Senior departures at Tangible: CEO John Baker and Dish editor Lisa Morton moving on

Tangible Media chief executive John Baker and Dish editor Lisa Morton have announced their resignation to staff at the media company.

“Leaving now is mostly about where my partner Lisa and I find ourselves personally,” Baker says. “My kids are adults and making their own way in the world and that has enabled a shift of priorities. This has motivated a reset and a desire to shift our horizons.”

After eight years in senior roles at Tangible, Baker also believes the time had come to pass the baton onto someone else.

“There was a risk of organisational fatigue and I wanted to exit before that became an issue,” he says.

Baker has been in the publishing game a long time, joining AGM Publishing in 1992 in advertising sales before serving as the general manager between 1998 and 2003, then going on to launch Jones Publishing with Julian Andrews. 

In 2008, Jones was acquired by the Image Centre Group (ICG), and Baker transitioned into a directorial role at what became known as Tangible Media. 

Initially holding the dual positions of director of content marketing and publisher of consumer media, Baker was promoted to lead the entire publishing business at ICG in August 2015.

Like Baker, Morton was also part of the Jones crew that shifted across to Tangible Media at the time of the merger.

Acting as creative director, Morton took over the editorial reins at Dish magazine in 2014 following the departure of Victoria Wells. She also took over the role of associate publisher.

During her three years at the helm, she has led the title to numerous gongs at the MPA Awards, including best magazine in the home and food category for two consecutive years.   

At this stage, neither Baker nor Morton have secured new roles elsewhere, opting instead to travel before settling into the daily grind.

“I have no specific plans as yet,” Baker says. “My belief is that developing a covert alternative plan could be destructive for the business and limiting. This made the decision to announce our resignations and use that as an opportunity to see what might be next. We are both open about what that might mean and even what country.”

While the loss of Baker’s experience will certainly be felt at Tangible Media, he believes that his departure creates an opportunity for the next generation of leaders to step up at the company.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume [editorial director of business titles]Ben Fahy and [editorial director of women’s lifestyle]Melissa Gardi will take on greater leadership responsibility. They both deserve that opportunity,” he says.

Beyond Gardi and Fahy, Baker also sees the opportunity for the rest of the team to develop their careers within the strategic framework of the business.    

“I reckon we have figured out the ‘why’. There’s a really great platform for others to build on given that Tangible has had its best year ever by a significant margin,” he says.

But getting to this stage wasn’t easy. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 wreaked havoc on the magazine industry, and Tangible certainly didn’t make it through unscathed.

Looking back, Baker now counts the recovery after those tough years as one of the highlights of his career.

“Granted, there is some work to do yet, but what we collectively achieved has been transformational,” he says. “I would like to believe that Tangible has led the innovation conversation in magazine media over the last few years, particularly in digital, and become the market leader in the owned media space.”

Baker has been a major proponent in New Zealand of coupling editorial skills with commercial opportunities.

“If we aren’t journalistically/editorially/design led, we are nothing. But this doesn’t make us less commercial or sales focussed, quite the contrary,” he says.

Habitat (with Resene), Little Treasures (with Asaleo), Toast (with Liquorland) and the more recent Reward (with Loyalty NZ) are all examples of Baker’s philosophy coming to fruition in this regard.

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He is an ardent believer in the fact that the storytelling skills honed in the making of magazines and websites can be used to assist brands to better engage with their target markets. And while he expects there to still be a few print casualties across the broader industry in the future, he doesn’t feel that this is reflective of the continued relevance—or irrelevance—of magazines.

“There has always been volatility in media brands and like every other part of the economy, that volatility will accelerate,” he says.

“On the plus side, though, I hold firm to the belief that magazine media companies are best placed to build communities around ideas, activities and topics that resonate deeply with people. That gives me a great deal of confidence in the future of our category. Whether individual titles fold or not is entirely a function of markets. It is not a function of the contemporary relevance of magazines.”

But for the foreseeable future, those are some of the issues that he can take a little respite from as he travels with Morton around Europe.     

Disclosure of interest: StopPress is part of the ICG group.     

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