If there were any doubts left, it’s increasingly clear that the fusion of Condé Nast’s US and international divisions has been more of a takeover than a merger of equals.
This week, the company announced the exit of several of the company’s highest-level editors and executives in key European markets, including Germany, Spain and Italy.
The moves come two years after Condé Nast merged its international unit, which had previously operated independently, with its US division under the leadership of global chief executive Roger Lynch. Wolfgang Blau, who led the international unit prior to and after the reorganisation, along with other global responsibilities, left the company in September and will not be replaced.
In the last week, both Vogue Germany editor Christiane Arp and Vogue Spain editor Eugenia de la Torriente left their roles. It’s unclear whether they will be replaced with the same titles — a significant shift in a business once dubbed “The Vogue Company” by former Condé Nast International chief executive Jonathan Newhouse.
Natalia Gamero del Castillo, previously the head of the publisher’s business in Spain, was appointed managing director for Europe on Dec. 3. Fedele Usai, managing director of Italy, will exit at the end of the year. Country managing directors in the UK, France and Germany are expected to exit the company or take on different roles within the organisation as Gamero del Castillo sets a strategy, according to sources with knowledge of the business.
Some magazines are also pulling back on the number of issues they publish, covering both titles the company owns outright and those that it licenses. Vogue Germany (owned) and Vogue Poland (licensed) among the publisher’s titles that will reportedly be cutting print frequency in 2021, as well the German editions of Glamour and GQ. GQ Australia (licensed and operated by News Corp) will go all-digital after the December 2020 issue.
The changes in leadership will effectively rein in regional divisions that have operated as something like nation-states for decades, led by managing directors and editors-in-chief who fiercely competed with each other for content and revenue. Condé Nast owns and operates its publications in the US, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Latin America, Taiwan and UK, and operates its titles in China through a joint venture.
Control of the united Condé Nast is even more firmly in the hands of Roger Lynch, the chief executive brought in by the Newhouse family in April 2019. Jonathan Newhouse stepped down from running the international division after 20 years and became chairman of the global board.
Lynch presented his turnaround plan to the Condé Nast board in July, he told the Financial Times last month, which involves investing 10 percent of revenue into technology and content to support digital subscriptions and e-commerce. Developing content into film and television projects is another priority. This year will end in a loss for the publisher, as it has in recent years, and the executive set a goal to reach profitability in 2022.
Anna Wintour has also seen her portfolio steadily grow in the last two years, even as she recently faced allegations of leading “a workplace that sidelined women of colour,” according to the New York Times, at American Vogue.
In addition to overseeing US editorial, where every editor in chief except the New Yorker’s David Remnick reports to her, she is the publisher’s global content advisor. As part of that role, she is actively looking for a successor for Angelica Cheung, the Vogue China editor in chief, who exited in November. Last year, Wintour also took over the Vogue Global Network, the hub of digital content established under Blau in London in 2017 for the international Vogue teams to share.
Gamero del Castillo met with all employees of Condé Nast’s owned-and-operated European markets on Friday and promised more changes to come as well as more focus on digital.
The pandemic has been damaging for the publisher, which still depends on print advertising on most of its revenue. This year, luxury brands cut advertising budgets by between 30 to 80 percent, according to digital marketing agency Digital Luxury Group. An IAB report in September estimated a 33 percent drop in US print advertising sales in 2020.
In April and May, Condé Nast enacted layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions.
There have also been some high-profile exits this year. In addition to Cheung, Vogue Brasil chief executive Daniela Falcão and Condé Nast Italia editorial director Luca Dini have left in recent weeks.
Lynch was hired to chart a new path forward for the publisher that did not rely on print advertising and increased consumer revenue. Print and digital advertising represents 70 percent of its revenue, according to the FT.
Even as Lynch set up a leadership team in 2019 based almost entirely in New York, including its global chief revenue officer, local expertise remained a priority. Condé Nast International opened a spate of international Vogue editions over the last five years, including Vogue Greece, Vogue Poland, Vogue Singapore and Vogue Hong Kong (all licensed).
Since the merger, the global editors in chief of each title have met more frequently to discuss collaboration. In December 2019, the editors of Vogue jointly announced a “global mission statement,” and the September 2020 editions of Vogue all took on the same theme and published a jointly produced editorial.
The integration is yet another chapter in Condé Nast’s recent history of cost-cutting and streamlining, which is even going so far as to looking into an exit of their office lease at 1 World Trade Center in New York (it leased 20 floors in 2014 for 25 years, and has since sub-leased half.) The company’s most important brands are recognized worldwide, and smaller, licensed editions already pick up much of the content they publish from the larger, owned operations. In order to survive what has been a long and challenging transition to the digital era, these kinds of partnerships are essential.
Condé Nast is grappling with how to organize itself efficiently in a world that is both globalising and localising simultaneously. Its readers are interacting with content across borders, but local concerns about culture and taste remain key differentiators. For now, the publisher is choosing a more unified approach in the European region, which may signal further consolidation in the future.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 11 December 2020. A previous version misstated that 70 percent of Condé Nast’s revenue comes from print advertising. Print and digital revenue together represent 70 percent of revenue, according to the FT. A previous version also misstated that Vogue India was launched in the last five years. It debuted in 2007. This article was also updated on 13 December 2020. A previous version misstated that Luca Dini was editorial director of Vogue Italia. He was editorial director of Condé Nast Italia.