LAWRENCE DEPARTS: W magazine has struggled to recover to its prerecession heights, when it could command more than 400 pages in a September issue. But it has begun to find its footing recently. So on Thursday afternoon, it came as a surprise to Condé Nast management and W staff that the magazine’s loudest cheerleader, publisher Nina Lawrence, said she would be departing to become The Wall Street Journal’s new vice president of global marketing, advertising sales.

She broke the news to Condé Nast chief executive officer Charles Townsend earlier that day.

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“My message was, I’ve loved this company and I love my job, but I’ve been fortunate to be offered a huge opportunity at the most monetized brand in the world, a company with huge scale, and uncompromising journalistic authority, and it’s the right time for me to take this opportunity,” Lawrence said.

Townsend was taken aback, she said, adding, “Everyone was.” The timing was especially curious because W has its national sales meeting in two weeks, though it now may be postponed.

Lawrence, who got her start at Time magazine 25 years ago, had also grown into the role of a Condé lifer. She’d been publisher of Mademoiselle and Brides and, in 2005, became the publisher of W, for a career at Condé that altogether spans 15 years.

When she joined W, the title was a powerhouse — its September issue that year commanded 388 pages, according to Media Industry Newsletter. This year’s September issue had 246. The high-end magazine struggled after the 2008 recession and only recently has begun to regain traction. Even as pages slipped, Lawrence survived a change in editors when Stefano Tonchi succeeded longtime editor in chief Patrick McCarthy in 2010.

Some of the credit for the resurgence goes to Tonchi, who is something of a shadow publisher. But also, to some extent, W had nowhere to go but up or it would have been in real trouble. The November 40th anniversary issue is fat with ad pages — 191, versus 93 the year before, according to MIN.

The magazine is up 12 percent through November, according to MIN.

“I’m not leaving out of any negative element,” she said. “I’m leaving because the opportunity is so great ahead of me.”

Michael F. Rooney, the Journal’s chief revenue officer, approached Lawrence about the job. The two of them had known each other since their days at Discover magazine.

At the Journal, where she starts Nov. 1, according to a spokeswoman, Lawrence will be responsible for creating marketing and business development efforts for the publication’s global sales team, which handles print and digital sales for the Wall Street Journal Europe as well as several other international editions.

A spokeswoman for Condé Nast said there were no plans to name a publisher in the interim.

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