Anna Wintour keeps shaking up the mastheads at Condé Nast – and GQ’s Jim Nelson is the latest longtime editor to be replaced.
After what is generally considered a stellar 15 years at the helm of GQ, Condé’s core men’s title, Nelson is being succeeded by Will Welch, who’s been with the magazine since 2007 and earlier this year became creative director. Welch will be only the fifth editor in chief in the almost 90-year-old magazine’s history.
In a memo to staff, Condé chief executive officer Robert Sauerberg said Welch is “a big part of why a new generation of consumers are drawn to the brand” and characterized him as “the definition of a modern editor.” Sauerberg said Welch has a “command of how to create distinct and powerful content for every platform and understands the importance of inclusivity and authenticity” for the Voice of GQ.
He added that Nelson’s run at the magazine was “very successful” and his “undeniable creativity and vision leaves a very strong foundation for Will to build upon.”
“Jim introduced GQ to a new audience, updating and modernizing the brand’s voice along the way,” Sauerberg wrote. “Under his leadership, GQ was nominated for 64 [Association of Magazine Editors awards] with multiple wins for feature writing, reporting, design and general excellence. And most recently, the title won its first Pulitzer.”
That award came from GQ’s profile last year of Dylann Roof, the shooter who in 2015 killed nine people in a Baptist church in South Carolina.
Nelson will remain with the title until December and wrote in a statement that his 21 total years at GQ, most as editor in chief, count for a “good, long, productive run, not to mention a ton of fun.”
“I leave feeling proud and confident in the excellence of the work we’ve done together, but more than that, grateful,” he continued. “When I add up all the emotions — and it is emotional to leave something you’ve loved — the overwhelming feeling is gratitude. Gratitude, mostly to the brilliant staffers and collaborators I’ve been lucky enough to work with. I woe it all to them. But now feels like a good time for me to figure out the next chapter of my life (it’ll be a good one, I promise).”
As for Welch, who in 2015 launched quarterly GQ Style and will take over in January, Nelson said GQ will “be in great hands.”
Welch said he’s “honored to succeed” Nelson, but that “the big opportunity in this environment is to be more daring than ever.”
Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and Condé’s artistic director, said Welch “is responsible for so much of what has propelled GQ forward and has a clear vision of where it will go in the future.” She noted that GQ’s audience has “grown substantially” in recent years and said his “keen eye for fashion and design and how to present it in a democratic way is a big part of his success with the reader.”
Wintour is now one of the only veteran Condé editors left. Nelson’s departure comes after that of Cindi Lieve, who spent 16 years leading Glamour; Graydon Carter, who spent 25 years leading Vanity Fair, and the impending exit-by sale of Stefano Tonchi, who’s been leading W for more than a decade. A number of other high-profile and long time (and highly paid) staffers at those same publications and more have left or been pushed into contract status.
Nelson also is the latest senior staffer to exit GQ, following the departures as fulltime employees of longtime creative director Jim Moore in December and fashion director Madeline Weeks a month earlier. Nelson’s exit, while surprising, wasn’t exactly shock: His tenure at GQ had been rumored to be shaky for the last 18 months or so, although his name had been bandied about as a potential successor to Carter at Vanity Fair.
All the change comes as Condé is working on belated digital overhaul after a century as a print publisher, known for spending lavishly on issues, its glossy image and its staff. A big area of focus in the digital push has been video, which is a major area of investment at Condé. In a memo on Nelson’s exit, even, the publisher made it a point to mention a July GQ video with Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott is now the most viewed for all of Condé, with 30 million views. The magazine’s web traffic also grew 43 percent year-over-year to 14 million unique views, as of July. Meanwhile, readers of its print editions are down over 5 percent year-over year, according to MPA-Association of Magazine Media.
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