NYMag’s Digital Ads On Track To Grow 26 Percent

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Last week, New York Magazine expanded its fashion blog, The Cut, into a full-fledged site. The question of how to use the web as both an extension of an existing print brand and an independent, revenue-generating entity has plagued most properties.

While Publishers Information Bureau figures for April-June 2012 shows NY Mag’s ad pages down 5 percent, better than the industry average, which fell 8 percent from last year, the magazine’s digital GM, Michael Silberman, tells AdExchanger that the site and its related properties are on track to produce 26 percent more revenue this year (the publication does not reveal dollar figures). We discussed the magazine’s ad traffic strategy, e-commerce plans, and blog performance.

AdExchanger: Why did you decide to turn The Cut from a blog into an independent site?

Michael Silberman: We’re obviously very excited about The Cut.  It’s been an important area for us before fashion coverage. We were very early in covering New York Fashion Week; putting runway shows up on the website, relatively early in launching a full-time fashion blog back in the beginning of 2008. As we watched that vertical grow both from an audience and an advertising point of view and also looked out at the marketplace, we realized there is a real opportunity for us to make this even bigger and better and expand it. So that’s what we did.

August and September is a time when a lot of the fall fashion magazine advertisements go in. Was this planned for a while?

We’ve been working on the site for about a year, probably even a little bit more than that. If we could have launched it sooner we would have, but with something as ambitious and complex as what we’ve created, it takes a while to get it done.  We did think it was very important to have it ready in time for New York Fashion Week this September.

Were there any special launch sponsors for The Cut? And was this billed as an extension of magazine advertising?

We have four launch sponsors. They each have 25 percent share of voice on the site for the first three weeks post-launch. The four are Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Chanel, and Cartier.

Those are brands that have been advertisers with us before.  We were very excited about having them be part of the launch. If you go and look at the site you will see that the creative that they have delivered is really fantastic in terms of meeting the same level of beauty that the web site has.

You talked about the success of The Cut as a blog. Were there concerns that this would take traffic away from the main NYMag site?

Before we had the blog, we had all of the fashion galleries, we had model profiles, designer profiles. There was a lot of fashion happening on NYMag separate from The Cut blog itself. One of the things that we thought was important was to bring those together into a single unified experience. That was the start of it. We also though knew that there was this opportunity to expand and so wanted to branch out into other areas and also flesh out things that we were already doing.

From a fashion and style point of view, we think of the world in terms of three name categories: runway fashion, street style, and “real people fashion.” We also focus on celebrity fashion and style. Now each of those is a pillar of the website in terms of how we cover fashion.

We also always had fashion market coverage as part of our DNA. That's from the magazine and has been around forever. We expanded that into daily best bets on the web site a while ago. Then we added, a few years ago, Shop-A-Matic our sort of shopping selective feature.

The culture blog, Vulture and the foodie-focused Grub Street, are popular as well. Do you see building those properties into broader sites and creating a larger NYMag network?

We’ve been in the process of growing and expanding Vulture over the past couple of years and continue to see tremendous potential there. We added some additional staff this year. We launched some new features.  We experimented with the Vulture's Most Valuable Stars Project, which was kind of cool.

With Grub Street, we’ve been beefing up some of the national content in the columns that we do with the Grub Street to appeal to an audience outside of the six cities that we cover. For all of these verticals, we continue to invest and grow.  Earlier this year, Vulture finally, after living as a sort of site within a site for more than a year, we finally spun it off fully onto Vulture.com.  That’s doing very well for us.

We’ve seen some fantastic brand growth there in terms of how much traffic is coming in via the home page, how much traffic is coming in via Vulture-branded search terms, growth in Vulture, social media following. All of that seems to be working and has validated the theory that, by standing these up as brands in themselves, that they would be able to grow faster individually and boost the overall New York Media network of websites as a whole than if we just kept it as a blog.

So what’s the criteria for expanding a blog into a full-fledged site?

When we feel like we have enough stuff to make it an entire website in and of itself, then we do that. With The Cut, we are following the same pattern that we followed with Vulture. It is all starting on the NYmag.com URL. But really, if you go there, it’s a world unto itself. Then, sometime next year, we’ll in all likelihood spin it off on to TheCut.com, which you can type now and it just redirects back to NYMag.

What’s the strategy for growing both print and online ad sales?

There are lot of clients that are shared between print and digital. Most often, though, they are separate campaigns and, still at this point, planned by separate media buyers. The place the relationship will come together, when it does, is at the client, typically. From an internal point of view, we have folks that sell both print and web and who call in a particular client and will offer them both.

For one thing, digital advertising for NYMag.com is on track to grow about 26 percent this year, following 20 percent growth in 2011.

Then there are some clients that only buy us in print while there are other clients that only buy us on-line. I’d say generally by having a sort of strong digital presence in addition to the magazine, we’ve been able to significantly grow the overall client base and obviously grow the total ad dollars.

Are there dedicated sales teams for print and digital? Or is it all one team?

We have some dedicated digital reps and then we have other reps who handle both digital and print. Typically, the dedicated digital reps will be calling on digital agencies.

From an ad sales strategy point of view, we are really focused on custom executions, homepage experiences. We do a tiny little bit with Google AdSense with a unit that’s at the bottom of our pages. We don’t generally work with networks and don’t run it, sort of run a site the way that some folks do.

We have valued relationships with clients and can provide significant customer service. So we haven’t felt like there is a real need for us to use remnant networks.  In fact, there are many months during the year when we have more ad demand than we have available inventory.  So we don’t really think there is a significant upside that we can get out of that and, for us, the direct sales relationships have worked very well.

Apart from advertising, NYMag.com also has a curated deals service. Have you thought of building out a fuller e-commerce offering?

We have a nice little business right now. We are seeing what it’s going to take to grow it and beginning to experiment with offering our own deals as opposed to just curating deals.  We are sort of moving carefully in this space.

Certainly the business metrics and the press on the daily deal space right now could make you a little nervous about doing too much there. On the other hand, we think that we’re a very different brand and very different proposition from a Groupon and have a different kind of relationship with our users. So, hopefully we’ll be able to offer something that really is of value to them because of being a little bit more discriminating about what we put in front of them.

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