Condé Nast’s sales reorg is turning out its most financially successful New Yorker Festival

The New Yorker Festival first opened in 2000

It’s been nearly a year since Condé Nast completed a radical restructure of its sales operation. The shuffle of job titles and responsibilities has begun to pay dividends at The New Yorker at least, which has increased its event sponsorship revenue by 58%.

The flagship event in the weekly magazine’s portfolio is The New Yorker Festival, which kicked off a three-day run in its hometown today (11 October).

Featuring onstage interviews with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Patti Smith and Willem Dafoe, as well as live music performances, film screenings and food tours, the 20th incarnation of the festival is set to be its “best year financially” since launch in 2000, according to the publisher’s chief business officer, Chris Mitchell.

Ticket sales and sponsorship deals have both been responsible for this success, although a reappraisal of the latter has led to event sponsorship across The New Yorker’s live calendar increasing by 58% this year.

Sponsor interest in the festival, the title’s biggest moneymaker event, was particularly high because of the anniversary year. But this was augmented by the reorganized commercial team’s approach to selling the concept into brands.

“[We’ve been] finding creative ways that we can integrate these sponsors organically because we do not sell [participation on] the stage or sell stage entitlement,” said Mitchell, referring to the ‘pay-to-play’ model often integrated into large conferences.

“We try to find ways that we can enrich the experience of the festival goer and give that wonderful halo back to the sponsor. This year I'm really proud that we're bringing back a festival headquarters, something we haven't had in many years.”

Situated on Broadway, the revived New Yorker Festival HQ will play host to presenting partner Land Rover, as well as sponsors HBO, the Nature Conservancy and Inside Access from Chase. The breadth of these brand partners – the majority of which are non-endemic to the critical, political and artistic space covered by the title’s journalists – is a testament to Condé Nast’s new org chart, which was finalized at the end of last year. The publisher now divides its titles into three divisions: culture, lifestyle and style.

Mitchell, who leads on the former, oversees the “brand health” of his portfolio, which includes the likes of Vanity Fair, Wired and Teen Vogue alongside The New Yorker. Meanwhile, rather than having sales staff dedicate their efforts to one publication, team members are assigned to “categories” – sector advertisers – that they can cross-sell across their division. These include automotive, financial, technology, luxury and media and entertainment.

“There was always a drive to the bottom line [before] when it came to events, including The New Yorker Festival, but they [were staged] more as a thank you to readers and, in some ways, also as a thank you to advertisers,” explained Mitchell. “Incorporating them in subtle ways into events ...was really driven by their advertising investment.” Now, events are treated as a serious P&L contender alongside the rest of Condé Nast’s diversified offer, which includes licensing, branded publishing and its agency, CNX.

“Now we approach our advertising and marketing partners with these opportunities often together, but sometimes independently of each other. And part of what our matrix – our organizational structure – is about is that we're out there having these conversations on a very deep level with lots of different departments in any given company. “So, we're not just talking to their advertising folks and their agencies – we're talking to their marketing folks, their PR folks ... their experiential folks, too. So, that allows for these conversations that create these marketing partnerships that they have a lot more components to them.”

The New Yorker has also slightly tweaked its consumer strategy to lift ticket sales. Firstly, this year’s speaker content and performances have been elevated to pique the interest of non-subscribers as well as diehard fans; while subjects such as ‘The End of Capitalism’ and Trump’s presidency have time in the schedule, pop culture favorites Dua Lipa and Ina Garten will also take to the stage.

Secondly, the company has been “exercising a little more science in the pricing” of tickets, according to Mitchell, while locating the entire activation in the proximity of the Upper West Side’s Lincoln Center – and reintroducing the HQ – aims to create a less painful experience for ticket-holders, who once had to crisscross around Manhattan to make it to the various venues.

Finally, The New Yorker has developed the consumer product itself. For the first time, it sold a limited edition ‘premier pass’ (the sale ended quickly on 3 September), which – for a $899 – granted early access to ticket registration and entry to up to 10 events.

The VIP package was a “real success”, said Mitchell, as was the general sale. Five days before the festival started, The New Yorker recorded its highest ticket sales in the history of the event.

What comes next? Mitchell has conversations regarding the possible expansion or the international reproduction of The New Yorker Festival “all the time”, but these ideas will remain just that for the time being at least.

With a weekly magazine, digital content and now a podcast stream to run, editor David Remnick has “a bandwidth issue”, according to Mitchell, and there’s something to be said about keeping such a New York event wedded to New York – the Mecca of culture and commentary.

In any case, The New Yorker is a brand that is “firing on all cylinders”. Mitchell believes it to be “far and away our greatest consumer success at Condé Nast and ... thanks to all of the different platforms, increasingly a really great advertising success, too”

The challenge for the publisher will be replicating this year’s success across the live products of its other brands, in order to aid recovery from the $120m it lost in 2017.

With events continually bolstering the P&Ls of all media brands, the publishing world will be watching to see if last year’s reorganization results in boosted sponsorship for titles that lack the history and reverence of The New Yorker.

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