With a new global chief executive officer, the future of Condé Nast beyond magazines is starting to come into focus.
Roger Lynch, an executive who started off as an investment banker and moved on to various roles in TV and most recently served as ceo of Pandora Radio, has never worked anywhere near print media, but the Newhouse family still found him to be the best person for the job.
Jonathan Newhouse, now moving to an oversight role as chairman of the Condé board with the hiring of Lynch after years as chairman and ceo of Condé Nast International, talked up Lynch in a statement: “His strong business acumen, relevant experience and ability to unite a team around a common purpose to drive results make him a clear choice for our next ceo.”
Steven Newhouse, maintaining his executive role on Condé’s board and as copresident of Advance Publications, Condé’s parent company, said he’s been “impressed” by Lynch and his “passion” for journalism and magazines. But he’s set to further the company’s current strategy of “extending” print brands into digital spaces. Lynch was not made available for comment.
He is the first Condé outsider to take on the role, only held previously by members of the Newhouse family or someone groomed for many years by one. He’s replacing Bob Sauerberg, a longtime Condé executive who was ceo for four years, a time that happened to be pivotal (i.e. detrimental) to Condé’s business and the larger magazine publishing industry.
Condé was slow to change its business over to the digital strategies consumers and advertisers started demanding and diversify, like others, into branded content, e-commerce and video. And while some insiders blame Sauerberg and others blame Condé board leaders for dragging their feet, the fact is the company started seeing significant losses — estimated to be $250 million over 2016 and 2017 — and has yet to again reach profitability. Last year saw a reduction of the company’s loss, and this fiscal year is thought to be tracking well toward a goal of again being profitable, but it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Sauerberg will stay on the board of Reddit, owned by Condé parent Advance Publications, led by chairman Steven Newhouse, son of Donald Newhouse and cousin to Jonathan. It’s thought that Sauerberg’s contract with Condé actually runs through the end of this year.
Lynch was only ceo of Pandora about 18 months, essentially leading it toward a $3.5 billion sale to SiriusXM. Before that he was ceo for five years of Sling TV — those commercials with Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, anyone? — and was an executive vice president at Dish Network for another five years, where he focused on the international business and tech development. With no publishing experience, it seems clear that a big chunk of the “relevant experience” Newhouse mentioned revolves around video and TV.
The success of video has been a near constant point of focus for Condé executives over the last year. You can’t talk to any one of them without it coming up — repeatedly. Trending on YouTube! Licensing with Netflix! Unsurprising given the state of the business over the last few years and the industry-wide decline of revenue from print advertising, basically Condé’s entire business model up until the middle of this decade. When you have a win, you cling to it. An even further focus on video and related content and business strategy, maybe even a formal foray into TV, is expected to be the focus of Condé’s upcoming presentation at the NewFronts, where digital companies make splashy pitches to advertisers.
Surely, Lynch will bring with him his focus on TV and video when he starts on April 22. But already the length of his stay is coming into question by insiders. With his recent history at Pandora Radio, getting that company through a major sale to a rival of sorts, eyebrows are up. Low-level chatter of an acquisition has been happening since Condé started to falter, but that isn’t thought to be the plan right now.
Instead, sources have brought up the prospect of Lynch coming in for the more specific task of leading the folding of CNI into Condé Nast in the States, smoothing the related operational hassles, and then taking his leave again. The two companies, operated as such for decades, are set to move onto one tech platform, something that is obviously complex and no inside executive at Condé has ever dealt with before, which is why a tech-savvy outsider was sought. The ultimate benefit of the combination is not only Condé having access to one large audience that it can take to advertisers (and TV execs?) but the consolidation of back-end operations, which will further save costs.
For the better part of the last decade, cost-cutting was Condé’s only apparent strategy to stem its losses. It went from more than 20 magazines to now 11 magazines (three of which are for sale), the most recent print closure being that of Glamour. While Condé is indeed now hiring and expanding its efforts around video content, this “merger” of U.S. and International is still part of a larger consolidation the company has been slowly enacting for years.
Should Lynch be coming in as a sort of corporate surgeon with a limited contract, it’s thought that the next ceo could already be lined up: current chief revenue and marketing officer Pamela Drucker Mann. She’s worked her way up the ranks on the sales side over the last 15 years and is said to have been angling for the position even before Sauerberg was abruptly pushed out last year. But she’s respected internally as someone who can get things done and who has been behind the success of the digital/video shift. The board wants her happy, so a new title may be coming for her, too, even while Lynch is in the top spot.
The other woman on everyone’s minds is Anna Wintour, Condé’s artistic director since 2014 and the longtime editor of Vogue, still one of the publisher’s most lucrative titles. There are those who think there’s “no way” Wintour will stay on to serve under another, younger ceo and rumors of this being her last year were starting up again even before Lynch was named. It’s not only her choice, as an insider noted. People are wondering if a new ceo will be able to justify Wintour’s power within Condé, her pay and the lucrative perks she’s really the only editor to maintain.
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