Condé Nast’s Roger Lynch wants advertisers to know the magazine publisher is going to improve its record on diversity and inclusion.
While the-then new global chief executive officer sat quietly in the audience during the publisher’s 2019 NewsFronts pitch to advertisers, he was front and center (well, virtually) this year, delivering the introduction from his home where he addressed, as it was later put by another executive — “the elephant in the kitchen.”
This was a reference to failings at Condé-owned Bon Appétit that have come to light since the police killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people and the subsequent nationwide demonstrations protesting these killings and centuries of systemic racism.
As well as the emergence of a photograph of Bon Appétit’s former editor in chief Adam Rapoport in brown face that led to his resignation, there have been a number of allegations of a discriminatory workplace environment for people of color at the food title. This includes claims that only white employees were paid for their appearance on its popular video channel.
Vogue editor in chief and Condé artistic director Anna Wintour has also been painted in a negative light by some, sparking streams of critical press coverage and rampant rumors of an impending departure, which were quickly quashed by Lynch.
“It shouldn’t take the horrendous murder of innocent people like George Floyd to make us wake up as a society, but now we need to listen, learn and take quick action to be a positive force as an industry,” said the ceo, who was dressed in a navy tartan jacket and strategically positioned in front of a bookcase — perhaps the most used prop for media presentations during lockdown.
“I’m sure many of you have been watching how this passion for creating positive social change in the world led us to hold a mirror up to ourselves as a company, too. We’re doubling down on work we’ve already been doing to build a culture that prioritizes diversity and inclusion.”
Those efforts include hiring a new global chief diversity and inclusion officer later this year, “helping to ensure equitable representation within our content across print, digital and video.” He also pledged to hire more people of color (POC staffers make up just 30 percent of its U.S. workforce) and to assemble an external diversity council focused on ending racism to work alongside content teams.
Reginald Williams, senior vice president of programming at Condé Nast Entertainment, also addressed Bon Appétit in the presentation. Notably, his boss Oren Katzeff, who has been in the spotlight after the emergence of offensive tweets about women and a Mexican waiter, was absent, after speaking at NewFronts last year.
“When we talk about transformation I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to talk about the elephant in the kitchen — Bon Appétit,” said Williams. “For many years, BA has been one of the pillars of CNE’s video business and it still is. We’re committed to making the BA team and those of all our other brands fully representative of the makeup of this country both in front of and behind the camera. This commitment to diversity will be an inherent part of our DNA and something I’ve been working toward my entire career.”
Williams added that companies have realized there is a need for sweeping change, but that Condé was ahead of the curve when they hired him, “a black man with decades of experience creating diverse and inclusive programming to help lead that charge from within.” He joined the company in November “with eyes wide open about what our brands had represented over the years — both the good and the bad.”
As for programming, Pam Drucker Mann, global chief revenue officer, launched into a spiel about the 150 pilots and 57 returning series for 2021. That includes an exclusive partnership with the National Basketball Players Association to produce content with GQ Sports. It will begin with “Training My Double,” a series in which athletes work with fans to show them what it’s like to be real player. The series will be directed exclusively by Black filmmakers.
Other new programming includes Architectural Digest’s IGTV show “AD Visits,” where editor in chief Amy Astley goes inside some celebrity homes; GQ’s weekly style talk show, “The Run Through,” hosted by editors Nikki Ogunnaike, Mobolaji Dawodu and Jon Tietz, and Vogue’s weekly series “Vegan Cooking With Tabitha Brown.”
In addition, there will be seven podcasts, including “In Vogue.” Presented by Wintour, it chronicles the collision of fashion and culture in the Nineties.
Drucker Mann also unveiled two features for advertisers — Prime Live and Prime Shoppable. The first will offer consumers the chance to go backstage at events like the Vanity Fair Oscar red carpet and Vogue’s Met Gala (whenever it’s held again). As fashion shows go virtual this fall, Prime Live will take viewers behind the scenes and down the runway with the new live talk show “Good Morning Vogue,” set to launch during New York Fashion Week.
The second is a tap-to-buy product embedded within its original video series to shorten the path to purchase. GQ’s grooming goods, based on the brand’s editorial feature, will be the debut series for this technology.
According to Drucker Mann, Condé’s video network grew significantly year-over-year across all platforms, including a 60 percent increase in views on its owned an operated platforms, and 61 percent rise in watchtime on YouTube.
“In a rapidly changing environment, our advertisers are looking for a trusted partner that can deliver flexibility, new incremental audiences and measurable performance,” she said. “Our influence network answers those needs with quality content environments, brand channels with unparalleled engagement, and access to exclusive cultural touchstones that only we can own.”
Condé’s pitch comes at a time when advertising has plunged across all media, as brands slashed marketing budgets as they scrambled to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.
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