Condé Conundrum

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul cheers for Condé Nast’s recovery.

Nearly half of Alphabet City is set in gossipy corridors of magazine publisher Condé Nast—my time there I loved dearly.  So it is with great sadness that I witness the drama unfolding at the luxury giant.  Every day friends and former colleagues tell stories of magazine closures, layoffs and forced pay cuts.  Full disclosure: I’m a freelancer for Bon Appétit and have contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, the latter a client of my firm Tentpole NY until recent budget cuts.

Here’s what bothers me: the media coverage has been full of schadenfreude—that the cocky company is getting its comeuppance.  But I, for one, am rooting for you.  I was there when you survived the online boom that many thought signaled the “death of old media,” and I’m hoping that you’ll pull this out again.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.  In ’99, I believed in the strategy—the printed glossy pages of Condé Nast’s magazines offered something unavailable on the web: trusted names providing critical points of view produced in topnotch environments.  Today, I’m not privy to the strategy—but as an outsider it seems that McKinsey cost cutting is king.

Here’s why that worries me: “If you’re not meaningfully unique, then you better be cheap.  And cheap is not a winning business strategy,” says business guru Doug Hall, another current client and CEO of Eureka! Ranch.  Doug develops innovation strategies for everyone from Proctor & Gamble to the US Dept of Commerce.  I’ve known Doug for years—he actually makes his debut in Alphabet City in Episode 10 just before I joined Condé when I did publicity for his charity stunt to the North Pole.  Chapter 3 of Doug’s book North Pole Tenderfoot features me as a snooty NY publicist—imagine that.

Here’s what I hope: Condé has an innovative trick up its sleeve.  A company that defined much of pop-culture and luxury in the last several decades surely has the talent to dazzle again.  I say bring it on.

Brief station announcement: In addition to my musings about life in NYC, this blog promotes my humorous memoir Alphabet Cityread Episode 1 about Whoopi Goldberg and a mishap with her Oscar now.

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