Trusted Media Brands CEO Sees Content As Fuel For Digital Growth

When Bonnie Kintzer became the CEO at Trusted Media Brands three years ago, the Reader’s Digest publisher had just emerged from bankruptcy.

Kinzter’s mission was to turn the company around and get it growing again. She had worked at Readers Digest before and appreciated that the company had “very strong brands that were absolutely serving the customer. They never lost that focus.”

Because of that connection to customers, circulation revenue remains high, largely due to people buying Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home and Family Handyman.

While the publisher bets that some people will still want physical products, whether it’s a magazine or a recipe book, content consumption continues to shift online. A big focus in the coming year will be ramping up digital content production, which Kintzer plans to increase by a factor of five or 10.

“We know that whenever we add more content, we get more engagement, and if we get more engagement, we can drive more advertising,” Kintzer said. “So in that way it’s a very simple strategy.”

She cites successes like Facebook, where Taste of Home has racked up more than 5 million followers and posts generate engagement rates as high as 25%. The company will add 35 staffers in the coming year to increase video production and the publisher’s technical chops.

Kintzer and Chief Revenue Officer Rich Sutton talked to AdExchanger about steering a print-digital hybrid company.

AdExchanger: How are you looking at the future of subscriptions as content consumption shifts online?

BONNIE KINTZER: We sell both print and digital subscriptions, but we definitely are primarily print. We call our titles the “snark-free zone.” Readers love our magazines because it’s a respite from the rest of the world, a pleasure that comes to your mailbox. We are committed to print, but we have more content online than ever before and see our traffic grow as the result of that.

How will you accelerate that digital growth in terms of revenue?

KINTZER: We know we can grow digital advertising considerably more than we are now, led by the content. I want to make sure we give consumers what will benefit them because that’s where the ad dollars come from.

If we invest resources in content creation, we will be able to monetize it with quite a long tail. Our content is evergreen, so that’s wonderful. That lasagna you make today is the lasagna you still love to make the next year. The Reader’s Digest inspiring story is still inspiring. With Family Handyman, everyone will end up with a broken toilet at some point.

A lot of magazine companies are rich in subscriber data. What’s the data opportunity for you?

KINTZER: We are part of Merkle’s PAM: Publisher Addressable Marketplaces. We have 98 million records, which is quite a lot of data. For us, it harkens back to our roots. We are a very data-driven company, so it’s natural for us to use that to help our advertisers.

What kind of demand is flowing through Merkle’s PAM right now?

RICH SUTTON: The opportunity there is that Merkle was just bought by Dentsu, so that will pour a lot more demand into PAM, and that’s going to give everyone who is in PAM more opportunities to test it out, if you will. We have done a couple of campaigns and yes, they’ve worked.

Those 89 million records you have – where are they coming from?

SUTTON: It’s all data that ties back to known records. There are people who register for newsletters, and there are people who are magazine subscribers, and we match those to cookies. And then we match people who come to the site with a database of mobile IDs.

What social platforms do you work with?

KINTZER: We work with Facebook all the time, and Instant Articles has been going well for us. We use Google AMP. Pinterest drives a lot of traffic for us: People love beautiful graphics, and Taste of Home has very beautiful food dishes. For Family Handyman, whether it’s a beautiful deck or shed, people use Pinterest for their inspiration.

Do you feel like the value exchange between social platforms and publishers is in a good place right now?

KINTZER: For Facebook Instant Articles, in most but not all instances, we are happy with the financial relationship. And if we are not happy with it, we just post the links back. We have a choice.

How much are you focusing on display vs. sponsored content vs. programmatic for digital ad growth?

KINTZER: We work directly with our advertisers to create integrated packages, which is where we think we can deliver the most value. We do sponsored content particularly on the Taste of Home recipe side, and Family Handyman does, too.

Programmatic is important to us. We have a great programmatic team and private exchanges. Again, what is the advertiser trying to achieve? Sometimes a takeover makes sense, and sometimes it’s a broader programmatic program.

What trends do you see out there helping publishers?

SUTTON: The raging debate about fake news, ad fraud and transparency is helping publishers like us. I just read about an advertiser who said he would pay more to be in a safe, well-lit environment because premium brands need to be protected.

And what trends are hurting publishers?

SUTTON: Programmatic is a double-edged sword for publishers. It makes stewardship of digital campaigns really easy for agencies, and that’s something agencies and marketers have been complaining about for years. But on the other side, because programmatic grew up around remnant inventory, the expectation is that it will be cheap. That’s a problem.

Because video is supply-constrained, it hasn’t had that race to the bottom element that programmatic display has. Do you do much programmatic video?

SUTTON: We are seeing a lot of demand in the market, even from programmatic. We have backfill guarantees, so suppliers or demand-side partners who want programmatic when it’s available will guarantee a floor CPM, and you don’t see that on display at all.

Are you seeing better pricing in programmatic guaranteed?

SUTTON: With programmatic guaranteed, they also expect to pay less than if they wrote it on an IO. Some are doing [programmatic guaranteed] to hit their reach and frequency goals, and others are doing it because they want to know what their environment is.

What was your reaction to the P&G’s Mark Pritchard’s comments calling for more unified standards and third-party accreditation?

SUTTON: I was saluting him and applauding, because it’s crazy to have so many different standards. When you’ve got seven different standards for viewability, and all the other problems Mark laid out, and you can get rid of them? On the other hand, you wish there was more than comScore.

What’s so wrong with viewability standards right now?

SUTTON: The real issue with viewability is that no one can measure it. There has to be one standard that everyone agrees on, and the IAB’s standard makes the most amount of sense. If you use a sticky ad and put on whatever measurement you want, no one will measure it at 100%. So you need a sane standard. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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