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Hearst Magazines International’s CDO on turning competition into collaboration

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Gary Ellis was tasked to transform HMI into a print organization that embraced digital, starting by how its 300 strong magazine network publish alongside one another.

The publishing industry has a turbulent relationship with the ever evolving digital revolution, but one international brand plans on harnessing this energy to interconnect its massive portfolio.

Nearly three years ago Hearst Magazines International had no Chief Digital Officer.

The print, newspaper and magazine industry was well in the midst of understanding the implications of digital: the interactivity of an online news site, rising mobile consumption, and the threat to its online-advertising revenue model via ad-blockers.

Two and a half years ago, Gary Ellis was appointed Chief Digital Officer, responsible for remapping Hearst Magazines International’s content, technology, operations and overall business strategy across all devices.

Acting within a legacy publisher with little digital focus to connect over 300 editions for distribution in over 80 countries was, and is, no easy task, but Ellis recognized an opportunity.

“Our then weakness was also a source of inspiration: our global footprint was unconnected and distinct, but we could begin to use digital technologies and methods to create a network of global brands.”

The digital content strategy includes a buzzing tool, built into the MediaOS publishing platform which connects editors across territories and brands, allowing them to communicate with each other, allowing both the editorial teams of each publication, and their global readerships.

For the former, Hearst’s portfolio of magazines worked independently of, and often in competition with, other Hearst-owned editorials, meaning that editors had little to no information of what stories were being published elsewhere in the organization.

“Media is continuing to evolve via technology, so we thought it would be ideal for our editors to have access to each other’s content in real time, allowing them to communicate, share and distribute similar articles quickly, giving them more time to focus on more locally relevant content for their particular market or brand that may not be covered by another publication”

The latter would then benefit from seeing more dynamic and relevant online copy at higher volumes.”

The new publishing platform and digital content strategy increased Hearst’s transparency across its sites, and it uses data to inform a centralized news hub to check for trending topics and stories on social media, locating specific and general content that one or a group of magazines should cover.

Data allows the platforms participants to check on each other and how well they are performing.

We know how digital can be used to better technology, efficiency and our analytics, but we also wanted it to kick-start a collaborative mode of working across the portfolio.

The goal for the digital content strategy was to have around a fifth of one site’s content coming from a sister publication, which was only possible because of the huge dam of content from Hearst’s 21 magazines in the US alone.

Collaboration and communication via its digital platform now means the network can be strategic about its content production.

If a particular story is performing well, regions with smaller teams (like Nigeria or India) can leverage that content from markets with larger editorial teams and higher digital publishing volumes.

Altogether, Hearst has increased its publishing volume and digitized its social media presence, allowing each magazine to develop its own aesthetic whilst sharing the benefits of digital technology.

The digital content strategy has also been specified per region.

Hearst Fujingaho has recently announced the launch of a digital-only Cosmopolitan in Japan; Elle UK has a new print style to better reflect its millennial audience and both magazines now have dedicated digital teams in the UK.

The changes have seen some visible success stories.

Netherlands Cosmo site is ran by a team of five who consistently populate the site with must-read stories; traffic went from 300, 000 unique views to 3.2 million last year, becoming the number one millennial brand across the country, as social media reach increased nearly 300%.

“We’ve had to change the model in which our portfolio has been working quite drastically, but technology has a brilliant way of encouraging behavioral change, once your data and insights strengthen your argument.”

Analytics to back up Ellis’ changes required a re-haul of Hearst’s technologies too.

Content management systems are incredibly important to a publisher’s production, but Hearst’s model of incorporating all titles onto one publishing platform, a “media operating system”, has allowed them to grow its international traffic.

As of June 2016, Hearst Magazines International reached a record-breaking 236 million unique visits, with one billion page views.

“New technology investments should improve your nimbleness, allow for scalability in the future, but above all guarantee a self-sufficiency within the global markets.”