AWN Hires Temporary CEO

Consultant Neil Skene brought on board to deal with immediate issues.

The Alternative Weekly Network (AWN) announced Friday that it has named consultant Neil Skene as its temporary CEO. According to AWN representatives, Skene was hired to move the organization toward its ultimate goal of identifying a full-time CEO.

Managing principal of the consulting firm Advanced Interactive Media Group, Skene was hired last year to develop a strategic plan for AWN. In January, he submitted a report in which he concluded that it was critical for the organization to hire a CEO to manage its rapid growth. Despite his recommendation, the matter was tabled at the AWN board meeting in June, according to official minutes of the meeting.

Prior to the June meeting, Village Voice Media (VVM) representatives had informed AWN officials of their intention to leave the organization to form their own national advertising network.

Skene said that a CEO is needed to deal with the long-term strategic issues that AWN’s present structure is not equipped to handle. “AWN has grown so rapidly … that we need to move beyond relying on [the] very capable back office operation [provided by Hanzlik Media Management],” Skene said. He added that the CEO would also “play a larger external role.”

Skene said that the board of directors tries to provide strategic direction for the organization, but it is hamstrung since the board members are volunteers. “Most problems can’t be solved in an afternoon meeting,” he said.

Skene said his temporary position will allow AWN to solve some short-term issues so it can move forward and begin the process of focusing on the big picture. “If we can solve [the immediate issues] we’ll be able to see around the corner a little better and know what kind of leadership role we need,” Skene said.

His immediate plans include developing a working relationship with VVM and creating a new commission structure for ad sales. AWN currently pays its reps a set commission for selling a national ad, regardless of the size of the contract, Skene said. He will be working with AWN reps in the next few weeks to create a “fairer” system.

Skene also wants to improve the organization’s service and responsiveness to members, and to negotiate a new contract with Hanzlik Media Management (HMM), which coordinates and supports AWN advertising sales.

AWN executive committee chair Linda Baldwin of Isthmus said Skene was selected as temporary CEO due to his experience and his familiarity with AWN issues.

Skene has spent many years at media companies working in both business and editorial capacities. He was senior vice president and editor-in-chief at Individual Inc., a pioneer in personalized news, and for seven years he was president and publisher of Congressional Quarterly Inc., a Washington-based publisher of newsletters, books and magazines. Before that, he worked for 10 years as an editor and a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times.

Baldwin reiterated that Skene’s hiring is a first step toward bringing in a full-time CEO to run the organization. “As AWN moves forward, it will have a [CEO],” Baldwin said. “[Skene] was the natural choice to come in at this point to do the immediate work that needed to be done.”

Baldwin said it is likely that HMM will report to the new CEO. However, she added that it is still too early to know the exact nature of that relationship.