We put your questions to David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, at the end of May. Carey, who oversees one of the world’s largest publishing houses with more than 300 print editions and digital expressions around the globe, including Cosmopolitan, Harper’s BAZAAR and Esquire, shared his thoughts on the role of branded content, how digital and print work together, and why competitive collaboration is the key to success. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: How is Hearst accommodating brands who are increasing their investment in content marketing over traditional advertising; for example, have you created a native ad team, in the way, say, that The New York Times has?
—Juliet Stott, Contributing Editor, The Content Council
David Carey: We certainly have. We recognise that today advertising comes in many forms. Increasingly, advertisers are looking for their content to have a more native and contextual feel to it. So, brands that want to take more of an editorial stance with their advertising know that the content has got to be as good as the environment that it is in. And that is where we have expertise. We understand what audiences are looking for. We have a team of specialists, many with journalistic backgrounds, who know how to create content that engages people.
Q: Now that you have successfully built the bridge between print and digital, what do you see as the key differences between the two?
—Gary Johnson, President, MSP Communications
David Carey: We put everything under the rubric of ‘months to moments’. We love our print magazines – they are titles that occupy important places in people’s lives – on their night stands or coffee tables, and right now, the editors are working hard on the Fall editions. Meanwhile, our digital editors are thinking about today, and what’s happening right now. So, we have to run long-lead journalist enterprises alongside newsrooms, and that has been the key thing we’ve mastered over the last several years. In order to do that, we recognized that our digital content had to have a different cycle than our print products. Although both our digital and print brands are consistent in their style and voice, we actually do something different for each.
Q: How does a large company like Hearst stay nimble in a publishing environment that seems to be changing constantly?
—Evelyn Hoover, Content Director, MSP Communications
David Carey: In my last annual letter to our global team I picked up on a comment that Jeff Bezos made while speaking about Amazon, talking about the need to be both nimble and robust. That means we have to have a mentality of moving fast, creating new projects, and trying new things. A lot of things we try work, and we recognize when they don’t and we move on. That is part of our culture. We also maintain minority investments in many leading disrupters, including BuzzFeed, Vice Media and Refinery 29. We like the association of these entrepreneurial companies and we learn a great deal from the way they allocate capital, how they manage their staff and how they are constantly evolving as organisations.
Q: What is the appetite among your readers and your advertisers for digital versions of Hearst magazines? Do you have any suggestions for implementing an efficient, effective transition from print to digital while retaining readership?
—Warren Eulgen, Founder, High Velocity Communications
David Carey: One of the most interesting surprises for us, and not what I had expected, was the response to the tablet editions of our magazines – which has not been great. It told us that just because you have a tablet doesn’t automatically mean you want to read a magazine on it. We’ve probably seen the most activity and digital success through our industry consortium called Texture, which publishes a range of titles on an ‘all you can eat’ model for $9.99 a month or $15 a month. In general, I think what we have found is that people prefer longer-form journalism and large photography in print. When, in the early days, we simply took that content from our magazine and put it online, we did not succeed. The reality is, each platform environment has its own needs. You need to create content built specifically for the web rather than shifting print content to the web.
Q: In the last couple of years, Hearst publications have added a new role specifically focused on delivering integrated advertiser programs. How important are they for driving revenue?
—Jacqueline Loch, VP & Group Publisher, St Joseph Media
David Carey: Over the last couple of years we’ve seen demand for branded content, be it text and images or video, grow considerably. Advertisers recognize that if they can offer high-quality branded content, they are going to have deeper engagement with their audience. So, we’ve added scores of individuals to our team to help deliver integrated advertiser programs, which is a very important revenue stream for us.
Q: Over the last few years, legacy publishers have accelerated their efforts to become digital-first media companies. Fast forward five years: Will there still be a place for print magazines?
—Jonathan Whitbourne, Editorial Director, Meredith Custom Solutions
David Carey: Digital-first are not words that we use in this company. We talk about being ‘Unbound.’ For us that signifies the belief in our magazines as well as our new digital connections to them. We know that in order to be successful as a publisher you have to have great dexterity – you have to be really good at print, which means creating print in the most modern way, and you have to be very good at digital. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. In the future, what you’re going to find, is that strong brands will be fine, weak brands will do less than fine. It’s just the nature of all creative enterprises.
Q: Many brands have tapped into the power of influencers to enhance their position in the market. What drives your decision to collaborate with the likes of Lena Dunham, Oprah Winfrey and Carine Roitfeld?
—Juliet Stott, Contributing Editor, The Content Council
David Carey: I’m a great believer in the African saying, ‘If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.’ It sums up Hearst’s business strategy. We have a very strong track record of partnerships in our company. We believe that there is always opportunity to create new products, no matter what the category is. When two companies come together and commit talent, resources and promotion, the chances of success go up significantly. We would rather own 50% of a really successful business than 100% of an unsuccessful one. Our collaborations account for 20% of our U.S. profit. If we had not collaborated with those individuals or businesses, we would not be as successful as we are.