As CEO of Digitas, Laura Lang had a record of leading the company through change, perhaps none as profound as its transition from a direct-response to full-service digital agency for companies like Procter & Gamble and American Express. Her understanding of how to monetize new platforms is what makes her such an interesting--and, in some ways, controversial--choice as CEO of Time Inc., where she'll be adapting its 21 titles, like Time and Sports Illustrated, to new platforms.
During her 12 years at the Publicis digital shop, Lang helped cajole clients like InterContinental Hotels Group to experiment with digital advertising. She also launched The Third Act:, a custom content unit; NewFront, an annual conference for content creators; and CRM365, a CRM agency within Digitas parent Publicis' VivaKi. Under her leadership, Digitas also built a sizeable health care business, eventually buying pharma-focused agency Medical Broadcasting Co.
"She gives you room to innovate inside of or beyond the model you live in," says former Digitas CMO Seth Solomons. "She's entrepreneurial but comes out of a consulting background, so it's about the 'why's' and 'how comes'."
Lang is also said to be a team player known for her personal touch; she sent one staffer a box of his favorite fruit, clementines, and an office goldfish to another. She's also known as direct and decisive and "doesn't suffer fools easily," says Colin Kinsella, president of Digitas North America since 2009. "While she appears to have a laid-back style, she's very straightforward. She corrects you very quickly and in a very helpful way--but you know you're being corrected."
But the appointment has raised questions about her preparedness to lead any magazine company--much less the biggest one in the U.S.--given the different constituents it represents. While other companies like Condé Nast and Meredith have brought in outsiders at senior executive levels for their tech and TV skills, they have seasoned publishing execs as their CEOs. One longtime publishing observer says that "the media industry is somewhat unique in that it serves many masters--readers and advertisers and the public interest. You can't come into it cold."
Lang admits that she has "lots to learn," but, she told Adweek shortly after her hiring was announced, she believes "there's room to create the right advertising opportunity that doesn't compromise editorial."