Working in media is more challenging than ever, as evidenced by the executives who left (willingly or not) the industry over the last year.
What once was an industry flush with advertising cash that pivoted on an ability to captivate millions and millions of people with news, trends and glamour has turned into a Thunderdome where data and branded content rule. Revenue from print ads is scarcer all the time and digital ad revenue is proving not enough to sustain any company, much less major publishers like Condé Nast and Hearst.
So it’s little surprise that there’s been a lot of turnover in the upper ranks at those publishers, along with swaths of layoffs as consolidation becomes the norm. But there have been some surprising exits elsewhere, too. Whether people were forced out or chose to leave — there’s been plenty of chatter among industry veterans of simply not being able to watch the outlets they built reduced to traffic metrics and tweets — many have gone. Sometimes onto new things, sometimes not.
Here, WWD takes a look at some of the most high-profile media exits over the last year.
Robert Sauerberg, chief executive officer, Condé Nast
Condé suddenly revealed at the tail end of November that not only was it combining its U.S. and international operations, but that ceo Bob Sauerberg would be replaced with a new “global” ceo from outside the company. Sauerberg, who remains a lame duck while a search gets under way for his replacement (hinting there was little planning before his ouster), was with the company for 18 years, moving to ceo in 2015 after years as president.
Dawn Ostroff, president, Condé Nast Entertainment
Even as the founding executive of Condé Nast Entertainment, a growth area for the firm as it invests heavily in video, Ostroff took the opportunity to get out of the publishing game when she could. She jumped over the summer to music streaming service Spotify to work as its global chief content officer. Oren Katzeff took up the lead at CNE in November.
Fred Santarpia, chief digital officer, Condé Nast
Having moved from CNE to the magazine side of Condé in 2014 to help with its digital transformation, Santarpia was said to be liked and successful in the role, but he suddenly left the publisher in October — apparently the company’s digital foundation “is set,” making it the right time to leave. Condé has yet to replace him and Santarpia has yet to reveal a new employer (likely the result of a non-compete agreement).
Adam Moss, editor in chief, New York Magazine
Rumors abound about the future of New York Magazine, but Moss, its respected lead editor for 15 years, apparently didn’t want to stick around to see how it turns out. In a bit of self-awareness, Moss alluded to a sense that he’s simply aged out of the role in revealing his intention to leave the magazine at the end of March. His successor is David Haskell, who has spent nearly his entire career working at the title.
Jim Nelson, editor in chief, GQ
The exit of Nelson as the lead editor of GQ, where he sat for 15 years, was another sudden move, if not surprising. Condé has been slowly moving through its long-term and well-paid top editors, either shunting them into “at large” positions, or replacing them outright. Such was the case with Nelson, who’s successor Will Welch officially took over GQ in January.
Cindi Leive, editor in chief, Glamour
At the end of last January, Leive was only days out of her official exit from Glamour, which she led for 16 years. Once Condé’s most lucrative glossy, Glamour has recently had a precipitous decline, moving away from its 80-plus years in print to become a digital-focused brand.
David Carey, president, Hearst Magazines
After a decade leading Hearst Magazines and almost four decades in magazine publishing, Carey said he had decided to step down with plans to continue his education (at Harvard) and direct his energy “toward societal issues,” while maintaining a position as a Hearst chairman through this year. He was quickly replaced by Troy Young as part of the publisher’s “long-planned succession process.”
Joanna Coles, chief content officer, Hearst Magazines
It only took about two weeks after Young’s summer promotion for Coles to leave the position that was created for her at Hearst, where she worked for over a decade. Whether she left voluntarily or not (depends on whom you ask), it was sudden, as was her being replaced by Kate Lewis. Coles is now working with CBS News as a creative adviser.
Donna Lagani, publishing director and chief revenue officer, Cosmopolitan
Lagani seemed to have a genuine love for Cosmopolitan, the brand she led on the business side for 22 years, but it wasn’t enough to keep her around. The energetic publisher, who also added Seventeen and Women’s Health to her purview, stepped away from her role and took a spot within Hearst Corp.’s philanthropic arm, Hearst Foundations. She was replaced as publisher by Nancy Berger.
Shane Smith, chief executive officer, Vice Media
The outspoken and sometimes rowdy Smith, cofounder of Vice (another is extreme right-wing activist Gavin McInnes), was replaced as ceo by Nancy Dubuc, who spent about 20 years leading A&E Networks (an investor in Vice). The move came as the youth-oriented media company dealt with fallout from the #MeToo movement that didn’t take kindly to its reputation as a male-dominated work culture. He remains chairman and arguably the face of the Vice brand.