The McKinsey consultants came and went at Condé Nast, and the gist of what their conclusion is rumored to be is what you’d expect: the money’s not coming in like it used to, and the company’s days of lavish spending have to end.
But the specifics of their conclusion are likely to put fear in the heart of any well-paid midlevel Condé editor: according to Ad Age, there may be a sweeping budget cut of as much as 25% across the board. No more six-figure Vogue photo shoots, no more luxury company cars for editors and publishers, but the company was already moving in that direction. In addition to the frills, the rank-and-file are likely to take a huge hit. Also according to Ad Age, Vanity Fair’s ad revenue is down more than 35% since this time last year.
But one question seems iconic of the decisions that will define the new Condé: will Graydon Carter, who reportedly makes over $2 million a year plus lavish perks, be able to survive at the company in his current incarnation?
Graydon Carter’s outsized pay package is the stuff of rumors, & exact figures are unknown, but both gossipy Cityfile and the New York Post place it at above $2 million a year, with the Post claiming that he makes more than Anna Wintour, whose own $2 million comp is under siege. Maybe even more outrageously, Gawker dug up documentation that shows that in 2006, Carter signed a deal with Condé Nast allowing him to pay an interest-free monthly mortgage of around $2083 a month on his “$5.3 million mortgage on his four-story greek revival townhouse in Greenwich Village,” with Condé paying the difference. And that’s not even including the other perks.
Under the old logic, this was all OK because Carter was a rainmaker: his connections gave the magazine all-important access, and in a broader sense, he defined the Vanity Fair brand. It’s easy to take cheap shots at him over the amount of time that he spends managing the Waverly Inn and strutting around like a celebrity, but this argument has some substance to it: Tina Brown started a tradition of the larger-than-life Vanity Fair editor that Carter carries on, and it’s difficult to imagine the magazine as it currently exists without him at the helm.
Thing is, in the new, recessionary calculus of Condé Nast, where money is actually finite, the insane premium that Carter’s getting over a comparable EIC could cost fifteen to twenty staffers further down the balance sheet their jobs, whether at VF or elsewhere. Sure, he ate in the cafeteria that one time, but Carter doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would take a big pay cut. But is the overpaid superstar editor really justifiable anymore?
The way that Condé Nast — and Carter himself — approach these questions the coming months will show where the company’s new priorities are — and if the McKinsey evaluations were ultimately just another expensive luxury item.