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Smith leaves Elle on a high note. Not only does her name sit atop those of Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers and Elle Decor’s Margaret Russell on those titles’ mastheads (as of last spring, when she was given the chief brand officer title and oversight of editorial), but Elle finished 2009 with more advertising pages than rival Vogue (although this may have come at the expense of revenue) — with 2,082 pages, a 20 percent drop from 2008, compared with Vogue’s 1,988 pages, down 31 percent from the previous year, according to data from Publisher’s Information Bureau. Then there is the magazine’s forthcoming style coffee table book, “The Ellements of Style,” out this fall, and the title’s currently unrivaled television presence. During Smith’s tenure, the magazine signed on as sponsor for “Project Runway” on Bravo and, more recently, became the place of employment for Olivia Palermo on MTV’s “The City,” providing her boss, Joe Zee, and a rival, public relations director Erin Kaplan. The third season begins April 27.
So why would Smith depart French-owned Hachette for 4 Times Square? “When you end the year [at] number one, what do you do next year?” Smith told WWD. “So, new challenges.” Smith said she had been talking with Condé Nast “on and off for a couple of months,” stemming from a conversation she’d had with Florio over drinks. “My contract was coming up for renewal and I never saw myself going anywhere. I love Elle and thought I’d retire here, but then I had a drink with Tom. He said, ‘Could you ever see yourself doing for food what you did for fashion with Elle?’” Smith recalled. “I had never even thought about it….Then I started to think, you know, what’s the difference between food and fashion? Not much.” Regarding her plans for Bon Appetit and Gourmet, Smith said she hopes to breathe life back into Gourmet — which was shuttered last October to much outcry — perhaps creating a “custom magazine,” whereby an advertiser such as Kraft or Target would produce a newsstand Gourmet magazine and own every ad. Other ideas include working with retailers on Gourmet-branded items, as well as television projects and events for both titles. Then, Smith indicated, there is the potential of the Web — Bon Appetit and Gourmet form Epicurious.com, which is part of Condé Nast Digital.
“What we’re planning to do in Condé Nast is build a significant food group,” Florio said, noting the significant growth in the food category for print advertising spending last year and pointing to its TV potential. “Basically, [we want] to align all of our assets that are food content assets and focus the positioning of all of them.” He was looking for someone who had experience “working across platforms,” he said. “Carol is a brilliant media executive and I think when she looked at the growth potential of this food category at a time when it’s hard to find growth anywhere, she got turned on — she liked it.”
There are perhaps others reasons for hiring Smith. According to insiders, Florio on Wednesday was heard crowing, “The best offense is a good defense,” regarding hiring one of his biggest competitors, both personally and with regard to Vogue, from Elle.
At Bon Appetit, Smith succeeds the title’s vice president and publisher Paul Jowdy, who has been given the new position of executive director of sales for Bon Appetit and Gourmet and will report to Smith, according to a Condé Nast spokeswoman. Barbara Fairchild, Bon Appetit’s editor in chief, continues to report to Thomas J. Wallace, editorial director of Condé Nast.
Meanwhile, Elle Group vice president and publisher Anne Welch will be acting chief brand officer until a permanent successor is found.