Condé Nast is closing off a headline-grabbing year of cultural turmoil and financial crisis with an editorial overhaul, signalling a strategic consolidation kicked off by the merger of its US and international divisions last year is only just beginning.
Under the company’s new structure, its largest titles will be streamlined under a group of global editors, marking a break from its historic structure where local fiefdoms that battled it out for content and advertising spend.
The strategy is intended to strengthen the company’s access and advertising leverage globally, as it scrambles to compete in an increasingly challenging market and evolve past its glossy heyday of excess and elitism.
The priority is profitability, which global chief executive Roger Lynch told the Financial Times last month is a goal set for 2022. Condé Nast, like many media companies, faced deep financial challenges during the pandemic, exacerbating losses from previous years as it weans itself off print advertising, its primary and shrinking revenue source.
In recent years, the publisher has cut costs as it invests in digital and video, including from the top of its mastheads. Editors are now more likely to have multiple roles across titles, and most of the celebrity editors from Condé Nast’s glitziest era have left. The publications have also started to share more editorial content, which can be costly to produce and can, depending on the talent involved, have global appeal.
One constant is Anna Wintour. Under the new organisation, the American Vogue editor will become even more powerful overseeing all content at the company except The New Yorker. She will also set the strategy for Vogue as its global editorial director.
The appointment comes after a year of speculation over Wintour’s future after a very public cultural and racial reckoning at the company this year resurfaced long-standing rumours her job was on the line. Meanwhile, other longstanding editors and executives left the company this year.
But Wintour has consistently enjoyed the backing of the publisher’s leadership and is thought to hold onto advertising relationships that the company cannot afford to lose.
“Anna’s appointment represents a pivotal moment for Condé Nast as her ability to stay ahead in connecting with new audiences, while cultivating and mentoring some of today’s brightest talent in the industry, has made her one of media’s most distinguished executives,” said Lynch in the statement announcing her promotion and the new content strategy.
While Wintour is synonymous with Condé Nast’s past golden era, she also ushered in a new generation of editors in recent years. When she was appointed to lead content at the publisher’s US division in 2013, she installed a generation of new editors at Self, Teen Vogue and Glamour (which have since shut down their print editions), Lucky (which closed after a joint venture meant to turn it into an e-commerce business), Vanity Fair, GQ and Architectural Digest.
Other executives to score a promotion on Tuesday include British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, who was named European editorial director. He takes over the magazine’s editorial operations in its owned and operated regions — France, Germany, Spain and Italy — clarifying the future of the publication in those markets following the exit of the editors-in-chief for Germany and Spain last week.
Enninful, British Vogue’s first Black editor and a celebrity in his own right, is one of the most celebrated editors within the company for his work at the title since 2017, where he champions diversity and is shaking up the visual approach. He is also seen as Wintour’s most likely successor.
Elsewhere, GQ, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler have all been consolidated under one global head. Wintour’s right hand in the US, long-time Vogue director Christiane Mack, was named chief content operations officer.
Though Vogue, GQ, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler are the first Condé Nast publications to be unified under this new content structure, there is a similar plan for the rest of the magazines coming in 2021. Condé Nast owns and operates its publications in the US, France, Spain, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Latin America, Taiwan and UK, and operates its titles in China through a joint venture. (The rest of its international editions are operated as licenses with local publishers, and are not impacted by this new structure.)
Most but not all of the newly-elevated global leaders are based in the US, as the publisher cements more power in America following last year’s merger.
But the US-centred shift raises questions about how the publisher plans to produce relevant coverage in local markets where trends and politics shift widely.
It’s a challenge for the publisher; creating content that resonates more with readers than advertisers is key to Condé Nast’s future. Lynch, who was hired after the merger to set a new path to profitability that did not rely on print advertising, has sought increased consumer revenue through subscriptions, events and other products. Lynch told The Wall Street Journal that print ads now represent less than half of the publisher’s revenue.
The new global editors will set the “content strategy, vision and tone” for their publications across regions, in print, online and video, according to a statement from the publisher. Their strategies are expected to see more regional editors-in-chief exit or transition roles as the new structure rolls out in the coming months.
At Architectural Digest, American editor-in-chief Amy Astley got the global role. She has worked for Wintour since 1993, and launched and led Teen Vogue until 2016. Architectural Digest Germany’s editor-in-chief Oliver Jahn was named deputy global editor.
At GQ, American editor-in-chief Will Welch, who has shifted the idea of masculinity in the magazine’s coverage, is the global editorial director and Adam Baidawi, the editor of GQ Middle East, is the deputy.
At Condé Nast Traveler, the editor-in-chief in India since its launch in 2010, Divia Thani, was named to the global role. Jesse Ashlock, the editor of the American edition, will be her deputy.
Vanity Fair, which has fewer global editions, was not given a head editor. Vanity Fair Italia’s Simone Marchetti, who has expanded the scope of the weekly magazine during the pandemic, has been appointed to oversee the European editions of the title in France and Spain as well as Italy. Vanity Fair’s American and British editions will remain under editor-in-chief Radhika Jones.
The editorial unification mirrors a similar strategy coming to fruition on the commercial side of the publisher, specifically in the European region where former Condé Nast Spain chief executive Natalia Gamero del Castillo was promoted to managing director of Europe in December. The news was followed by the exit of Fedele Usai, managing director of Italy.
Gamero del Castillo’s appointment came after the exit of Condé Nast’s chief operating officer Wolfgang Blau, its last remaining senior executive not based in the New York headquarters.
“As we look to the future of Condé Nast, we will use the unmatched combination of our global reach and local knowledge and identity of our titles to tell the most important, inclusive and inspiring stories of our time,” said Wintour in a statement.