Digital Transformation

Condé Nast recruits ex-Burberry exec to head-up its digital revenue drive amid wider overhaul

By Ronan Shields | Digital Editor

June 30, 2017 | 7 min read

Condé Nast, the publisher of titles such as Wired, GQ and Vogue has appointed Simon Gresham Jones to the newly created role of chief digital officer in the UK, the latest move in its ongoing attempt to shore-up revenues generated by its digital properties.

The appointment of Gresham Jones signifies Condé Nast’s strategy of amassing a team with digital expertise

Gresham Jones joins from Burberry where he led its digital advancement strategy during period that saw it achieve significant milestones in terms of utilising technology, and was also part of chief executive Christopher Bailey’s Strategic Innovation Council.

Gresham Jones will begin the new role on September 4, and will report to Condé Nast managing director Albert Read, as well as Wolfgang Blau, the publisher’s global incoming president of Condé Nast International.

Read hailed the new appointee as “an expert at embedding digital thinking, building brand affinity and revenue through content, partnerships and product”.

A year of changes for Condé Nast

Condé Nast brands

In January it emerged that a restructure in the US would see the phase-out of the traditional role of publisher and dampen its ties to the print industry, as part of a renewed push focusing on monetising online media.

The appointment of Gresham Jones signifies Condé Nast’s strategy of assembling a London-based team with the expertise to better monetise its digital properties – a skills shortage that is not uncommon among publishers, especially as consumption shifts to mobile.

Earlier in the year, Condé Nast title Vogue recruited Elli Papadaki, formerly programmatic chief at the Financial Times, in a bid to bolster the fashion title’s advertising yield using adtech in the UK.

Meanwhile, in the US, the publisher struck a relationship with NBCUniversal and Vox Media as part of a tie-up that would see the trio pitch a unified offering to advertisers dubbed Spire.

The offering combines digital behavioral data with online and offline purchase data to help advertisers optimise their ad campaigns on the platform, which promises an audience numbering more than 200 million consumers, and 99% of US millennials.

Later in the year, the publisher used its UpFronts pitch to impress upon advertisers that its premium status made its content offering more comparable with broadcast TV.

“A brand-safe environment and quality content must be the currency on which our industry trades,” said Jim Norton, chief business officer and president of revenue at Condé Nast, while trying to highlight the differences between more murky web news outlets and his own offering.


This year has also seen the luxury publisher implement a variety of changes including the closure of its former e-commerce play, which reportedly failed to meet market expectations, in favour of a tie-up with premium retailer FarFetch in a partnership the pair have described as a “content-to-commerce experience”.

The transition to further revenues via e-commerce tie-ups (and reduce reliance on ad revenues as a means of digital monetisation) has been ushered in by increasingly aggressive negotiation strategies from media planning and buying groups. Such outfits are themselves are seeing the revenues from media buying become increasingly commoditised, according to MEC chief Tim Castree.

Constrained media budgets

In an interview with AdExchanger this week, he told the title: “The vast majority of our revenue comes from media planning and buying... As investment dollars become more scarce, we have to be shrewder in how we spend them.”

Additionally, publishers are also faced with the challenge posed by the ongoing popularity of adblockers among consumers, with a recent eMarketer study suggesting that over 20% of UK internet users using such software with the total number of users forecast to hit 11.4 million at the close of 2017.

Condé Nast's anti-adblocking efforts

Wired anti ad blocking message

Condé Nast has attempted to grapple with the issue, with the company named as a seated member of the Acceptable Ads committee, formed by AdBlock Plus creator Eyeo. Although reports suggest that its enthusiasm for participating in the initiative was muted.

Before this, Condé Nast had explored a possible resolution to the issue of adblocking, with its premium men’s lifestyle title GQ and tech bible Wired both utilising software that detects if website visitors are using an adblocker (see image above).

Adblocker users were then prevented from accessing the content on the sites, and subsequently asked to either disable said software, or pay for each article via a tie-up with micropayment outfit CoinTent (which itself appears to have closed its doors).

According to anti-adblocking outfit PageFair, such appeals to the more benevolent side of web users rarely achieves its aim, with only 0.33% of adblockers that were shown an appeal to deactivate their software complying with the request.

However, these statistics have yet to deter Sourcepoint, an outfit that has earned itself the popular tag of ‘anti-adblocker’, and itself scooped $16m in funding earlier this year.

A future for micropayments?

Earlier this month the company debuted its micropayment service AltPay, in addition to its earlier Dialogue product, which provides website users with the choice of making a payment in return for accessing the publisher’s content ad-free.

Speaking with The Drum, Brian Kane, Sourcepoint chief operating officer, raised his belief that the current headwinds faced by publishers means they will increasingly rely on micropayments.

“With Google threatening it [installing an adblocker function] in the Chrome browser and Apple doing it with Safari, they have to start looking at it,” he added.

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