SCHIEK STEPS DOWN: Lisa Schiek, Tom Ford’s global communications director and his longest-standing employee, on Thursday revealed her decision to leave the company. Her last day will be at the end of January or in early February, and her replacement will be named in the new year. “This may or may not come as a surprise, as I have been inching and talking about this for some time,” said Schiek. “I told Tom mid-October of my intentions, and he asked that I hold off saying anything so that they can sort out the communications structure.”
In October, North American communications director Shirin von Wulffen resigned her post. Both Schiek and von Wulffen had worked with Ford and Domenico De Sole, chairman of Tom Ford International, in their Gucci years. Schiek’s professional relationship with them went back 18 years.
Schiek joined Gucci in 1990 as the public relations and special events director for Gucci America, and in 1999 moved to London as communications director for Gucci Group, which created a model for the modern luxury group. She was instrumental in the successful relaunches of the other brands under the Gucci Group umbrella, including Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent, Boucheron, Bedat & Co., Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Schiek followed Ford and De Sole out the door in April 2004, after the pair’s contract talks with PPR failed over disagreements about creative control.
“I have only the greatest respect and admiration for Tom and Domenico and have learned so much from the two of them. I am genuinely proud of what was accomplished these past 18 years and wish them and the entire team at Tom Ford every success,” she said, adding, “This is the right time for me to move on.”
— Jean Schneides
ALL BUSINESS: Gawker Media — the blog network that over the years has evolved from pirate ship to Web establishment — has been responding to the predicted online advertising recession with a series of consolidations and cutbacks that its owner and founder, Nick Denton, argues will gird the apparently profitable company for whatever is ahead.
The result is a raft of rumors that Denton has been “led around by the nose by the business side,” including vice president for sales and marketing Chris Batty. On Thursday, Denton responded to the rumors by saying he’d been a pragmatist all along.
“We’ve closed or sold titles for nearly as long as we’ve been opening them,” he said, adding he already had laid out the need for “brutal” changes to get the business “into good shape.” He conceded, “There is clearly a shift in priority — we give sites less time to prove themselves, and we’ve only launched one new title this year. And we got out of unprofitable categories such as politics, [Silicon] Valley trade news and Verizon bashing.”
Valleywag, the Silicon Valley gossip blog that never quite took off, was recently folded into Gawker. “Verizon bashing” refers to The Consumerist, a very well-trafficked consumer advocacy site Denton put on the block after Batty and other executives had been “gunning for” its sale, Denton said. Mediabistro’s FishbowlNY reported Tuesday that Consumer Reports was among the interested parties.
Other changes include a suspension of page view bonuses for editorial staff (and, Denton said, an increase in base pay), layoffs in editorial and tech, as well as some staffers reducing hours. Overall, editorial budgets have become both more specific and more limited. And, despite the perception among some people at the company that Batty’s sales team was not affected, Denton said advertising staff also took a hit.
All of this came as Noah Robischon, formerly the editorial director, left the company after what two sources described as turf battles between him and the business side, Batty in particular. One person said it resulted in an ultimatum that led to Robischon’s departure. Robischon, who left in November to run Fast Company’s Web site, did not respond to calls for comment. He has not been replaced, meaning that site leads atop each blog inevitably have more direct contact with the business side. Batty would only say, “I’m proud to be a part of a company with an amazing new breed of editorial zest that also knows how to turn a dime.”
So, does this mean Gawker Media, as Denton himself put it in an October memo announcing many of the changes, is “behaving like those big media companies that we mock so easily,” with a tougher focus on the bottom line and short-term profitability? “I suspect we’re being more profit-centric — not less — than some of these big media companies,” said Denton. “We have to be because we’re independent and want to remain that way.”
Denton is fond of issuing doom and gloom predictions. The most recent: a 40 percent decline in ad spending in the next cycle. If that’s going to happen, Denton claims it hasn’t hit Gawker Media yet: He said October and November were “surprisingly robust,” with ad revenue up 39 percent in November year-over-year. Last month saw 21.7 million unique visitors across the network, according to Quantcast, with page views at 260 million.
Denton is still believed to own well over half of the company. Top management have been granted some equity shares, according to several people, though Denton declined to confirm that. He did allow that the top editors on each site “have in particularly good years been granted some bonus in equity in proportion to gains in traffic.”
— Irin Carmon