Meredith Getting The Full Scoop On Readers Post-Time Inc. Acquisition

It’s not how many people you know. It’s how many you know well.

Meredith prioritizes depth over breadth: The company posits that a limited number of deep relationships with core readers matter more than a larger number of shallow relationships. While advertisers prize scale, content that draws readers back again and again opens the door for new revenue streams such as commerce.

The media company is bringing that mindset to Time Inc., which it officially acquired in February.

Time Inc. grew its unique visitors at a breakneck pace last year. A month before the acquisition, Time Inc. trumpeted its 27% year-over-year growth to 139 million unique visitors. People and Entertainment Weekly together grew 18% to 62 million unique visitors.

But priorities are shifting now with Meredith at the reins. Time’s new parent company is putting structures in place to engage consumers more deeply, by using tools like email newsletters.

Take People, for example.

During the royal wedding of Price Harry and Meghan Markle in May, the celebrity site saw 49 million readers enter through the home page. In May, 27% of users visited 10 times or more. “In this day and age, that’s an unusual thing,” said Will Lee, SVP and head of digital for the entertainment group, which includes People and Entertainment Weekly.

Under Time Inc., People didn’t do much to cultivate those loyal readers. Central growth teams devoted most of their efforts to SEO, although they had started to experiment with email as well.

Meredith takes a more structured approach to address each part of the consumer lifecycle: acquisition, conversion and retention. Team members work together as part of a central, functional group but are assigned to individual brands and report to a growth lead for each media brand. That approach allows Meredith to customize efforts for each brand while sharing insights and best practices that can be used across the entire organization.

Within the group, the acquisition team develops strategies to bring in new readers – like those interested in a royal wedding – to the site. Conversion teams encourage those readers to sign up for a newsletter, for example, or take other steps to deepen their engagement with the brand. Retention teams look at how well newsletter content resonates with readers and tries to make that content stickier.

Because one person is dedicated to each brand, the People retention expert can focus on email strategies that drive long-term engagement for celebrity-focused readers while sharing best practices across the entire retention team.

“We need to balance the scale of the platform and shared learnings with the fact that each site has a unique value prop with users. We want efficiencies without forgetting what makes each site great for audiences and users,” said Chief Digital Officer Matt Minoff.

People already knows that when it gives readers what they want, it’s rewarded with more attention.

A newsletter about The Bachelor, for example, is seeing 50% email open rates during its run.

Under Meredith, People brands want to do a better job matching up content with audiences that are hungry to obsess over who got the rose. “How do we become more essential to the audience, and more essential to them on a daily basis?” Lee said, summing up the challenge.

Just a couple months post-acquisition, Meredith is still putting its plan in motion, doing unsexy foundational work like migrating all the brands onto the same email service provider so that all emails can go out from a centralized database.

Because of its focus on deepening engagement with readers, Meredith has more sophisticated abilities around email capture that it’s starting to test on Time Inc. properties. For example, a different ad creative will encourage email signup depending on the content a reader is looking at, or whether the reader is coming from a search or from social media.

“Big platforms talk about monthly active users and daily active users,” Minoff said. “We are taking that mindset and looking at our audience in terms of cohorts we are trying to move down a continuum, from a less engaged user to a more engaged user.”

Those direct relationships open the door for Meredith to sell its own products, like Cozi, its family organization app, or a home renovation organization tool from Better Homes & Gardens. They also enable it to maximize value from affiliate programs and direct commerce.

People readers, for example, want to know what clothes, makeup and products celebrities love to use – so People plans to add a shopping component to meet those needs this fall, similar to what already exist on Better Homes & Gardens and Real Simple.

“The [focus on engagement] dovetails with our monetization strategy,” Minoff said, “as we move from selling display to more highly integrated and complex campaigns – what we call our ‘non-IAB product’ suite.”

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