Atlantic Media Loses Digital Driver Justin Smith to Bloomberg
Atlantic Media said tonight that its president Justin Smith was leaving the media company to become CEO of Bloomberg’s media group.
He replaces Andrew Lack, who will become chairman of the unit, and will report to Bloomberg head Dan Doctoroff.
Smith was the driver of the Washington, D.C.-based company’s aggressive efforts into digital media, including the launch of Quartz and Atlantic Wire.
Here’s the classy letter that Atlantic owner David Bradley sent to staff, which is extraordinarily cordial, considering:
Letter of Appreciation
My Atlantic Media Colleagues,
As I settle into this writing, I think some will have heard by now of Bloomberg Media Group’s recruitment of Justin Smith as chief executive officer. In truth, Justin did hesitate before accepting the offer; he has loved his work with Atlantic Media. But, it’s hard to see how he reasons to “no”: global CEO, global brand and reach, television, radio, conferences, three magazines and burgeoning digital traffic.
Though this will tax your time, I decided I would rather write a letter of appreciation for Justin than the traditional corporate press release. I want you to know what I hope Justin knows already — what a gift he has been to this enterprise.
Our First Meeting
On reflection, I suppose our first meeting was a bit staged: dinner in Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel dining room, seated beside the fireplace, talking for three hours. An aging owner, in an old-world setting, pitching a mid–19th century long-form literary magazine to a next-generation leader. I decided on Justin in one meeting.
Still, I seem to have gotten a detail wrong. I just assumed we were welcoming Justin into our storied magazine and its storied past. Justin understood — or at least decided — that he would time-travel the whole lot of us to media’s future state. Looking around now, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Correctly, Justin would give credit to Scott Havens, James Bennet, Scott Stossel, Bob Cohn, Jay Lauf, Elizabeth Baker Keffer, Zazie Lucke, Kevin Delaney and their many Atlantic colleagues. But, I also think it’s fair to name as “the Justin era” what Justin and those of you at The Atlantic and Quartz have accomplished: reversal of fortune for a magazine in a 60-year decline; doubling of revenues; return to profits; constant original creation including The Atlantic Cities, The AtlanticWire and Atlantic-initiated Quartz; growing events business; growing website; 25 million monthly Atlantic readers and visitors; and, just now, two more National Magazine Awards. David Brooks once told me that, if I turned around The Atlantic, it would become the only thing for which I would be remembered. Now, Justin has gone ahead and done it already.
An Intense Instruction
Justin led The Atlantic for two years and then Atlantic Media for an additional four. In one sense, my time with Justin reminds me of the time I spent with the Atlantic’s late editor, Michael Kelly — the everyday, dialed-up to intensity. After six years, and speechless, any of us might ask, “Wow, what was that about?”
In my frame, Atlantic Media was earning its doctoral degree in modern media from one of modern media’s master practitioners. What Justin believed, he taught, and, as with Michael again, Justin’s beliefs were fierce: That the revolution underway in media is more radical than we — the industry — appreciate. That the contest between legacy and insurgent players is mortal, with advantage to the insurgents. That surviving legacy properties will have had to learn the disciplines of the insurgents — and that they can. That velocity is first among the virtues. That the speed of change is unprecedented. That ideas have their season but not more. From search to social media to native advertising to the next advantage. And, that Atlantic Media could and would and has leapt to the frontier.
More personally, watching Justin taught me truths about media I’d failed to learn in my first decade in the sector: the centrality of brand; the importance of brand excitement; the very particular importance of New York and New York talent to creating excitement. Justin exhorted me to “go for my inner Don Draper;” as I didn’t have the least idea what Justin was talking about, this never really caught on.
As to Atlantic Media
Justin will leave us a changed — and much better — media company. That begins with his — and now my — Atlantic Media leadership team. Scott, Bruce, Tim, Jean Ellen, Kat, Zazie, Michael, Tom, Emily. As with Justin, I have complete confidence in this group. More generally, and as to “extreme talent” across the board, I think Atlantic Media is at its record high-water mark. After reflection, I’ve decided that, rather than appoint a Justin successor, we will let the current leadership continue independent of any reporting structure — save to me — and grow to fill the empty spaces Justin’s departure leaves behind. In fact, I found this an easy call.
As to Bloomberg
Here, I need to redouble my effort. I just can’t seem to find it in me to dislike the Bloomberg enterprise. I’ve always trusted and liked Justin’s new boss, Dan Doctoroff. Even now, I’m affecting a furious countenance. It just needs work.
As to Justin
Like Mary Poppins, if a little more euro, Justin came, changed the family and, when the work was done, moved on. I will miss him.
With my best wishes to all.