Media World Turns to Agencies for Leaders

The transition from analog to digital has been messy for media companies, particularly since many media company CEOs are not digital natives. That can mean going outside to find new blood. In the past year, three major media companies — Time Inc., The Weather Channel and now Newsweek/Daily Beast — have cherry-picked ad agency execs as CEOs.

Laura Lang, CEO of Time Inc. and a former CEO of Digitas, was hired in November of last year. David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel, also a former CEO of Digitas, as well as a co-founder of Vivaki, went to TWC in January of this year. And this week, Baba Shetty, chief strategy officer at Hill Holliday, was introduced as the new CEO of NewsBeast.

While going from the buy-side to the sell-side is not unknown, what makes these moves interesting is that these three companies are not what one would consider new media companies. Bringing in agency leaders with experience in the digital world can be beneficial to traditional media companies, as they know the landscape, the players and maybe most important, how the relationship between brand, agency and publisher works.

In a recent Bloomberg interview, Lang portrays an executive trying to rid the company of its siloed past and usher in a new area that will “give customers the ability to advertise across all 21 of Time Inc.’s magazines, both on the Web and in print.” This strategy speaks to Lang’s Digitas background, particularly at a time where the company’s ad sales are down 6 percent over the last year and subscription revenue is down 7 percent. Lang’s bet is that by boosting a digital package across its outlets, ad revenue will increase. Perhaps her biggest challenge, as Bloomberg noted, is training Time Inc.’s sales staff to focus on selling digital ads.

Kenny, likewise, has set a strategic course for TWC that is digitally focused. But unlike Lang, he’s betting on mobile. Kenny told Digiday in April that mobile is the company’s “focal point,” highlighting its recent partnership with Nokia and his belief that connected TV will be big, where “a part of the way to get video and TV distribution is to build off the mobile app infrastructure and connect to TVs.”

Shetty’s challenge is rooted in the company’s print property, Newsweek. Replacing Stephen Colvin, Shetty must establish what many believe to be on the horizon for NewsBeast: a digital-only format. Shetty’s background in brand building should serve NewsBeast well as the company moves digital to the forefront. Taking cues from Lang can also help Shetty, particularly transitioning a print-only sales team to a digitally focused one.

Will this trend continue with other traditional media companies? That’s a big question. But as the media world continues to shift, particularly with an emphasis on mobile, media companies will need to have people in place who can both manage a large staff and work in a digital-first world.