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Phoenix Media Buys El Planeta

Ethnic Newz, Interview, Eduardo A. de Oliveira Posted: Dec 15, 2008

The Phoenix Media/Communications Group (PMCG) recently bought Spanish-language El Planeta newspaper, founded in 2004.

The group publishes the alternative English-language Boston Phoenix newsweekly, which Stephen Mindich founded in 1966.

At the time, son Brad Mindich wasn't born yet. He started at the alternative paper as a summer intern 15 years ago, becoming president of PM/CG in January of 2007. A big fan of Harleys, Canadian rock band Rush, and Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, the jovial Mindich always speaks his mind.

To the "Boston Business Journal" he confessed: "I feel awkward when I make a bad decision knowing that I have not only let down the company, but I have also let down my father. So I do my best to not make too many bad decisions."

Acquiring the weekly El Planeta is certainly not one of those. He told EthnicNEWz.org: "Maybe some of these media companies should cut back more on their English-language operations and invest in niche-based stuff."

In this interview with NEWz, the younger Mindich explains why, when virtually all media companies are slashing staff, he felt investing in an untapped market was the right move.

Mindich also talks about why El Mundo, a 34-year-old Spanish-language newspaper in the Boston area, never caught his attention - and swears he's giving full editorial control to El Planeta.

Following is Brad Mindich's condensed and edited interview with NEWz, conducted at his office in Brookline, Mass., on Dec. 11, 2008.

The Phoenix Media Group bought 35 percent of El Planeta in 2005. Why El Planeta?
I have known Javier [Marin, a cofounder of El Planeta] since before El Planeta's launch in 2004. We talked about radio, others opportunities, prior to the founding of El Planeta.

We couldn't figure out a partnership back then. But I really liked them. When they came up with the idea of the paper, even at that time you had to have had your head under a rock to not notice the opportunities that came with Hispanic media.

So you followed their work closely. What caught your attention the most?
We (PMCG) weren't involved just yet. As friends, we helped them a lot, as far as distribution, printing, how to reach clients go.
But I saw that they're very smart, they knew where the opportunities were. If you look at the other Hispanic newspapers published in this area, with all due respect, they are not very good.

Even back then, El Planeta looked different, had a better feel, was designed really well, the content was much better. It was just done very professionally.

For people who had not a lot of experience, it was done right. Honestly, I cannot speak Spanish (I have no idea what they're saying really), but...you can look at it and see that there is potential for growth there.

But El Mundo newspaper has been out there for 34 years. Why not take over El Mundo?
I never talked the El Mundo people. They have never contacted me or my father. Our business with El Planeta started with a relationship - as opposed to us saying, "Wouldn't it be great if we got into the Hispanic newspaper business."

We don't come from that background, so this was an opportunity. We saw young aggressive guys who fit perfectly with the profile of people who work at the

Will the editorial content of El Planeta remain the same?
I don't plan on interfering. I'm very impressed by what they've done with very few people (a staff of nine). Marcela (Garcia, El Planeta's editor) and the other writers are starting to be part of our editorial meetings.

The El Planeta team will have the power of a staff of 300 committed (PMCG employees), including marketing and sales people. So the entire project will have more momentum.
They are the ones steering it, we'll just inject more fuel to make it go faster and higher.

Including the 50 sales people from the Phoenix?
Yes. The Hispanic staff understands their community. From our side, we'll put the arts and entertainment - also some community and political coverage, which we do well - all at their disposal. El Planeta brings about immigration issues obviously (and that coverage) will be there and continue to grow.

One of the new things you can expect is more international coverage about Latin America. We just hired Lourdes Hudson, vice president of sales, a Latina who was responsible for launching "Oi" in Miami. She'll bring her expertise.

Can we expect to see El Planeta publishing music reviews?
You'll see movie coverage, music stuff, but things that are relevant to their community. And that will come through Marcela's filter. Now she has access to anything she wants. Same thing with "Stuff at Night" (another publication of PMCG) - (coverage of) events, parties, restaurants might make perfect sense to be featured in El Planeta. It depends on what she, as the editorial leader there, thinks makes sense.

So Marcela will have the power to determine the balance between social life and immigration issues?
Yeah, absolutely. Whatever she needs to do to make El Planeta better than it already is, that's what we want. We're not forcing her (to do) anything, but she knows that all the resources are available for her.

Do you plan to hire Hispanic journalists?
We'll see. Right now she has a pretty good team. Once she interacts more with us, and her team settles, we'll have a better idea of what they need.

Do you plan on bridging the gap between the audiences of both newspapers?
Certainly there are things that El Planeta is covering that are important to Phoenix readers, such as immigration, international news or community issues. Bridging the gap is part of it.

We're not setting out to radically change El Planeta to make it the Phoenix in Spanish. El Planeta has its own voice, purpose, image.

We're just saying, " Here's a whole bunch of other things you can have that may make it even better."

What about having stories in English at El Planeta, or in Spanish at the Phoenix?
I have no idea. It's probably too early for me to speculate on whether it makes sense to do that.

From your perspective, what should your acquisition of El Planeta mean for other ethnic news outlets?
I can't speak for other companies. But I can say this: In our conversations with clients, at least three big brands, when we said that El Planeta is now part of the Phoenix family, they took it very positively. Everybody knows this is a rising, affluent market. They are very interested in getting involved.

Can you give at least a hint about the dollar amount involved in this acquisition, so other ethnic papers would have an idea of how much their enterprise is worth?
I probably could give some clue, but the issue is from a purely competitive standpoint. I don't want other papers to know it. But if you look at places across the country where there are pockets of Hispanic media, like Texas, California or Washington, you can see the value of these publications.

Even radio or TV, they're valuable, and they tend to become more valuable. El Planeta's biggest added value is the access it gives us to a whole different community.

How deep is your commitment to El Planeta?
We wouldn't have done it if we weren't committed. It's rare that we acquire something, we usually start things ourselves. But once we acquire it, it's part of your family, like one of your kids.

The faster we can make it grow, the better. I don't look at it expecting to see what happens in two years. People are moving into our offices, they are participating in corporate meetings, so we're in it completely.

What would be your advice to those struggling in the newspaper business? Would it be: "Look more closely to those who publish in a language other than English?"
The newspaper business is not easy anymore. I know the challenges. For us, this was an opportunity that made perfect sense. If you asked me if I would start another alternative paper in a city somewhere, I'd say no. I don't think it makes sense.

But this is a good niche product that expands what we do. Even from a financial or advertising side, brands who buy ads have their budgets for investing in Spanish-speaking publications. We will, at the very least, tap into the sales opportunities that we wouldn't have had otherwise.

But you had to be financially sound to make that kind of investment.
Sure. Maybe some of these media companies should cut back more on their English-language operations and invest in niche-based stuff that doesn't need to be in another language.

The Phoenix reaches a very broad audience, we happen to own the audience we serve, but we're not a daily newspaper. That allows us to stick to what we're a good at. If you have a narrow focus, with a clear mission, reaching a very good community where, frankly, there's not a lot of competition, it's as good as it gets.

El Planeta publishes four editions catered to Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other regions. Do you intend to change that or perhaps print twice a week?
I don't know about twice a week. But we certainly intend on keeping the editions, and even expanding to growing within the communities that we serve.

So we can expect El Planeta to grow without losing its identity?
Sure. El Planeta is El Planeta, not the Phoenix in Spanish.

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