Commentary

Conde Nast Shakeup Puts Spotlight On Anna Wintour

Condé Nast’s latest managerial shakeup amid a restructuring has renewed speculation that Anna Wintour, the publishing giant’s artistic director and editor in chief of Vogue, would leave the company.

There’s no reason for her to quit unless she’s forced to resign in a face-saving move, wants to retire to the country or gets a fabulous offer to run Instagram.

The rumor mill this week started grinding away after Condé Nast announced plans to combine its U.S. and international businesses. As a result, Bob Sauerberg, the company’s chief executive for the past eight years and a key Wintour supporter, will leave Condé Nast after it names a new global CEO.

The 69-year-old Wintour’s continued role at the company will depend on the decisions of the next CEO, who will be tasked with steering Condé Nast back to profitability. The company reportedly lost $120 million last year.

Only a few months ago, Sauerberg had outlined a plan to regain profitability in two years by diversifying its revenue away from advertising and shedding magazine titles, The Wall Street Journal reported. That plan reportedly included the sale of Brides, Golf Digest and W magazines.

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Sauerberg has worked at Condé Nast for 18 years and is considered one of Wintour’s closest allies. His departure will hasten hers, media columnist Lloyd Grove reported in the Daily Beast.

Wintour is said to have the support of Steven Newhouse, the chairman of Advance.net, the digital arm of Condé Nast’s corporate parent, Advance Publications. But Jonathan Newhouse, the Condé Nast International CEO who this week was named global chairman, has a frosty relationship with Wintour, media columnist Keith Kelly reported in the New York Post.

By all accounts, Wintour doesn’t want to leave Condé Nast, and she has been the most recognizable magazine editor for years. She embodies the sophistication of Vogue the same way that a transformational editor like Helen Gurley Brown personified Cosmopolitan for more than three decades.

Wintour in 2009 was the subject of the documentary “The September Issue,” which chronicled her producing a record 840-page edition with 727 ad pages in 2007. Vogue printed bigger issues in subsequent years, as fashion magazines reached a highwater mark before the 2008 financial crisis triggered a global recession.

(Wintour was also known as the alleged inspiration for the tyrannical editor Miranda Priestly in the best-selling novel "The Devil Wears Prada" and the subsequent 2006 movie.)

Losing an editorial platform like Vogue would really test the power of Wintour’s persona in an era of social influencers, who now have more sway in the fashion industry than magazine editors do.

Iconic magazine editors are part of a bygone era. Tina Brown, for one example, never generated as much as publicity as she did while editor of Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair or the New Yorker.

Meanwhile, reality TV star Kylie Jenner has 120 million followers on Instagram, and the power to the crush the stock of a social media company like Snap with a single tweet. She gets paid $1 million for a sponsored post on Instagram, according to the 2018 Instagram Rich List by Hopper HQ.

By comparison, Vogue has 20.7 million Instagram followers, which is quite respectable for a fashion magazine. Part of the difficulty for magazines is that they no longer have a place as an intermediary between readers and advertisers. Brands can reach key audiences directly on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

Gucci, for example, has 30 million Instagram followers, making it one of the most popular brands on social media. The designer’s feed of imagery includes shoppable tags that let followers tap their phone screens to buy products instantly.

For Condé Nast to adapt to the Instagram era, it needs to generate buzz and reestablish its role as a key tastemaker. And Wintour has impeccable taste.

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