Claire Léost is president of Prisma Media. She was appointed in 2021 after the 45-year-old company was acquired by Vivendi from Berteslmann for an estimated €200mn. Prisma is France’s largest digital and print magazine publisher with some 20 brands including: Femme Actuelle, Harpers Bazaar, Prima, GEO, Capital, Gala and Télé-Loisirs. In 2022, it had revenue of €320mn (40% ads) and €31mn EBITDA. It has 1,200 employees. Its total monthly audience is claimed to be 40mn.
She started her career as a consultant with McKinsey, followed by Lagardère Active where she became managing director. Before her appointment at Prisma, she was founding CEO of CMI, the country’s second largest magazine publisher (Elle, Marianne, Femina) formed in 2018 after Daniel Křetínský acquired Lagardère’s magazines.
Léost is the author of three novels: “The World at Our Feet” (2019), “Passage de l’Été” which won the Brittany Prize in 2021, and “From Nowhere The Birds Arise” (2023) on the violence suffered by sex workers. She graduated from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and HEC business school.
What were your earliest career ambitions?
As a student I was torn between two aspirations : becoming a writer, as I was passionate about telling stories, literature and the artistic field and working in the business like my classmates. I finally managed to do both!
How did being a management consultant prepare you for a career in media?
During my years at Mckinsey, I learned to absorb a huge amount of complex information in a very short period of time, and to synthetise it into a simple business issue. It helps me a lot in my current job as CEO of a media group, where I have to take decisions very fast everyday.
The downside is that at Mckinsey I used to work in a very homogenous environment : with my colleagues, we all graduated from the same schools, and used the same frameworks. I was happy, when I entered media, to work with many different people from different backgrounds. Encountering ‘otherness’ is what makes life and work exciting.
Why did you get into media?
After my years at McKinsey, I entered the Lagardère Group, in Paris, as a magazines publisher with no experience at all in magazines but the sense that it would be the right place for me. And I worked there for 15 years…Media allowed me to combine my two aspirations : to be in creativity and in business. And the last 20 years have been so challenging and exciting – with a complete transformation of the business models – that I haven’t noticed the years rushing by.
What were the highlights of your 15 years at Lagardère?
During my years at Lagardère, I experienced “permanent disruption”. When I started, we were mostly a print group, with very famous historic brands like Elle and Paris Match…, the social media didn’t exist, the web audience was growing but small, apps were just beginning…And, 15 years later, when I left, the audience was mostly digital, vidéo, and social. It has been a long journey but what I am proud of is that, during the journey, we didn’t leave the journalism behind. Our mission remains the same : informing and entertaining people, even if the way we deliver the mission has changed.
I left Lagardère in 2018 to create a new French media group, CMI, with Daniel Kretinsky.
How would you describe Prisma Media?
Prisma Media is the leading magazine business in France, both in print and digital. What is special about us is our capacity to transform traditional print magazines into digital champions. Today, 80% (€100mn) of our ad revenue is digital, far more than any other French media group.
Our challenge, of course, is to continue to grow. In France, our capacity to grow is limited because 1 in 3 magazines sold is a Prisma publication, and we have nearly 40mn monthly uniques. We are developing new sources of revenues which are growing fast: eCommerce, social media, paid content, and we are also looking for opportunities outside France.
The change of ownership, from Berteslmann to Vivendi, has allowed us to invest in new segments, like health, luxury, kids, through launches or acquisitions of print and digital brands. For example, we launched eight months ago the French version of Harpers Bazaar, which has been a real success.
What’s special about the Prisma and Vivendi?
Prisma has a unique culture in the French media landscape of innovation and ‘intrapreneurship’. We have 200 people in our tech department, developing state-of-the-art editorial and monetization tools. At the moment, we are very focused on testing generative IA in our video, picture and text production. As for Vivendi, it is one of the few European media groups able to play a role between the the big US and Asian groups.
What is your own primary role?
My role is to develop and transform the group and create a safe and motivating environment for our people who make this transformation possible. I spend most of my time identifying business opportunities and making sure Prisma Media is developing them at the right speed. What I enjoy most is launching new magazines or businesses right from a clean page. At the end of the day, our job is about creativity, ideas – and taking risks. That’s what I am responsible for.
What’s the future of print magazines?
We focus our print investment in sectors where there is still a room for growth, like luxury or kids. Last year, we launched a luxury magazine sector which is growing fast. There, the main brands are looking for both new print and digital propositions. In the kids sector, six months ago, we launched the magazine Mortelle Adèle, an iconic comics phenomenon which is now also a successful brand – including in print.
Which other companies do you most admire?
I’m impressed by the luxury champions, especially Hermes and Chanel, who manage to combine a prestigious heritage, high-quality standards with a culture of strong growth. Their sucess is very inspiring for us.
What are the best lessons you have learned?
Follow your intuition and don’t listen to advice to choose between your aspirations : you can do everything!