By Mark Schlack
On March 19, 2014, Pat McGovern died after a long and storied 50+ year career in publishing. He was the founder and owner of International Data Group, one of the prime movers in the technology sector that became one of the engines of B2B publishing in the 1980s and 1990s. IDG launched Computerworld, Network World, InfoWorld and CIO between 1964 and 1990. All did something new, and all became leaders in their respective markets. At ASBPE, we recognized McGovern with a lifetime achievement award in 2004 for these and other contributions to B2B publishing.
I asked Jon Gallant, IDG’s chief content officer, to sum up McGovern’s contributions, and he put it this way:
A great deal has been written, and will continue to be shared, about Pat’s legendary energy, his memory, his generosity and his vision. This is a man who, after all, conquered the world when it came to technology publishing and still had time to personally deliver your holiday bonus and take you to dinner on your 10th anniversary with the company. Talk about motivational. He’s an American entrepreneur akin to Bill Gates, Sam Walton or Henry Ford — he didn’t just build a great company, he reshaped an entire industry. He may not be known as well as Gates or Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison but he had an influence just as large. He made buyers of technology — from individual consumers to CIOs — smarter and savvier, and by voicing their needs and concerns he shaped generation after generation of tech.
When I first started working in tech media in 1990, McGovern, Bill Ziff and Jerry Leeds were three publishing giants whose companies (IDG, Ziff-Davis and CMP, respectively) dominated both the B2B and consumer tech press. The magazine I worked for had to compete against all three. McGovern had clearly set the tone at IDG that publications would have very high editorial standards. Stories had multiple sources, including users and opposing points of view. The editorial staffs were well-respected by readers (and advertisers) as being knowledgeable, connected, and generally on-point. If you were going to be better than IDG, you were going to have to be good indeed.
Later, I went to work at IDG. Many publishing execs make a show of supporting editorial, so I was curious to see how real that was at IDG. It didn’t take long to find out that McGovern was an advocate for high value, well researched and written editorial. And that the stories about him backing up editors who found themselves in the cross-hairs of bullying advertisers were all true, even to the point of losing large chunks of business.
As Gallant points out, “At his core, Pat was a true believer in the value of independent content and strong editorial voice. A lot of publishing executives proclaim their support for editorial independence but Pat made it a bedrock of IDG. As journalists, we lived — and thrived — under the umbrella of Pat’s unwavering support for editorial. We knew Pat had our backs. No topic or company was off limits, because Pat knew that the trust of the reader was the highest achievement we could win. Everything good stemmed from that. That’s why IDG has stood the test of time in a publishing market lashed by brutal change.”
Although my time at IDG did not end happily (the web startup I worked on didn’t survive the dotcom bursting intact), I came away with high respect for Pat McGovern. He was a man who understood what is at once the most basic and hardest to grasp aspect of publishing: if you don’t serve the reader well, you have nothing. He deeply understood the value of taking information that was not widely known and making it so and he built an empire on that. He had the vision to foresee that B2B media would become a global market years before others did and spread that empire around the world.
That may all sound simple, but many publishers have other ideas — they think that gimmicks, or low prices, discounts on trade show booths, or the promise of “good” coverage, are the keys to success. In proving otherwise, McGovern helped make room for those who have followed him to also build a house on quality editorial, and for that we celebrate his life and mourn his passing.