Bob Sauerberg’s field promotion to president of Condé Nast was a surprise — and yet, after watching him in action with CEO Chuck Townsend a few weeks ago, it isn’t much of a shock. True, Townsend didn’t give any hint that his own job was about to be split as he stood outside a meeting room in the publisher’s Times Square headquarters explaining how Gourmet Live was part of a new consumer-centric strategy.
But Sauerberg, then the group president of consumer marketing, came off as the go-to guy for putting consumers, not advertisers, at the center of Condé Nast’s business. (David Carey, who left a few days later to run Hearst’s magazine unit, was at the same event but in the background.) As the company escalates its digital R&D efforts, it’s been up to Sauerberg to connect those dots to success in the short term — and to the long-term strategy of making more money directly from consumers who feel passionate about Conde’s niches and brands. The results from the first months of iPad apps show some of the efforts literally are paying off: through June, users paid for 182,000 downloads of Wired, GQ and Vanity Fair.
As Sauerberg stressed when we spoke soon after his promotion was made public, it’s still a very small business but it’s an example of what he has to accomplish as president of Condé Nast. Some excerpts from the interview:
— Conde DNA: Asked to explain concisely how Condé Nast was going to deliver on this strategy, Sauerberg replied: “Our DNA at Condé Nast is content in how we start the cultural conversation in everything we do. We are now going to get organized to develop our content and our brands in a way that starts with the foundation of the magazine but also extends into other platforms and in a way that develops a more balanced revenue stream for us.” He admitted ruefully, “That’s a mouthful.”
But how is Condé Nast going to get users to continue to pay more digital access than they do for print? How do they get past blow-card pricing? “You start with creating content experiences that people really value and you make it easy for them to consume and to buy. I think that’s the foundation of all of this.” The R&D process is a big part of that. “We’re trying to understand what it takes to move the needle with them. You don