Conde Nast’s digital leadership ranks thin with recent exec departures

Condé Nast has lost three key digital execs from chief digital officer Fred Santarpia’s team in recent months. The departures, amounting to about a third of his leadership team, are unrelated to each other, but come at a particularly challenging time for the embattled prestige magazine publisher as it tries to figure out a sustainable business model.

Matt Starker, svp and gm of digital strategy and initiatives, left to run another company, the name of which he hasn’t announced. He’s had a few roles at Condé Nast, having served as business development director at Condé Nast Entertainment, the company’s video arm. He was also credited with helping lead the company’s acquisition of music magazine Pitchfork. The company said his duties were assigned to Dominic Ainscough, who runs digital strategy; and Zach Block, who reports to Ainscough and leads business development.

Other recent departures were Brooke Ellis, former head of user experience and design who left for a similar role at Airbnb, and Arlie Sisson, who was head of the emerging products group.

The departures may not signal a mass exodus, but the timing isn’t exactly good, either. Condé Nast is seeing its stature wane as it faces competition for audiences and ad dollars from faster-growing, more leanly run digital publishers and platform giants. It’s hard for legacy print companies to attract and keep top talent when they’re perceived to be on the decline.

Condé Nast is growing its digital and video revenue; in a note to staff, sales head Pamela Drucker Mann said in the first quarter, the company beat its video sales goal by 24 percent and exceeded its print goal by a healthy margin, while the digital business has steadily grown and is on track to equal print revenue for the second quarter.

Digital growth hasn’t expanded fast enough to make up for sinking print revenue, though.

Condé Nast has already shuttered Lucky and chopped print editions for Self and Teen Vogue. The company is battling press that it’s going to consolidate office space in its lofty tower, as well as rumors that print editions of W and Brides will be cut next and that it’s planning the exit of its most valued asset, the famous editor Anna Wintour. (Condé Nast has denied that it plans to cut those print editions and the CEO Bob  Sauerberg himself denied Wintour’s exit is being planned.)

Condé Nast’s digital footprint grew 15 percent last year to 117 million monthly uniques, but it’s lost ground among lifestyle publishers to Meredith, which leapt to the No. 1 position with its recent acquisition of Time Inc.

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