Opinion: Don’t get rid of the publisher position just yet

Larry Burstein is the former publisher of New York.

Would I be the last publisher? I wondered when I noticed a headline in the New York Post in January that read, “Condé Nast Retires Publisher Title Amid Leadership Shakeup.”

Some digital companies like BuzzFeed and Mic are adding the publisher title and redefining it. But in the magazine media sector, Condé Nast, Time Inc, and other companies are using titles like chief industry officer, chief business officer and chief revenue officer to replace publisher. With magazine media, publisher connotes brand ambassador and the broad scope of work that includes. These new titles sound transactional. But maybe that’s the point.

Recently, I ran into a client from a few years back, an advertising director at one of New York’s most prestigious stores. She was curious about how things had changed.

I reminded her how we did most of our work in her office and once in awhile we’d have lunch. At lunch we caught up on our families, social lives, news and movies. When our plates were cleared and dessert and coffee on the way, we got down to business.

I would present my value proposition to gain a greater commitment from her brand, offer collaborative marketing partnerships to support it, and came away with a clear idea of what New York magazine needed to do to further strengthen this client relationship and increase business.

In contrast, when I had recently emailed her successor – now called a chief marketing officer, not advertising director, and invited her to lunch, she responded instantly in email with, “What’s the agenda?”

I typed back to the CMO, “We have some new functionality on the site and I want you to see it before it goes live.” In seconds she responded, “Could you send it over in a PowerPoint?” She’s that busy. I got it. Why leave the office for two hours to talk about something that could take five minutes?

Everything shifted in the 2008-2009 downturn. One person in an office started doing the work of many. So who had time to meet, no less have lunch. A CMO could pull planning stats off our electronic media kit, and anything beyond that could be put in a PowerPoint and emailed. That’s usually the way it goes now. No need for lunch. No need to see a person. Friendly, calls to clients about their plans are replaced by electronically submitted RFP’s. Questions, problems, challenges are worked out online. It’s a more efficient, more accurate, and a more performance driven way to work. Everyone gets more done.

In lots of ways the skill set required by a publisher has changed. With New York becoming a leading magazine title online, I considered changing my title as the job evolved.

But I liked being the publisher. To change over to chief revenue officer was something I resisted. To me it felt like a company-facing title, an internal position that occupied a useful description in the media company’s own hierarchy. I was gratified to learn that my successor would use the publisher’s title along with chief revenue officer. It’s the best possible combination to signal leadership within the company as well as outside, with clients and the public.

While I handily managed optimizing digital plans, sell through, yield management, ad experience, events, partnerships, and the scope of work of a CRO, my material value came into play in client meetings. When I was able to break through the electronic communication wall to show up and meet a client, there was an authentic exchange. Ideas sparked, proving that the best results occur when you combine human connection and digital innovation.

Image: Flickr


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