After almost 20 years, Bob Sauerberg is officially out at Condé Nast.
In a Friday morning note to staff, Sauerberg said his now former place of work “is a special place with a bold spirit and unmatched influence” and that “there is no other company with brands as unique and distinctive.”
“I look forward to cheering you on as you continue to shape culture and uncover truths and fully realize the potential of the company,” Sauerberg wrote.
He added that, in the six months since it was revealed that Condé would for the first time be combining its U.S. and international operations and looking outside the company for a new “global” chief executive officer, the publisher “has made incredible progress.”
“Our revenue team has stabilized our business and our edit, video, tech and data teams have delivered on growth initiatives. We’ve managed costs, shifted our resources to our growth areas more nimbly and positioned the business for an exciting global future. I’m proud of all of your hard work, which you can see in our growing revenues.”
Sauerberg declined to comment any further.
While Condé has been operating in the red for the last few years, losing an estimated $250 million since 2016, the company is said to be starting to turn things around. The goal this year is to again be profitable, and while only a few months into the fiscal year, the company is thought to be on track to meet that goal after getting close to breaking even last year.
Sauerberg came to Condé in 2000 as a vice president and chief financial officer of Fairchild Publications, the then holding company for WWD that was ultimately renamed Fairchild Fashion Media and sold by Condé in 2014 to Penske Media Corp. He quickly moved up to be chief revenue officer of Fairchild, eventually becoming president of Condé in 2010 and then successor to ceo Chuck Townsend at the very start of 2016. Before his time with Condé, Sauerberg spent another almost 20 years with The New York Times, eventually becoming cfo of the group.
While Sauerberg will remain on the board of Reddit, owned by Condé parent Advance Publications, his tenure as president and then ceo of Condé coincided with unprecedented change in magazines and the broader publishing industry. Though Condé made some changes to keep up with the digital takeover, the rise of social media and video content, it was undeniably slow on the uptake. The strategy for many years — while Townsend was ceo and S.I. Newhouse Jr. was chairman — was simply to cut costs with layoffs and many magazine closures (the company has less than half the number of magazines it did a decade ago). Sources have said plainly that executives were expecting print advertising revenue to bounce back as late as 2014, the same year The New Yorker became the first Condé title with an online paywall.
It took another four years for Condé to decide to put online content at the rest of its remaining publications behind a paywall, which is planned to take effect at the end of this year. The initiative was revealed by Condé as an initiative of Sauerberg’s a few months after news of his planned exit, which was said to have surprised Sauerberg and much of Condé’s staff. In a sign that pushing Sauerberg out was not exactly well planned, Condé did not have a successor ready when it formally revealed in November that it was combining U.S. and international operations and replacing Sauerberg with an outside “global ceo.” After about a six-month search, the company found Roger Lynch, former ceo of music streaming service Pandora Radio, who has never worked in publishing or traditional media.
Even as the overall magazine media landscape shifted, Sauerberg’s time at Condé saw considerable efforts to find new revenue streams. Most notable is the 2012 launch of Condé Nast Entertainment, essentially a video production studio that was led by Dawn Ostroff. When she left last summer for Spotify, Sauerberg recalled that in 2011 Condé’s video business “was no more than an idea we sketched on a whiteboard.” Video is now a near-constant source of positive news for the publisher and one of its few investment areas. Last year, the plan was to triple the size of revenue from video over the next few years.
Sauerberg also oversaw the launch of Spire, an audience insight platform that sells data to advertisers and is said to be doing well, along with the recent purchase of CitizenNet, a data science company, which took a bite out of revenue for fiscal 2018.
Last August Sauerberg laid out his strategy for returning Condé to profitability by 2020 — a target apparently being met — and add $600 million in new revenue. Three months later, news of his planned departure was revealed. It will now be up to Lynch to build on Sauerberg’s strategy — and come up with one of his own.
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