Stephanie Fierman: Villain, Victim…or Scapegoat?

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According to Rich Johnston, as reported in yesterday’s Lying in the Gutters, DC’s outgoing SVP of Sales & Marketing, Stephanie Fierman, “is still on contract at DC for another year and will work on special projects with DC Publisher and President Paul Levitz while she looks for a new position within Time Warner.” If true, it suggests that what’s happening is very likely personality-driven and not based solely on her performance, because contract or not, if it were the latter, they’d simply fire her outright and offer her a severance package.

My wild guess is that her primary “special project” will be to focus on launching their Minx imprint, which will ultimately serve as a blueprint for their future efforts to break into the mass market, either as a how-to or a how-not-to, depending on the results. Meanwhile, Bob Wayne and John Cunningham will be tasked with keeping the flagship DCU moving steadily forward, with no immediate successor being named before the 3rd Quarter, if at all. Again, that’s my wild, if slightly educated, guess.

I’m still tracking the situation as it develops in the original post, but what’s more interesting to me is at what point the spotlight gets turned over to Paul Levitz, DC’s President and Publisher, and his apparent inability to steer DC in the right direction into new waters?

Even the best sales and marketing teams are limited by the product they have to sell and market, and DC’s editorial staff hasn’t exactly made their jobs easy. Big EventsTM like Infinite Crisis and 52 suck up internal resources and make it difficult for anything not tied into them to receive any significant marketing attention. Plus, they’re short-term cash grabs gambits that do nothing for the future except raise the finance department’s expectations for the next year, effectively guaranteeing having to take another dip into the well of diminishing returns.

[Side note: Our comp plans for 2007 just came out at my 9-to-5, and one of the things that jumped out is how we’re effectively “punished” for “lightning in a bottle” situations. ie: That unrepeatable, one-shot $50k custom publishing package that was gravy last year because it wasn’t budgeted for? It’s now in the budget for this year, with 10% growth expected on top of it!]

Add badly coordinated Big EventsTM to the mix — ie: the All Star line — that receive a similarly big marketing push only to see it all go to waste when the end-product isn’t delivered in a timely manner, and toss in a slew of ill-conceived Long Tail efforts that receive practically no marketing support at all (posters and buttons at conventions do not represent legitimate marketing support), and you have a recipe for disaster.

According to research by executive search firm Spencer Stuart in August, the tenure for CMOs at the 100 top consumer branded companies continued to decline in 2006 to an average of a little more than 23 months. The average for 2006 was 23.2 months, compared with 23.5 months in 2005 and 23.6 in 2004. (“Marketing job market ‘sizzling'”, B-to-B Magazine)

When Fierman was originally hired, it was generally understood that DC was purposely bringing in an outsider for a fresh perspective in an attempt to reach new audiences. While the CMO often takes the fall when things don’t go as planned, eventually the buck has to stop higher up the chain, in this case, at the Publisher’s feet.

Paul Levitz is an old school guy who, I’m pretty sure, has never held a job outside of the comics industry. As Wayne put it, speaking about himself, but one could easily imagine the same applying to Levitz: “I’m a comic book guy from way back, but I don’t always know how to reach those people; Stephanie can help us in that way.”

Possible personality issues aside (welcome to Corporate America, people; grow up!), maybe the words attributed to Nellie Kurtzman hold a clue to what’s happening at DC:

“When she quit, she told everyone that she had no idea that comics was such a backwards kind of business and that she knew right away that she couldn’t get anything done. Stephanie asked her to stay – Nellie’s question back was, why would anyone in marketng stay?”

Why, indeed?

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2 thoughts on “Stephanie Fierman: Villain, Victim…or Scapegoat?

  1. “she had no idea that comics was such a backwards kind of business”

    haha hey, that’s my line!

    Interesting stuff.

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