How Do You Disrupt Yourself? Five Media Execs On Succeeding In The Age Of BuzzFeed

Digital-Media-CEOsMedia CEOs have to do a lot of maneuvering to steer a print/digital publication, and many take different routes.

At the American Magazine Media Conference in New York on Tuesday, five executives from Hearst, Condé Nast, Time Inc., Meredith and Rodale discussed how they compete with disruptive digital-first publications by investing, acquiring or imitating them.

“With the exception of Vox, we have investments in most [startup pubs],” said Hearst Magazines President David Carey. By investing, Hearst learns what it can apply to its core business.

But learning isn’t dependent on investing, he added. For instance, Hearst execs took notes when startup CEOs gave strategy talks at conferences about “A/B testing headlines on social media” and other tactics to grow digitally.

“We will not be as public about our strategies,” Carey said. “They did us a favor we probably will not return.”

Time Inc. has been acquisitive. It bought Hello Giggles and xoJane last year and acquired three other companies to form Sports Illustrated Play. Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp anticipates more, and some moves won’t be as obvious as acquiring a publisher.

“There will be more acquisitions you will scratch your head about,” Ripp said. “They’re about data. Money is going to Facebook because they have data.”

But publishers do have subscriber data because of their print magazines – the challenge is how to translate that online.

“We are still a direct marketing company, but the key is who owns the customer,” Rodale CEO Maria Rodale said. “Facebook now owns our customer, Amazon owns our customer, Google owns our customer, and that’s what we have to get back.”

Publishers looking to acquire (or be acquired) need to look at numerous factors, agreed Meredith CEO Stephen Lacy. “We have to look at things that are very nontraditional.” 

The TV Effect

As advertiser dollars flow away from the volatile world of cable TV – thanks to consumer time spent on places like Netflix and mobile – digital publishers hope to grab their share.

The upheaval will be bigger than what happened in the book publishing and music recording industries, Carey said: “That dislocation is going to free up an enormous amount of money. We are competing for this in a way that in the past would have been challenging to do so.”

Condé Nast CEO Robert Sauerberg Jr. hopes to grab that money by developing influential video content. But that’s easier said than done. “What makes me nervous is that we don’t move fast enough, because we’ve got to do this and got to do it well,” he said.

Banal Banners

The decline of banner advertising and the rise of native means brands are more interested in telling stories through content. And publishers hope to benefit.

“All our large traditional advertisers were becoming media companies, and the problem was that they were product companies,” Meredith’s Lacy said. “It was not part of their DNA, but it’s part of our DNA.” In addition to Meredith’s efforts, Condé Nast is enlisting its own editorial talent to created branded stories. Time Inc. created The Foundry, in Brooklyn, which functions as a type of content marketing agency.

Knowing what readers want in this disruptive time is what these media companies hope will see their brands through. “Unlike other businesses, we know who our consumer is,” Ripp said. “That makes me more confident in the future.”






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