Mapping a New World Order at Condé Nast
A new strategy for the publisher’s sprawling international editions has scrambled org charts and reporting structures, ushering in the era of the “global editorial director”
When Condé Nast announced its “new global content strategy” last December, many of the specifics had yet to be put in place. As a manifesto published in April put it, the transformation was part of a “shift from a legacy magazine publisher to a multiplatform digitally led media company.” At the heart of this transformation has been bringing order to the global confederation of international spin-offs of its storied brands like Vogue and GQ, some of which are wholly owned and operated but many others mere licensees.
After Condé Nast’s chief content operations officer, Christiane Mack, brought in Boston Consulting Group, which had done past management consulting for Condé Nast, to help organize the new strategy, some of the proposals they produced provoked anxiety among the editorial ranks. The idea of increasing coordination between the editions of their titles around the world is generally supported, but the reorganization has reshuffled the power centers across Condé, producing winners and losers in a strategy that seems to promise to eventually centralize power across an imperial media company on which the sun never sets.
The biggest change has been the creation of global editorial directors to oversee brands across their various international incarnations. When GQ’s global editorial director Will Welch announced “the worldwide era of GQ” in his September 2021 editor’s letter, he noted “there are 21 unique editions of GQ around the world.” At the time of the December announcement, Welch was elevated from the post of GQ’s U.S. editor-in-chief, but other publications had yet to name these worldwide overseers, creating some notable differences.
Like Welch, the global editorial directors for Architectural Digest and Vogue (the latter going to Anna Wintour, who was also named Condé Nast’s chief content officer) were the top editors of the American titles who were elevated to the role of overseeing what had been largely siloed international editions. The exceptions were Condé Nast Traveller, where Divia Thani, editor-in-chief of the Indian edition, was appointed global lead, and Wired, where Gideon Lichfield, whose hiring was announced in March this year, was put in charge of the international editions including in the U.K., Italy, and Japan.
But at Vanity Fair, for example, Simone Marchetti, the editor in chief of Vanity Fair Italia, was placed in charge of the title’s three European editions, including ones in France and Spain, while Radhika Jones, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair in the U.S., retained her title and oversight of the U.K. edition. “Radhika and Simone are working very closely together to collaborate in other ways that make sense for the brand,” a spokesperson told Off the Record. Last week, Condé Nast appointed two global leads for Glamour naming the editor of the American edition of Glamour, Samantha Barry, as the Americas editorial director and giving Deborah Joseph, editor of Glamour U.K., the equally potent title of European editorial director.
(Disclosure: This reporter was a fact-checker for GQ from 2017 to 2019 and Sara Krolewski, who fact-checked this article, is under contract for a research assignment at Vanity Fair.)
The reordering of the global reporting structures has had impacts lower down the org chart. According to an insider, an unimplemented proposal from Boston Consulting Group would have involved mass layoffs affecting as much as 60 percent of the staff at some publications, with staff losses offset by hiring new employees in markets like Britain, India, and Mexico, where editors tend to be paid less than in the U.S. Another person at the company strongly pushed back on the notion that mass layoffs were ever considered. While the company’s overall headcount has grown by 3 percent this year, there have been some staff cuts at titles including Condé Nast Traveller and Architectural Digest in the wake of the reorganization. Though Condé Nast reportedly lost $100 million in 2019 on $900 million of revenues, the Financial Times reportedin April, “the company expects to break even in 2022 and reach double-digit operating profit margins by 2024.”
The global editorial plans are not simply a matter of cutting costs. The idea of sharing content between international editions, which has already been implemented at Vogue and GQ, has been presented as an innovative way for the different editions to come together. Wired is currently in the process of fashioning a global English-language newsroom combining editors and writers for its U.K. edition in London with its American staff in New York and San Francisco. So far, the non-English editions, including the Italian edition, which publishes single-topic “bookazines,” and the Japanese one, which resembles an art magazine, are not yet part of the global newsroom.
Ali Tufan Koç, who recently resigned as the editor-in-chief of GQ Turkey and director of Vogue Turkey — which are published under license by the Turkuvaz Media Group — did both jobs from Brooklyn. When he was first hired in early 2020, Tufan Koç said he thought he’d be able to travel back and forth to Istanbul, where the rest of each title’s staff work. When the pandemic prevented such cross-continental commutes, he said he was excited about the prospect of working closely with the other GQ editions. “I’ve been a part of this Condé Nast world on and off over a decade. I remember we weren’t that connected at all,” he said. “It was very exciting to be virtually in the same room and discussing the ideas together.”
But even in that instance, the collaboration wasn’t as seamless as some early planners had hoped. The insider familiar with some of the consultant proposals said ideas were floated around automating translation between editions, a sort of AI-powered Google Translate connecting their various editions. But ideas like those were never implemented, and when it came time to translate the cover story of GQ’s global issue in September, featuring The Weeknd, Tufan Koç said non-anglophone editions had to produce their own translations. “We have an English-native person on our team, so she handled the translation,” he said.
GQ Turkey did not carry the stories from the two most recent global GQ covers, featuring Matt Damon and Will Smith. “We decided not to participate,” Tufan Koç said. “Every market has its own decision whether to participate or not. Sometimes it’s a timing issue, sometimes it’s an editorial decision. Like, if there’s something else we believe we need to cover for the local market, we go with that. But sometimes we see mutual benefits to participate, to be a part of the global project, and then we do it.”
“At the end of the day,” he explained, “we have the last word and decision to find the right balance between the local and the global content.”