Despite Ups and Downs This Year, Condé Nast’s CEO Is Creating a Model That’s ‘Built to Last’

Its 5-year plan includes video, experience and investing in its top brands

Bob Sauerberg talked with Adweek about his five-year vision for Condé Nast. Getty Images

Condé Nast CEO Bob Sauerberg told Adweek about his five-year strategy to transform the company for the future in which the company projects to generate $600 million in new revenue.

Among new priorities will be video production, creating new revenue streams from brands, such as experiences to commerce, all while boosting its data platform and B2B services.

Condé has already invested heavily in video and announced it would launch three OTT channels for Wired, GQ and Bon Appétit.

“We’re defining what short-form video really can be in this market and in our marketplaces. We see that as a continued growth area,” Sauerberg said. “We’re going to pour more gas on it, and over time it will become our predominant content format.”

Don’t expect Condé to remain the same in these next five years.

“We’re going to have to continue to drive costs out of the business,” Sauerberg said. “There will be changes as we change our company, there will be changes on how money is spent, toward the areas that are growing and less toward the areas that aren’t.”

Sauerberg chatted more extensively about his vision for the company, its financial veracity and where that leaves W, Brides and Golf Digest.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Adweek: What brought about this vision?

Bob Sauerberg: I saw last year that we were going to have to do a combination of things. I want to expand our biggest brands and I want to be in a real leader in video, experiences and B2B in the top brands that I have. I felt like that was the best way for us to create value for the company.

As I looked out five years from now, I didn’t like the trends that I saw with my business. I wanted to create a new outcome that set a very clear path for the company I wanted us to be, that is built to last. Not just to make it for the next few years. That’s what set the whole planning off.

It isn’t just that this is the place you want to be if you’re a print expert, it has to also be if you’re a producer, if you’re an engineer who creates digital products. This place has to be the place you want to be. We needed some real focus on that, and we needed to really get the company to understand that … We’ve got to find a way culturally to really come together, around one plan with one focus and one mission.

In the past, I had directional things, like we’re going to build a digital business. Now what we have here is a very specific approach, and I think our company needed it. This plan gives us a clear roadmap, clear accountabilities. We kicked it off with the company yesterday.

How was the reception?

I think it was really positive, I think people really appreciated it. Human beings love to know what they should be doing, and so I think what will happen now is that there will be a downstream in activity as our leaders go to implement this in their areas of responsibility. There will be a lot of areas that will help the company focus and execute the strategies so the implications to every employee will start playing out over the next few months.

"I wanted to create a new outcome that set a very clear path for the company I wanted us to be, that is built to last. Not just to make it for the next few years."

But what we’re going to do at my level is repeat our intention, and we’re going to remain disciplined about executing this vision, these strategic choices and these initiatives. I believe when all these things happen, it makes the company grow, makes the company more profitable, makes the company a better place to work, and there are very clear outcomes that come as a result of it.

How did you come up with the vision for the company knowing that it’s not a one-size-fits-all for every brand?

That’s the beautiful part about our company. When you have strong brands and they all have a unique and special point of view, you have to respect that. When I kicked this plan off, I had the experts on the big growth areas give us their point of view of how things should work. I went to the brands and asked for their strategy work.

It focused us on things that were big enough to matter, that were unique to us and that the company and the brand had a right to win. It wasn’t like a project that was right for Glamour would be right for Vogue, because it isn’t. And it helped us get organized on creating the path to achieve, which was typically having the right talent, having the right product and having the right execution of it.

You’ve said that Brides, W and Golf Digest would go under a strategic review. Why those three titles, and how did they fit (or not) into your vision?

We had two really key criteria. They had to be financially viable and big enough to matter and they had to meaningfully impact our ambition for our growth areas. The brands that are here passed those tests and the brands that aren’t didn’t pass those tests.

But they’re really good brands, and we felt like there was real value to someone else. Golf, in particular, we looked very hard at that golf asset. There may be that we end up maintaining some level of participation. But it was a very professional process and, in many ways, pretty obvious. If I can make Vogue twice as big, the energy and the investment and the time required to do that is going to be a lot easier than trying to make W 10 times as big. That’s the choice I made.

We’ve seen Teen Vogue go from print to digital only. Why are those titles not going through the same process?

I don’t see the platform that we’re publishing content as the only driver of this. I think the platform that we’re publishing—whether it’s print, web, mobile, social, video—that’s going to constantly evolve with each brand. It’s really the aggregate of the brand. How does it deal with those two tests? The platform piece is really a function of managing the brands’ voice, the audience’s, the business model’s.

"There’s significant investment that we’ve put against these trends, and when you see them really take off, that’s when you pour more investment into it."

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.