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Condé Nast’s New Culture Collection Tsar, Chris Mitchell: Bringing the Diverse Strength & Power of Individual Brands Together For A Solid Future – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Condé Nast’s Chief Business Officer…

November 1, 2017

“I’m one of those people who believe that despite all of the changes we’ve seen, magazines have a very important place, their print components as well, and I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon. I think they may shift and change in frequency and circulation size and advertising, but they are a very important part of this culture and I think people continue to recognize that.” Chris Mitchell…

The power of the brand as a whole is a vital component to the health wheel of publishing, and when you have a very significant number of powerful brands, bringing them together into a collection of culture is an innovative and intriguing direction. And Condé Nast certainly has the number of powerful, individual brands to make that collection even stronger than it was, especially with the right person moving that force into the future.

Chris Mitchell is definitely the right person. Chris has held the responsibility of publisher and chief revenue officer of Vanity Fair since 2014, and now has become the chief business officer for seven different brands under the Condé Nast banner. From The New Yorker to Vanity Fair to W to Teen Vogue to them platform to the Fashion Enterprise and the Entertainment Enterprise, Chris sees the diversity of demographics as a plus not a minus, and is determined to use the power of the individual brand to reinforce each other and bring even more strength and solidarity to the company.

I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about this new position he finds himself in. Chris said he is both excited and busy as he slides into the driver’s seat of his shiny, new machine. Busy, because of the hectic nature of his schedule, excited because of the possibilities this opportunity offers Condé Nast. New revenue streams, new advertising business; just the entire move seems right and he’s ready to take on the challenge. It’s the perfect time and he’s looking forward to a broader spectrum of responsibilities and possibilities.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is the Tsar of Culture in a Collection of diverse strength and power – Chris Mitchell, chief business officer, The Condé Nast Culture Collection.

But first the sound-bites:

On being named chief business officer of the new Condé Nast Culture Collection: Obviously, it’s been a little bit hectic in this transition phase, but it’s also been really fun. It’s giving me new and different things to do, which I’m enjoying a lot. And that’s been rewarding.

On the difference between his role as publisher, and today as chief business officer and whether it’s just semantics: I’m sure some of it is semantics, because obviously much of the role that I did before as a publisher, I’m still doing as a chief business officer. I’d say the notable difference is as our business evolves, the company sort of charged all of the CBOs with thinking even more broadly than the advertising responsibilities that we previously thought of ourselves as really owning as a publisher.

On whether overseeing the pure digital entity “Them” required a mind adjustment for him or it just came naturally: I’m sure the dynamic will be slightly different because it is digital-only. And The New Yorker, as you probably well know, has become a very sizeable digital business; something like The New Yorker is really evenly split between its print and digital revenues, which I think is another interesting dynamic. So, they are further along in this evolution of truly becoming a balanced business between print and digital. But Vanity Fair is a sizeable, $20 million digital business in and of itself, so while there is even a certainly larger print business at Vanity Fair to run, we’ve had experience running a pretty big digital business already.

On whether he envisions a day where everyone will be talking about brand advertising, rather than print or digital or print plus digital advertising: I can tell you that we’re experimenting with some things in some of the enterprise accounts and enterprise selling that we’re doing. What we want our advertising partners to really think of the relationship with Condé Nast as, is a marketing relationship. We want that investment to be a holistic investment as a marketing partner now.

On whether today it’s about the Condé Nast brand as a whole, rather than individual entities having their own brands, such as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker: I think this can happen on an enterprise level, on a Condé Nast level, where we’re going to marketing partners and saying Condé Nast, with its 100 million consumers and multi 100 million digital and social footprints is something that we can aggregate across all of our brands for these partners. But at the same time, individual brands, or individual brand collections, The Culture Collection being a great example, I can go to a marketing partner and give them some real scale across the various titles and various demographics within The Culture Collection.

On the biggest challenge he’s faced so far and how he overcame it: As you said, it’s early days, so I’m sure I’m yet to face my biggest challenge, but I think broadly speaking, this is an important time management exercise for me. So, I’d like to think that where I’ve found success at this company has been in building teams of incredibly talented people and frankly, staying out of their way to the degree that I am letting them do their job that they’re imminently capable of doing.

On whether he feels overwhelmed by all of the brands he oversees and all of the different demographics that they represent: No, I think that’s what’s great about it. And what’s interesting is, and again, I think if we look at the company’s strategy behind this, and perhaps this collection more than the other; what S. I. Newhouse was so brilliant at in his long career at Condé Nast was really having his finger on the pulse of culture. He shaped it with all of the magazines at the time and the editors and the choices that he made, so to me culture is really the heart of what this company stands for. And this collection is notable for just what you’ve pointed out; as a collection it really spans the full breadth of our culture in so many ways demographically, not even just age.

On whether he thinks it will be smooth sailing ahead despite all of the changes, or that he has some rough seas to get through: This year has certainly been a challenging one for media companies. In our case, and in all of the media companies cases, I think we’ve all seen the print lines have been somewhat challenging this year as the shift continues to digital. We’ve all seen a decline in our print advertising, but a market growth in our digital advertising. I would like to believe that going into 2018, we’re going to see a stabilization of print. I think that we have reached a level where print has just found its natural level among the other platforms. And I expect that we will continue to see a real rise in digital display, but more even in video and in the growth of social.

On what message he gives his team when they leave their offices to sell the various brands in the collection: I like to use the old saw that I got from my mother, which is: if you want something done, give it to a busy person. And I think while we’re still integrating these various brands into one collection, to answer your question honestly, it’s going to be a work in progress to really figure out what is that collective message.

On anything else he’d like to add: It’s early days, but it’s exciting. For the last six months, we were a smaller collection, which was made up of just Vanity Fair and W, two brands that have a lot of similarities and fit well together, but it didn’t fully make a collection. And what pleases me about this is, as you noted, you get a real gestalt in putting these brands together, and in some cases, seemingly very different brands, with The New Yorker and Teen Vogue. But the whole is greater than some of its parts, in how they can all fit together in a collection. And that’s exceptionally exciting for me.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: If I’m lucky enough for this to be where I spend my whole career, and certainly I have more years behind me than ahead of me, I’d guess, I would want people to say he put his mark on the very important thing that Condé Nast stands for. And if I could be known as someone who worked very hard to make Condé Nast an even more successful place than I found it, and the brands that I’ve had the pleasure of working on, better when I left them than when I started, I’ll feel like it was a life’s work well done.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: My wife works at Condé Nast as well, you may recall that, Pilar Guzmán, she’s the editor of Condé Nast Traveler. We have two boys, one’s a teenager and one is almost, so like a lot of working families, it’s somewhat of a juggling act in our hectic schedules. The truth is I, as does Pilar, we go home every night that we possibly can and try to have as quiet and as normal a life with our two kids that we can.

On what keeps him up at night: I’d say that it’s seven different things: Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Teen Vogue, Them, W, our fashion and entertainment business as a whole. But all that said, I sleep pretty well. And I think if I can spend more of my time thinking about new ways that we’re going to market, that we are working with our partners, that we are thinking about everything from the pricing strategies, the value proposition, the ways that we can continue to innovate in our marketing, the ways that we can make this collection and each of its individual brands stronger; the more of my time that I can lie awake excitedly thinking about those things and trust in really strong people to continue to manage the advertising, revenue piece, I’m a happy man.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Mitchell, chief business officer, The Condé Nast Culture Collection.

Samir Husni: Chris, you’re now the “Culture Tsar” of The Condé Nast Culture Collection. (Laughs)

Chris Mitchell: (Laughs too) I like Tsar along with culture, I hadn’t thought of that yet.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on being named chief business officer of The Condé Nast Culture Collection. I’m sure you’ve been extremely busy.

Chris Mitchell: Thank you. Obviously, it’s been a little bit hectic in this transition phase, but it’s also been really fun. It’s giving me new and different things to do, which I’m enjoying a lot. And that’s been rewarding.

Samir Husni: You’re overseeing this new Culture division at Condé Nast, which includes Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, W, Teen Vogue and Them. What’s the difference between the title of publisher and chief business officer? Is this just semantics or is there a difference?

Chris Mitchell: I’m sure some of it is semantics, because obviously much of the role that I did before as a publisher, I’m still doing as a chief business officer. I’d say the notable difference is as our business evolves, the company sort of charged all of the CBOs with thinking even more broadly than the advertising responsibilities that we previously thought of ourselves as really owning as a publisher.

And so, that’s probably your big difference is that the chief business officer role encompasses our business development, broader partnerships, and M&A work that we think could be interesting for our collections, and particularly in that vein, as we grow these digital footprints, Bob Sauerberg (Chief Executive Officer & President – Condé Nast) has charged us with really bringing back to him this holistic view of what other things we should be building, buying, and partnering with in the digital space to really accelerate that growth.

So, the job does become broader, especially in my case, since this has become a fairly sizeable collection. And by the way, in addition to the collection, I also oversee our enterprise relationships for the fashion category for the company, as well as for the entertainment and media categories. I’ve got teams who really work on the enterprise products selling for the whole company around the fashion relationships and also around the entertainment relationships.

But in addition to those things; we’re constantly thinking about how can we really grow this business and I now have VPs underneath me who I’m asking to step up and take on more of what frankly used to be a publisher’s role, really, owning that advertising revenue piece of the business.

Samir Husni: You’ve been publisher of many magazines before, and now you’re also dealing with a pure digital entity with Them. Did that require a mind adjustment or did it just come natural?

Chris Mitchell: I’m sure the dynamic will be slightly different because it is digital-only. And The New Yorker, as you probably well know, has become a very sizeable digital business; something like The New Yorker is really evenly split between its print and digital revenues, which I think is another interesting dynamic. So, they are further along in this evolution of truly becoming a balanced business between print and digital.

But Vanity Fair is a sizeable, $20 million digital business in and of itself, so while there is even a certainly larger print business at Vanity Fair to run, we’ve had experience running a pretty big digital business already. And frankly speaking, the evolution that I’ve gone through as a publisher, a chief business officer over the last five years, has been that digital education. That self-education that we’ve all had to give ourselves as the world has moved to a more digital advertising model and as a lot of our clients have shifted more of their money from print to digital.

Samir Husni: Do you envision a day where everyone will be talking about just the “brand” advertising, rather than print versus digital or print plus digital?

Chris Mitchell: I can tell you that we’re experimenting with some things in some of the enterprise accounts and enterprise selling that we’re doing. What we want our advertising partners to really think of the relationship with Condé Nast as, is a marketing relationship. We want that investment to be a holistic investment as a marketing partner now.

And that’s more than just words or semantics. That’s a sizeable shift from what we’ve done before, where we were looking at these as individual platforms and frankly where we probably had some legacy behavior toward protecting one platform versus another. I think those days are gone. We’re not doing service to the brand and we’re not doing service to our marketing partners if we’re here trying to protect print. That isn’t our job. And I think there will be a natural evolution and that this will level itself.

What level of print advertising a brand is doing is going to depend entirely on the brand itself; what category of advertising that brand is in, and then a lot of other things that about the maturity or development of that brand. But if we let those brands decide, find a natural level of what is the role of print; what is the role of digital; and then importantly, what is the role of other marketing services that Condé Nast is invested in the last couple of years, things like Data Solutions, things like Branded Content and Experiential Events. Those are all huge areas of growth for this company. And we want our partners to invest in those areas, as much as they’re investing in our traditional media areas.

Samir Husni: If I understand you correctly, you’re moving in the direction of Condé Nast being the brand, rather than individual brands, such as the Vanity Fair brand and The New Yorker brand?

Chris Mitchell: It’s two things. I think this can happen on an enterprise level, on a Condé Nast level, where we’re going to marketing partners and saying Condé Nast, with its 100 million consumers and multi 100 million digital and social footprints is something that we can aggregate across all of our brands for these partners. But at the same time, individual brands, or individual brand collections, The Culture Collection being a great example, I can go to a marketing partner and give them some real scale across the various titles and various demographics within The Culture Collection.

I can also go to them on a brand-by-brand and say, let’s talk about how you can work with The New Yorker specifically or Vanity Fair specifically and still be able to touch a lot of different areas. They can do digital advertising, print advertising; we can monetize our social media with our partners. We can do native advertising across any of those platforms. They can also do events and sponsorships and things like that, things that are non-media expenditures that are obviously very important marketing expenditures. And as this company has evolved, even a single brand partner, a New Yorker specific advertiser, should be able to take advantage of an entire suite of marketing services that The New Yorker itself, or that Condé Nast can offer.

So, these are brand conversations; these are collection conversations; and then these are also Condé Nast-wide conversations. And I think that’s the mix that allows us to be the most versatile partner and frankly the best in overall business.

Samir Husni: You’ve been less than two weeks on this job; what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Chris Mitchell: As you said, it’s early days, so I’m sure I’m yet to face my biggest challenge, but I think broadly speaking, this is an important time management exercise for me. So, I’d like to think that where I’ve found success at this company has been in building teams of incredibly talented people and frankly, staying out of their way to the degree that I am letting them do their job that they’re imminently capable of doing.

And as I explained to my bosses when we were doing this transition, I was very clear-eyed about the fact that there was going to be a lot on my plate and it will require me to empower and delegate to the really strong VPs and executive directors, and very senior sales and marketing talent that we already have at this company.

What we’re in the middle of right now is putting the finishing touches on what that organization looks like, but I know already that it’s going to depend very greatly on the very talented VPs of revenue and marketing who will be working on the various brands.

The other thing that’s interesting and what I love about this, and given how long that I’ve been at this company, I worked at The New Yorker for three years, from 2001 to 2004 as the associate publisher then with David Remnick, and I regard that as the three probably most enjoyable years I’ve spent at this company, so to be back working at The New Yorker is a privilege as much as it is a great challenge. I’m lucky in the sense that I get to now dip into a lot of different things. The New Yorker has a huge consumer business, which will be a great learning experience for the rest of the brands in this collection.

I think where we’re going to see real synergy is where we can apply the strength of one brand and have that work for the other brands. The advocacy and millennial audience and buzz of Teen Vogue; the exciting and experimental project that is Them; the consumer business of Vanity Fair; we’re doing some very interesting things with W to really lean into its oversized format for print; and then of course Vanity Fair, which has a host of things from the experiential conferences, to the web strategy we put into place a couple of years ago with these three different verticals. So, we’re going to have a lot of learning across all of these brands that I think will benefit the collection, and hopefully the company.

Samir Husni: Do you feel overwhelmed, like you’re almost reaching every age group, from the teens, all the way to the aging baby boomers?

Chris Mitchell: No, I think that’s what’s great about it. And what’s interesting is, and again, I think if we look at the company’s strategy behind this, and perhaps this collection more than the other; what S. I. Newhouse was so brilliant at in his long career at Condé Nast was really having his finger on the pulse of culture. He shaped it with all of the magazines at the time and the editors and the choices that he made, so to me culture is really the heart of what this company stands for. And this collection is notable for just what you’ve pointed out; as a collection it really spans the full breadth of our culture in so many ways demographically, not even just age.

I also think what’s interesting is most of the individual titles within The Culture Collection have that really broad range. The New Yorker is a prime example of being incredibly relevant to millennials, just take a subway anywhere in New York and look at the number of New Yorker tote bags that you see on 20-somethings, and as you noted, all the way up to aging baby boomers and beyond.

And we have great examples like that with all of the brands, where the breadth of the readership, age-wise and otherwise, is much broader that you might even expect. Something like a Teen Vogue that actually has a median age of 24, and quite a few readers, because of its female empowerment message, skew far older than what the title would suggest.

So, this is going to be an exercise in dispelling certain notions, even within the individual brands, as well as using the breadth of the collection to be that much more powerful as a marketing partner for our advertisers.

Samir Husni: As you plan for the changes, such as the editorship of Vanity Fair; how do you think that particular ship will continue to sail? Is it smooth sailing ahead or maybe some rough seas?

Chris Mitchell: This year has certainly been a challenging one for media companies. In our case, and in all of the media companies cases, I think we’ve all seen the print lines have been somewhat challenging this year as the shift continues to digital. We’ve all seen a decline in our print advertising, but a market growth in our digital advertising.

I would like to believe that going into 2018, we’re going to see a stabilization of print. I think that we have reached a level where print has just found its natural level among the other platforms. And I expect that we will continue to see a real rise in digital display, but more even in video and in the growth of social. Our company is betting big that video is going to continue to be a very strong growth area, and an area where we really can excel as a company, as we compete with things like linear TV. A great number of dollars go into video advertising in non-linear formats, and I think Condé Nast can and should be the major player within the upscale lifestyle space.

Samir Husni: As the Culture Tsar now at Condé Nast, what’s the message that you give your teams before they go out from their offices? You have The Culture Collection; you have the two enterprises, the fashion and entertainment categories. I once read a quote from Bob Sauerberg saying that he doesn’t motivate people; he hires motivated people…

Chris Mitchell: I think that’s a great quote. And I certainly second that. I like to use the old saw that I got from my mother, which is: if you want something done, give it to a busy person. And I think while we’re still integrating these various brands into one collection, to answer your question honestly, it’s going to be a work in progress to really figure out what is that collective message.

But we’re going to have a matrixed organization here, within this collection, where we will have some people who are dedicated to advertising categories across the entire collection, and we’ll have other people dedicated to specific brands. And I think that’s going to be the right way. Some of the advertising categories certainly learned this on a company level within the last reorganization. These advertising categories behave differently and should be staffed and structured differently.

So, what we consider the inventive fashion accounts should probably be handled on a more specific brand-by-brand basis, those are very hand-sold, handheld relationships. And other categories, like perhaps automotive, can be done across the whole collection, where you’ll get more power from the breadth of brands.

And where we are going out to the market with a collection story; I would point back to what I said earlier, that’s the beating heart of this company, our ability to shape and reflect culture. So, we have this great mantle of responsibility within this collection, that we can go out and speak to so many advertisers and categories because we’re at the real center of relevance for that.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chris Mitchell: No, it’s early days, but it’s exciting. For the last six months, we were a smaller collection, which was made up of just Vanity Fair and W, two brands that have a lot of similarities and fit well together, but it didn’t fully make a collection. And what pleases me about this is, as you noted, you get a real gestalt in putting these brands together, and in some cases, seemingly very different brands, with The New Yorker and Teen Vogue. But the whole is greater than some of its parts, in how they can all fit together in a collection. And that’s exceptionally exciting for me.

I’m one of those people who believe that despite all of the changes we’ve seen, magazines have a very important place, their print components as well, and I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon. I think they may shift and change in frequency and circulation size and advertising, but they are a very important part of this culture and I think people continue to recognize that.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Chris Mitchell: That’s a good question. I’ve essentially spent my entire career at Condé Nast. I’ve left just once to do a startup for about a year and then I came right back to Condé Nast. And given the tumult in our industry, and obviously the changes in our company, I haven’t for a day taken lightly the honor of working here.

If I’m lucky enough for this to be where I spend my whole career, and certainly I have more years behind me than ahead of me, I’d guess, I would want people to say he put his mark on the very important thing that Condé Nast stands for. And if I could be known as someone who worked very hard to make Condé Nast an even more successful place than I found it, and the brands that I’ve had the pleasure of working on, better when I left them than when I started, I’ll feel like it was a life’s work well done.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Chris Mitchell: My wife works at Condé Nast as well, you may recall that, Pilar Guzmán, she’s the editor of Condé Nast Traveler. We have two boys, one’s a teenager and one is almost, so like a lot of working families, it’s somewhat of a juggling act in our hectic schedules. The truth is I, as does Pilar, we go home every night that we possibly can and try to have as quiet and as normal a life with our two kids that we can.

Time management is time management. I think it doesn’t matter if you have the top job at this company or you’ve got a junior job here, two people working, whether you have kids or you have pets, whether you have responsibilities in your life otherwise, everyone has a juggling act. We don’t feel like ours is more difficult or complicated, and there’s certainly no sympathy that we’re looking for here. I think everybody in this economy is working harder than ever to make sure that they’re staying ahead and contributing, and all that stuff. So, I don’t think we have anymore pressures or time pressures than most people. We lead a very normal life. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Chris Mitchell: I’d say that it’s seven different things: Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Teen Vogue, Them, W, our fashion and entertainment business as a whole. But all that said, I sleep pretty well. And I think if I can spend more of my time thinking about new ways that we’re going to market, that we are working with our partners, that we are thinking about everything from the pricing strategies, the value proposition, the ways that we can continue to innovate in our marketing, the ways that we can make this collection and each of its individual brands stronger; the more of my time that I can lie awake excitedly thinking about those things and trust in really strong people to continue to manage the advertising, revenue piece, I’m a happy man.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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