take the best aspects of both products and build it into a single offering. She plans to extend the analytic capabilities and extend the sales team: “It’s about making sure that as we develop new products, we also listen to both our existing and our prospective customers, about what they are looking for to help them drive their content monetisation strategy. We expect to see continuous growth for our business both in terms of our existing clients but also adding additional publishers in EU, North America and Latin America and hopefully certain markets in Asia. So we see global growth for the company coming through adding new publishers, but also making sure that we are helping our existing clients”.

“There are people at both companies who have been with the company since the very beginning, so the passion and the knowledge that they have about the business is really incredible,” Leach gushes. “ I think, I’m still very much in a learning phase and I’m trying to spend a lot of time listening to what my colleagues are saying and what the experience is being so far to get myself up to speed. It is great to have a strong team around me that has collective experience within the company.”

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