Why Meredith Tapped Media-Tech Hybrid Leader Catherine Levene As Its Next Digital President

The power of the brands owned by Meredith – including Better Homes & Gardens, People, Food & Wine, Family Circle – first attracted Catherine Levene to join the publisher as chief strategy officer in January.

“I’m a big believer in trusted brands, and this company has a huge portfolio of trusted brands. The opportunity is huge,” Levene said.

Just two months into her post as chief strategy officer, she was promoted to president and chief digital officer, a role she’ll officially start in April.

Levene’s career has spanned media, technology and entrepreneurship – a trio of skillsets that will serve her as Meredith eyes ways to innovate. On the revenue side, the company is thinking about ways to diversify its offering to appeal to direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisers and marketers who want more performance marketing options. And its brands will also explore new media channels, including voice and video.

She experienced firsthand the importance of a strong brand at The New York Times, where she worked as it built its digital business.

“Everyone wanted to partner with us because it was an amazing, trusted brand,” she said.

She left to serve as COO of DailyCandy a year before it sold to Comcast in 2008. After taking a break and spending a year in Spain, she started her own ecommerce company, Artspace, which sold high-end contemporary art online. Artspace sold to Phaidon, a publisher of fine art books, in 2014.

“I learned how to sell a product online and be focused on CAC [customer acquisition cost] and LTV [long-term value] – all the metrics DTC companies are looking at today,” she said.

Today, most smaller DTC companies bolster their businesses with self-serve platforms on Facebook or Google, which allow them to spend small budgets efficiently.

As more DTC companies grow up, they’ll need to broaden their customer bases in part by expanding the marketing channels they use. That expansion means incorporating historic brands like Meredith, Levene predicted.

“We happen to be the kind of company that is going to be incredibly helpful for DTC brands, particularly those trying to reach women,” Levene said.

Meredith can provide the storytelling these DTC brands need that can’t happen in a more limiting format, such as a Facebook ad.

“How are you going to tell a different story to different parts of the market? We are a 115-year-old company with an enormous amount of data about our consumers,” she said.

That data and storytelling expertise can also help Meredith create branded content that’s distributed across social media.

Meredith’s vision is to provide a suite of advertising products that give marketers at different stages of maturity the tools they need to grow their businesses. To go head-to-head with channels like Facebook, Meredith is also working with marketers that want to move product or drive sales.

“When they’re trying to figure out CAC and LTV, they will use more of our performance marketing tools and will graduate and tell a much broader story,” Levene said.

While Meredith wants to appeal to more types of advertisers with many types of goals – and to expand its content into more channels – Levene’s background as an entrepreneur inspires her to focus and prioritize. Prioritization helps direct resources when media companies must diversify, without sinking too much time and money into mercurial platforms or trends like the “pivot to video.”

“As an entrepreneur, there is this notion of prioritization because you are constantly in a world of limited resources,” Levene said.

The speed of innovation in digital means options are always plentiful. “Thinking about how much to invest in future products, or in keeping current products relevant — those are all challenges of opportunity, ” Levene said.

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