Martha Stewart Co-CEO: Internet Advertising ‘Makes Me Cry But Not For The Right Reasons’

The Daily Beast co-founder/editor-in-chief Tina Brown and Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black were yin and yang onstage at yesterday’s EconWomen conference

Prominent women in media spoke out about the economic challenges they face in both digital and print publishing at yesterday’s EconWomen Conference, held at New York’s opulent Edison Ballroom. It was yin and yang onstage when former magazine editor Tina Brown — who recently jumped to the Web with The Daily Beast — interviewed Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black. The two have come a long way since their partnership at the defunct Talk: Black now presides over a company trying to cope with print media’s lack of revenue, while Brown’s stock now resides in online content. Their divergent tracks even manifested in their sartorial choices: Brown wore black leather, while Black was clad in sunny yellow.

First at hand was a discussion of the fall of Cosmogirl. Black was careful to cast the “strategic decision” in a favorable light, even projecting that the mag’s Web site (which lives on) will become Hearst’s most profitable. She struck an ambivalent tone discussing finding new sources of revenue on the Web, at one point responding to a question by saying, “It depends on how you define money.” Her company’s mantra in the coming months would include an emphasis on agility, Black asserted. “We have to be as smart as can be. More importantly, we have to be nimble and flexible.”

Brown, for her part, asked the tough questions. Pointing out Hearst’s whole or partial ownership in 90 newspapers, she flat-out asked whether the medium was becoming extinct. Black’s response?

“I don’t think we will use the word ‘newspaper’ that way any longer,” Black replied. “We will have to think of it as news and content distribution.” Magazines that avoid extinction in the near future will be those that continuously adapt their business models, she projected.

Unsurprisingly, the audience was more interested in hearing about Brown’s new online venture, eventually driving the conversation away from Black’s embattled empire. Here, it became clear that Brown and Black share something beyond a failed publication: Each expressed clear enthusiasm for the timely new types of interactive material only the Web can provide. As Brown exalted, “It’s such a fabulous new universe.”

Earlier that afternoon, Wenda Harris Millard, president of media and co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, pointed to her company’s recently announced Q3 earnings as an indication of Omnimedia’s resilience in the recent economic downturn. “Flat is the new up,” she said, giving the company’s stagnation a positive spin.

Millard asserted that today’s interactive media calls for a renewed focus on smart advertising, lamenting that “a lot of advertising on the Internet makes me cry, but not for the right reasons.” Keeping Millard’s tears at bay was her optimistic outlook. She was quick to answer one questioner’s reference to the “economic winter” with a reminder that it could be a “spring, summer, and fall” as well, and she ended her remarks on a positive note. “It takes time,” she said, referring to the process of making revenues in new media reach those of traditional forms like print. “But we’ll get there, and when we do, it’s a lot of money.”

-Adam Auriemma

Wenda Harris Millard (R), president of media and co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and her interviewer, Ernie Sander, managing editor of ContentNext Media

Wenda Harris Millard and Ernie Sander discuss the need for smart digital advertising.