Q&A with Next Time Inc. CEO Laura Lang

Time Inc. isn't About to Become a Digital Ad Agency, Lang Says

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Time Warner has named Digitas CEO Laura Lang to become CEO of Time Inc., ending a nearly nine-month search by selecting an outsider with deep digital knowledge but no publishing experience. Ms. Lang spoke to Ad Age about her new job running the publisher of magazines including People, Time , Sports Illustrated and Fortune.

Advertising Age: Why did you take the job?

Laura Lang: The opportunity to work with some of the greatest content brands in our industry really captured my imagination. There's such great opportunity -- there's incredible content and the industry is in such transformation and transition -- and I wanted to be a part of that . Premium content matters. As business models shift, it just seemed to be an incredible opportunity to be a part of that movement into the next phase of the business. It's what I've always been doing.

When I joined [Digitas] 12 and a half years ago, the majority of the business was in traditional direct marketing and mail. That transformation is something I'm really proud of . A lot of agencies didn't make that transition.

Ad Age : Is a lack of publishing experience a negative or a positive for this new job?

Ms. Lang: You have to balance what an advertiser wants, what a consumer is going to want to engage with and ultimately, how content is created. To me, success in the job is setting a vision, guiding an organization through change -- which is exactly what I did at Digitas and I'm very proud of that -- and bringing people together and with you. That, to me, is what it takes to be successful.

Is a lack of print experience a positive or negative? The reality is it's probably a little bit of both. I've got to believe sometimes it's going to be a huge help. What's most important is how to set a vision and how to really move forward and take the right risk and bring everyone together. Now and then I'm going to really need people who understand how this works day-to-day to help and make sure we're making the decisions at the right time and in the right way. What's really needed is the leadership skills and the understanding of how to transform from established models to new models.

Ad Age : Day one, what's your plan to get up to speed on the print business?

Ms. Lang: The way I view it is publishing has many components to it and part of it is the print business. Content is increasingly thought about in cross-platform ways. So No. 1, yes, there's a lot to learn about where the industry has come from. But even more important is to come up to speed on what's happening now, what the possibilities are, what people are experimenting with, what's working and to get engaged more with consumer behavior. I think it's more than just what we could consider traditional magazines and traditional print publishing, so I'm going to try to immerse myself in all of it.

Ad Age : Does Time Inc. have an opportunity to move further into marketing services?

Ms. Lang: You should call me in a few months and I'll give you very direct answers. I don't know enough. This all happened very quietly and I have not spent a lot of time understanding how Time looks at this challenge. I know other publishers, to your point, have dipped a toe in the water, and I'm going to need to understand it better. One of the things I've always learned is you have to understand what your organization is really good at. What are you really good at? That is what's going to really make a difference.

Do I see Time Inc. becoming Digitas? I'd be very surprised. No. But I genuinely haven't engaged enough to know. My instinct is that they're in content creation. They make amazing content and creative ways to distribute that content -- that 's their core mission.

Walking in, I can't say that I already have a vision of what it should be. I know that there are some incredibly smart things going on there and I need to become a part of that and figure it out. Ask me some time after I've been there, I'll probably have more to say on that .

Laura Lang
Laura Lang

Ad Age : How did this job come about?

Ms. Lang: It was a phone call to me and, as it's said, I took a meeting. I have to say, I was not looking. In fact, it was almost surprising that I had my conversation and I thought this is really interesting. For me, this is an industry, just like many others, that 's in the middle of a transformation. What it has at its heart is great content. That's exciting. At Digitas [we worked a lot on] new models of how content is going to be developed and distributed. The idea of being a part of that team of people is incredible, part of its amazing content and great brands that consumers care about and advertisers care about. It just gives me an opportunity to sit at a different part of the ecosystem that 's still about those connections.

I wouldn't have predicted it. That's honest. But it happened. I got the call. I took the meeting and it really connected.

Ad Age : Tell me more about your vision for content and the new world of content as you see it.

Ms. Lang: There's a couple of examples [from Digitas clients]. For Kraft we created content around recipes and ways people are using [Philadelphia] cream cheese. Some was user-generated and some professionally produced, but it used content to build an active community, "The Real Women of Philly."

Ad Age : Is there anything you can tell me about succession at Digitas or an interim plan?

Ms. Lang: Not yet. [CEO of Publicis Groupe 's Vivaki] Jack Klues will be intimately involved in that . I will say one thing, we have a really deep bench. I'm so proud of that . We've got Colin Kinsella as CEO of North America, Seth Solomons who's running CRM 365 and you've got Stephan Beringer who's running the global business. Digitas is really deep. So is Razorfish [a sibling agency whose CEO reports to Ms. Lang.]

Ad Age : What's your proudest achievement at Digitas?

Ms. Lang: Can I say two? My first one is I think it has one of the best teams of people in the industry. The talent is incredible and so is the ability to attract and retain. And I believe it's one of the world's great agencies. I look at the work that 's been done, the innovation, launching the [digital content production unit] Third Act.

Ad Age : What's your management style?

Ms. Lang: I would say I'm inclusive and collaborative, but very clear. Good at making decisions. Let's learn from each other, let's listen, let's set a direction and then all follow it in a very clear way.

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