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Hearst Magazines: Twice the Size In Five Years — Success Through Teamwork & Great Leadership – The Fifth Anniversary Of A Man As Unpretentious And Modest As He Is A Tremendous Leader – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David Carey, President, Hearst Magazines.

June 8, 2015

“We’ve never believed print is dead. We hope to launch in the U.S., as I said, new print magazines every 24 months.” David Carey

“First and foremost our print is a very good business all around the world. We have profits that we want to generate for our parent company and we’re good at publishing magazines. And so we believe in them; we have a portfolio of titles. In any given year we’ll have brands like Town & Country and Woman’s Day that are having terrific years and then sometimes you have others that have an off year.” David Carey

What do you say about a man whose leadership has brought about so much tremendous organic growth through acquisitions and launches that his company is now twice the size it was five years ago when he first came onboard, and yet, he genuinely gives all the credit to his creative staff and senior leadership teams for their hard work and dedication? You would most likely say: if we had more David’s, we could conquer more Goliath’s.

David Carey is a man who believes that through a true team camaraderie and aggregation of experience and wisdom, any problem that arises can be resolved. And these words aren’t lightly-spoken; they are powerfully succinct. While David Carey may be at the helm of Hearst Magazines; he reiterates strongly that it’s himself and a host of hundreds that have brought the company to the forefront of the magazine media industry and helped to prove that print is alive and kicking in New York, the United States and globally as well and that the Hearst brand, across all its platforms, is very much hale and hearty.

I spoke with David recently about his upcoming fifth anniversary as president of Hearst Magazines and we talked about some of his most important successes, which he shared totally with his team, and about a particular failure that he assumed complete responsibility for. It was a conversation that looked back on his early years at Hearst, checked in with his present situation, and also expanded into the future of the globally-growing company. His focus is clear; while he’s very proud of his team’s accomplishments over the last five years, he’s also ready to move forward and see them meet and exceed more expectations.

Get ready to meet a man who is as dedicated to his brand and his teams as he is humble about his own accomplishments – get ready to enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Carey, President, Hearst Magazines.

But first-the sound-bites:

David Carey, president, Hearst Magazines.

David Carey, president, Hearst Magazines.

On a brief overview of his first five years at Hearst: Keep in mind, and I want to be very clear about this; when I say “my” most successful accomplishments, the hard work is done by a great leadership team. The things that we’re most proud of have been done by a group of very talented individuals. By no means did David Carey do these things alone. It was David Carey and a cast of hundreds. There are many things that Hearst Magazines can be proud of over the last five years. At the top of the list I would certainly put our global acquisition four years ago of Hachette.

On any particular failure he encountered over the years:
This one was my idea, so I’ll take full responsibility for this failure. About three or four years ago, thinking about the strength of our Super brand in Cosmo and how it could be extended, we thought we would create a digital-only magazine called Cosmo for Guys.

On his strategy of keeping print at the forefront while exploring the digital possibilities:
It’s obvious; first and foremost our print is a very good business all around the world. We have profits that we want to generate for our parent company and we’re good at publishing magazines. And so we believe in them; we have a portfolio of titles. In any given year we’ll have brands like Town & Country and Woman’s Day that are having terrific years and then sometimes you have others that have an off year. We talked about being unbound and we live those words and the way we think of unbound is a deep commitment to print, but a deep commitment to the other businesses we are developing off of these legendary print titles.

On any doubts he may have had regarding the “unbound” formula:
We never had any doubts in totality. At any given time we might have a brand or two around the world, but that’s fine; that’s a different decision. That would be a brand business decision, but we never had any doubts about the medium itself. I sleep very well at night running a company that has substantial print revenues and growing digital revenues. We have to execute well, but we never had any core doubts about the business. We’ll be publishing our fashion brands ten years from now, twenty years from now and thirty years from now without a doubt.

On why he believes Hearst magazines, such as Dr. Oz The Good Life, HGTV and Food Network are still defying the odds on newsstands: The newsstand is a very complex environment and you have multi layers of issues affecting the channel. I’m not surprised that our new brands have done so well; people like new media brands. There’s obviously a strong interest in the new. People like new TV shows, new films, new books and new recorded music. And magazines are all a part of that.

On whether he can ever envision the United States without newsstands:
In airports and bookstores and places like that, absolutely not. However with the bookstores, I’m not going to make a prediction about them; I’ll let you do that. But especially in transportation areas; people find that magazines are a very popular way of entertaining themselves while traveling. So certainly, magazine-buying will always be a part of the travel experience.

On Hearst’s bookazine future:
I can say our bookazine strategy has probably been the least developed. That said, give us another 90 days and you will see an announcement of our bookazine strategy which will be more ambitious going forward than it has been in the last couple of years. Stay tuned.

On the reasoning behind the freemium magazine TrendingNY:
As you know we have a global business and in the U.K. these freemium magazines occupy a really lively part of the marketplace, where they have ShortList, Stylist, and Time Out New York is in that space. And these are handsome products that are well-supported by advertisers. Trending is our way of winging into that and getting a sense of how that market operates. And how we can build ad support and physically get magazines out into people’s hands. So, we’re very happy with it.

On whether he believes the advertising pendulum is swinging back toward print: I think it goes by category and if you look at the PIB data, you’ll find some categories that have done very well and have been strong, but then some that have been weak. I would say that we do find areas for our print business where our titles have done great year over year.

On the power of the magazine cover:
There’s no denying the power of a magazine cover. They are coveted by newsmakers, film stars and others that have important stories to share. We think the Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner coup is a triumph for the entire magazine industry. I’m pleased for my former colleagues at Condè Nast, but it’s a genius move for the whole business by showing the power of a single magazine cover which convened a very large audience. It’s nice to see this validated in such a public way.

On the major stumbling block he’s faced in the last five years:
The only thing that frustrates me is we are blessed with having a broad, complex global business and time is extremely valuable. By the end of the week, I’ve probably only gotten 70% completed of what I wanted to get done in any given week. What is my frustration? It’s that we have greater ambitions and more things that we want to do than our senior leadership has time to get done in any given week or month.

On his most pleasant moment: I’m blessed. For me, working with our creative staff is the very best part of my job. Being close to the creative process and watching what they do, supporting what they do and protecting what they do, that’s what I get the most satisfaction from.

On anything else he’d like to add:
I’m just so grateful for everything the organization has done in a relatively short period of time. Doing a billion dollar acquisition, buying two business-to-business companies; we have both our iCrossing digital marketing agency, as well as in September 2014 we added an adjacency to our CDS business called Kubra, another payments company, and the magazines that we’ve launched, along with the digital innovations that we’ve done; I’m just very grateful for our growth. While I’m part of the process; it is brought about by the people who implement these great moves and I couldn’t be happier with them.

On what keeps him up at night:
I don’t want to come across as cavalier, but nothing. It’s not that in any given day or week we’re not without our problems, of course we have them. But my experience has shown that a group of executives, aggregating their experience and wisdom have a pretty good track record when it comes to solving problems.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ exclusive conversation with David Carey, President of Hearst Magazines.

The Hearst Tower (Headquarters of Hearst Magazines) on 8th Ave. in New York City.

The Hearst Tower (Headquarters of Hearst Magazines) on 8th Ave. in New York City.

Samir Husni: This month, June, is your fifth anniversary with Hearst. My first question is can you give me a five-year report, maybe the three most successful accomplishments you’ve had and, just to keep it on the humble side, one failure?

David Carey: Keep in mind, and I want to be very clear about this; when I say “my” most successful accomplishments, the hard work is done by a great leadership team. The things that we’re most proud of have been done by a group of very talented individuals. By no means did David Carey do these things alone. It was David Carey and a cast of hundreds. I always hate it when I hear senior executives say, “I did this” or “I did that,” the right answer here is “we” with our senior leadership team. We are partners in the great innovation of this business.

There are many things that Hearst Magazines can be proud of over the last five years. At the top of the list I would certainly put our global acquisition four years ago of Hachette. We acquired 100 businesses in ten countries with 5,000 employees. So, you talk about a real Herculean integration task, integrating them into the Hearst culture to add value to their businesses. Our global team did simply an amazing job of that. I would say 90 days in everyone was just totally a part of the group.

If you would have asked me the day before we closed about what was ahead of us, I would have admitted to some anxiety. All over the world it was lots of people that we didn’t know and we just leaped headfirst into that first 100 days and I have to say, not only in terms of the cultural integration, but the business performance with the businesses that we acquired when Hachette owned them, were lackluster within the U.S. structure. These businesses now are just doing great; I can’t share the financials, but I can tell you it has been a grand slam homerun with these businesses. And that’s at the top of the list. And really, great credit to our integration teams all over the world, because there is a certain style at Hearst where we respect the individuals, so going through that was quite tricky.

I am very proud of what the team and our organization have done with our digital strategy, of course. We operate now with a single, global digital strategy. We’ve seen explosive audience growth; we’ve launched new digital businesses in Nigeria and other places that we’ve never existed before. And we’re very proud of that.

And of course, our continued commitment to new magazines, which during the five years, Food Network was launched by Cathie (Black) and Michael (Clinton) and is of course a great star. HGTV has been a terrific business, and we’re a year or so into Dr. Oz; now we’re thinking about what comes next. All of those we’re very proud of and the teams have done a spectacular job with them.

But not everything has worked. As you’ve reported before, we believe in failing fast. We’ve tried things and we don‘t go out of our way to publicize our failures, but there have been some and there should be some.

This one was my idea, so I’ll take full responsibility for this failure. About three or four years ago, thinking about the strength of our Super brand in Cosmo and how it could be extended, we thought we would create a digital-only magazine called Cosmo for Guys, Kate White had created it; you subscribed to it online. Where a guy would never go up and buy Cosmo on the newsstand, if there was a magazine that kind of explained women that would be very appealing to men.

So, we must have published either seven or eight editions and I thought it was a great, creative product, but it failed to find an audience. Then we shut it down. We failed fast; we had an interesting concept; we thought it was going to win and we did some clever promotion around it, but it didn’t scale and by its first anniversary we shut it down. And I can tell you, my clever idea did not work.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) I think they actually published the whole year, otherwise they would have refunded my money. They published 12 issues; I still have them on my iPad. (Laughs again)

David Carey: (Laughs too) Maybe they did. Sadly, you were among the small population of people who subscribed to it.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) I really wasn’t the audience, but…

David Carey: Our audience was under 10,000. It was not enough to have a business. It was clever and fun and it was also a part of the experimentation that we did within the ad space, so I’m proud we did it; we lost a little bit of money, but that also credits our ability to shut something down that isn’t working and move on. Not everything you’ll do within a company is going to work, so I certainly don’t mind talking about that being a miss.

Samir Husni: You and the team are investing in print, but still exploring digital by entering and creating so many digital initiatives. Five or six years ago everyone in our business was saying print is dead and the future is digital or the future is the tablet. Now we’re hearing the reverse; we’re hearing tablets are dead; the homepage is dead and now everything is mobile. But you and your team had the foresight to never ignore print, instead you continued to enhance print and continued to launch new magazines, all the while keeping digital in the forefront as well. What made you and your team go with that strategy?

David Carey: It’s obvious; first and foremost our print is a very good business all around the world. We have profits that we want to generate for our parent company and we’re good at publishing magazines. And so we believe in them; we have a portfolio of titles. In any given year we’ll have brands like Town & Country and Woman’s Day that are having terrific years and then sometimes you have others that have an off year.

We like our portfolio approach across geographies, across audiences and across ad categories. So we recognize, as I say, the key to being a successful publisher today is to have a great deal of dexterity. And so we know that we have to be incredibly skilled at digital publishing and incredibly skilled at print publishing and to do so simultaneously. And that requires having the right teams in place.

Our print teams on the new magazines are led by Ellen Levine, who’s such a genius at creating these new products and then we brought in a group of digital entrepreneurs like Troy Young to lead our digital efforts. We don’t see these two platforms as opposing, we see them as complimentary businesses and they require the right executives to be in charge of them.

We’ve never believed print is dead. We hope to launch in the U.S., as I said, new print magazines every 24 months. And we have ideas that we could do it more often, but we want to make sure that we can devote sufficient corporate attention for at least two years before we bring on the next business, so we pace ourselves to make sure that our management focus isn’t diluted. And we’re looking at new print magazines all over the world.

I know that it’s easy for a pundit to write the “Print is Dead” headline, but we love the fact that you’re reading and you’ve been reporting a number of digital brands that are now launching print components, such as C/Net and others. We recognize for marketers and for these brands the value of this physical media that lives alongside television and digital and other forms of communication. So, we get it. Our strategy is as committed as it can be and we refer to it, and you saw the debut of this position four years ago when we bought Hachette. We talked about being unbound and we live those words and the way we think of unbound is a deep commitment to print, but a deep commitment to the other businesses we are developing off of these legendary print titles.

Samir Husni: Did you ever have any doubts that the “unbound” formula would work as opposed to what other media companies were doing by placing all their bets on digital?

David Carey: We never had any doubts in totality. At any given time we might have a brand or two around the world, but that’s fine; that’s a different decision. That would be a brand business decision, but we never had any doubts about the medium itself. I sleep very well at night running a company that has substantial print revenues and growing digital revenues. We have to execute well, but we never had any core doubts about the business. We’ll be publishing our fashion brands ten years from now, twenty years from now and thirty years from now without a doubt.

Samir Husni: Even on the newsstands, David, with the three new titles from the last five years, Food Network, HGTV and Dr. Oz The Good Life, your newsstand sales are bucking the trends. When we hear that there’s a decline of 50%, yet Dr. Oz The Good Life sold out on the newsstands, and Food Network and HGTV when they were launched and until now, I think Food Network is presently the second largest-selling monthly magazine on the newsstands; why do you think those magazines did so well and are still doing well and also why do you think the industry doesn’t promote these success stories?

David Carey: The newsstand is a very complex environment and you have multi layers of issues affecting the channel. I’m not surprised that our new brands have done so well; people like new media brands. There’s obviously a strong interest in the new. People like new TV shows, new films, new books and new recorded music. And magazines are all a part of that.

We’re not surprised in any way to see these brands go from zero to two or 300,000 virtually overnight. The consumer appetite for new magazines is high. And we’ve certainly built nice businesses against that.

Samir Husni: And all of these new businesses that you’ve started were actually begun on the newsstands.

David Carey: In some cases, it’s a hybrid. For Oz, we had some issues that were bagged with First magazines, but the newsstands are a very important piece of it. We were testing direct mail solicitations at the same time, so that we could get a wide census.

For all of our new magazines we publish two issues and these are live tests; we put copies out on the newsstands and we also do a lot of direct mail. So that we can replicate what it might look like as a real business. We only budget two issues and then we stop, look at the results and go from there.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision America without newsstands?

David Carey: In airports and bookstores and places like that, absolutely not. However with the bookstores, I’m not going to make a prediction about them; I’ll let you do that. But especially in transportation areas; people find that magazines are a very popular way of entertaining themselves while traveling. So certainly, magazine-buying will always be a part of the travel experience.

Samir Husni: What about bookazines? I interviewed Tony Romando of Topix Media Lab recently and of course all he publishes are bookazines. He’s putting three bookazines on the newsstands every week; Time Inc. is putting three to four bookazines each week; Meredith is also doing that; are we going to see Hearst jumping onto the bookazine bandwagon en masse?

David Carey: I can say our bookazine strategy has probably been the least developed. That said, give us another 90 days and you will see an announcement of our bookazine strategy which will be more ambitious going forward than it has been in the last couple of years. Stay tuned. We have several that are underway, but I can’t reveal yet how we’re going to launch them.

Samir Husni: After testing four issues, your latest launch is TrendingNY, the freemium magazine. Can you tell me a little bit about the reasoning behind the magazine?

David Carey: As you know we have a global business and in the U.K. these freemium magazines occupy a really lively part of the marketplace, where they have ShortList, Stylist, and Time Out New York is in that space. And these are handsome products that are well-supported by advertisers.

Trending is our way of winging into that and getting a sense of how that market operates. And how we can build ad support and physically get magazines out into people’s hands. So, we’re very happy with it.

It is an R&D project for us, let’s be clear, but we like the way we’re learning the physical street distribution. It’s really developing new skills for the whole company. And it’s skills that we see in other markets. In the U.S., this freemium market isn’t as well-developed, but in the U.K. in a matter of years, it became a really acknowledged and normal part of the media ecosystem. We’re hoping to explore Trending and it’s our way of playing in that space.

Samir Husni: We hear about advertisers leaving print and that you can’t depend on advertising anymore to support your print product, yet we see Hearst launching Trending where all the revenue is strictly coming from advertising. If we visualize advertising as the pendulum of a clock; is the pendulum swinging back toward print a little bit or it’s still stuck in the digital time warp?

David Carey: I think it goes by category and if you look at the PIB data, you’ll find some categories that have done very well and have been strong, but then some that have been weak. I would say that we do find areas for our print business where our titles have done great year over year. Luxury and high-end have been especially robust in every way. And that’s a category that has strongly supported print and our product business is much stronger now than it has been. So, we’re happy about that.

But there are other categories where we have faced questions where magazines have struggled in the media mix, sometimes the digital and sometimes the television. I think you have to break it down into different ad categories overall. So we have ad categories that we think are performing great and then we have others that we think we can still improve.

Samir Husni: We all have seen what happened recently with the Caitlyn Jenner story.

David Carey: Yes and what a great endorsement for the power of a magazine cover.

Samir Husni: And that’s my next question to you, David; in this day and age where everybody tells us that we live in a digital age, and believe me I know it too, my Apple watch is around my wrist now; why do you think her being on the cover of a print magazine, Vanity Fair, created such a powerful impact, as opposed to the interview she gave on ABC?

David Carey: Well, there’s no denying the power of a magazine cover. They are coveted by newsmakers, film stars and others that have important stories to share. We think the Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner coup is a triumph for the entire magazine industry. I’m pleased for my former colleagues at Condè Nast, but it’s a genius move for the whole business by showing the power of a single magazine cover which convened a very large audience. It’s nice to see this validated in such a public way.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block for you in the last five years and how did you overcome it?

David Carey: The only thing that frustrates me is we are blessed with having a broad, complex global business and time is extremely valuable. By the end of the week, I’ve probably only gotten 70% completed of what I wanted to get done in any given week. What is my frustration? It’s that we have greater ambitions and more things that we want to do than our senior leadership has time to get done in any given week or month. So that’s always our focus; how do we manage that to our resources?

We, the organization, have accomplished a great deal in five years. We’ve doubled the size of the magazine company through organic growth, through acquisitions and launches. The company is twice the size today than it was five years ago.

But we have a long list of things that we want to accomplish, so that’s the only stumbling block. If I look back over the last five years, I’m very proud of what we’ve gotten done, but we know we still have so much more to do.

Samir Husni: And if you could pen the most pleasant moment in those five years; what would it be?

David Carey: I’m blessed. For me, working with our creative staff is the very best part of my job. When I see one of our teams, editorial teams, create a new product or create an issue, these are kind of like TV shows; they have 10 or 12 times per year that they get to enter their creativity. And I love it when people take creative risks and they’re validated by the marketplace and they get a real hit.

Being close to the creative process and watching what they do, supporting what they do and protecting what they do, that’s what I get the most satisfaction from.

Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?

David Carey: I’m just so grateful for everything the organization has done in a relatively short period of time. Doing a billion dollar acquisition, buying two business-to-business companies; we have both our iCrossing digital marketing agency, as well as in September 2014 we added an adjacency to our CDS business called Kubra, another payments company, and the magazines that we’ve launched, along with the digital innovations that we’ve done; I’m just very grateful for our growth. While I’m part of the process; it is brought about by the people who implement these great moves and I couldn’t be happier with them.

Samir Husni: And my typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

David Carey: I don’t want to come across as cavalier, but nothing. It’s not that in any given day or week we’re not without our problems, of course we have them. But my experience has shown that a group of executives, aggregating their experience and wisdom have a pretty good track record when it comes to solving problems.

I know sometimes if we do have a challenge, we don’t get it solved in one day, but given enough time, you get it to the right place in the majority of situations. Again, I sleep well at night because I know that there’s always an answer there some place, sometimes it’s not as immediately inherent as you’d like it to be, but it’s always there. I’m just lucky to be a part of a team that has accomplished so much.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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