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GQ: A Brand That Takes Being Print Proud And Digital Smart Very Seriously & Has The Robust Content On All Platforms To Prove It – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jon Wilde, Executive Digital Director, & Rob Dechiaro, General Manager…

February 15, 2018

“In GQ, the one thing I go back to print for is not only are you speaking to a particular type of person, who might actually be different than someone who’s looking at us online, but also it’s a space where people still find glory in. People want their cover. It’s a moment. And when you have something like that, that still has cultural weight and is something that people gravitate to, both as a reader and as somebody in it, you’re not going to give that up ever, if you don’t have to.” Jon Wilde…

“Each individual brand’s task is to take a look at what is that business model; what is that business plan; and how do you create ancillary revenue streams around what the core is. And if it’s Vogue, what do you build around that to help some of the challenges that you’re seeing in print. But it’s not to go away from print, it’s to fortify it.” Rob Dechiaro…

GQ has been the go-to source for men’s style and fashion for over 60 years. The brand’s voice has been clear and strong throughout that time span, from its print roots to today’s multiplatform existence. While its print format remains robust and a vital part of the equation, the digital aspect of the brand has never been more innovative and creative. And it has never been in better hands.

Jon Wilde is the executive digital director and Rob Dechiaro is the general manager. The two together are determined to make GQ’s footprint in the world of digital engagement Sasquatch-sized as they move toward discovering new revenue streams and new ways to delight and surprise their audience.

I spoke to both Jon and Rob on a recent trip to New York and we discussed the new innovations and new ways they’re trying, to monetize the brand’s digital platforms. From the success of their editorially-driven “Best Stuff Box,” to their latest endeavor to utilize the brand’s expertise when it comes to helping guys dress, a product recommendation site they’ve added to their e-commerce called “GQ Recommends,” the brand is moving forward confidently in its plans to monetize its digital platforms in more ways than just a paywall. In an effort to get closer with its readers and grow revenue, the new commerce site promises a positive way to cultivate that deep bond with the audience that GQ has always been about and bolster revenues in the process. And it proves that being Print Proud Digital Smart, very digital smart, I might add, is the way a legacy brand commands its spot in the 21st century.

So, button up your shirt and straighten your tie, you’re about to enter the classiness that is GQ and meet two of its digital best, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jon Wilde, executive digital director, and Rob Dechiaro, general manager.

But first the sound-bites:

Jon Wilde, GQ’s Executive Digital Director.

On how they differentiate between the print content and the digital content (Jon Wilde): I worked on the magazine for five years before I came over and took over the site editorially. And one thing I can say is we don’t think of something as being one place or the other. What we think of is what’s the execution across a variety of platforms. So, it isn’t that one thing exists here and one thing exists there, it’s how does something that we’re really excited about exist everywhere, but in a time and space and way that is particular to that platform.

On whether coordinating the content between the many platforms makes his job as executive digital director easier or harder (Jon Wilde): It’s more complex, for sure. There are more people in those rooms. When you settle on doing something; when you think about doing something; you’re not thinking just will it make a good cover and a good story, you’re thinking will it resonate online? Will it hit the audience? How do we get it to the audience that we know we want to get it to? Is it going to say the right thing that we want to say, because a magazine can be a closed space, but the Internet, as we all know, has its’ own conversations and fluctuates in moments. You’ve got to really be aware of how something is going to land, and whether you’re moving it in that space or not.

Rob DeChiaro, GQ’s General Manager.

On whether coordinating the content between the many platforms makes his job as executive digital director easier or harder (Rob Dechiaro): I think the reality is a testament to Jim (Jim Nelson, editor in chief) and to Jon and the entire editorial staff. The content is strong enough to resonate across all platforms. I think it’s our job to make sure that it connects with that audience in the most natural way, based on that platform, because the content is just that good and it should be able to span all of those audiences to anybody who cares about GQ.

On whether each Condé Nast brand has its own business formula, some going digital-only like Self and some launching new print like GQ Style, or whether one day all of the brands will adopt the same business plan (Jon Wilde): Anybody who can prognosticate the future of print in media, please come on over and tell us what that looks like. (Laughs) We’d love to see into your crystal ball. You can’t treat brands as if they’re all one in the same. The New Yorker; the print version of that defines the thing. It’s carrying it around with you; it’s getting the tote bag; it’s sitting it on your coffee table. That’s a reading experience that I don’t think anyone plans on giving up anytime soon. When you talk about Self, what they do maybe is a more digital native thing. The crowd that they’re talking to; the audience that they have; where they live and what they’re looking for in that information, they made a decision which made a lot of sense for them. It’s intriguing watching them really push into Snapchat.

On whether each Condé Nast brand has its own business formula, some going digital-only like Self and some launching new print like GQ Style, or whether one day all of the brands will adopt the same business plan (Rob Dechiaro): I think what you’re hearing from Jon is clear as to what we’re seeing at Condé Nast as a whole. Each individual brand’s task is to take a look at what is that business model; what is that business plan; and how do you create ancillary revenue streams around what the core is. And if it’s Vogue, what do you build around that to help some of the challenges that you’re seeing in print. But it’s not to go away from print, it’s to fortify it.

On whether any celebrity would ask to be featured on just the website (Jon Wilde): It depends on who you’re talking about. Yes, JAY-Z is probably not going to come and just do a quick Q & A, but just this past month we did a major digital-only photo shoot with Taylor Kitsch, pretty big deal. There are definitely a group of people who exist largely on our website. They come through in moments where we do our own photo shoots with them. We’re doing a lot of that kind of thing now. We’re doing our own videos with them. The cast of “The Good Place” is a really good example; people are loving it. We shot four of the main cast members, not including Ted Danson, and we’ve done our own photo shoots with them; we’ve done these large Q & A’s. And they’ve resonated hugely, traffic and time spent, in terms of those things; they’ve all shared them happily. It’s a different moment.

On how they can monetize these digital-only content moments (Rob Dechiaro): At the end of the day, monetization across all digital platforms; there’s not going to be a silver bullet. There’s going to be a lot of things that we have to build in different ways based off all of the platforms that we have to go to. That’s when we talk about footprint; that’s when we talk about engagement. Those are two things that we’re continuously talking about. If you look at our audience, where are they consuming content and how do we find them and engage them, then we can talk about monetization. We have to make sure that we’re delivering that content, and that experience of GQ, in all of those places, on all of those platforms. Then we can determine the best way to monetize.

On why they believe Snapchat’s Discover platform has succeeded where other platforms have failed (Rob Dechiaro): I think part of it is the fact that they caught wildfire with the younger audience. And that’s a big aspect of it. They took the idea of messaging, which a lot of that younger audience uses Snapchat for. If you watch the young audience use Snapchat, they’re using it to message their friends, they’re not text messaging. And that becomes a platform where all of that audience is there on Snapchat. So, they had “Discover” play into that.

On why they believe Snapchat’s Discover platform has succeeded where other platforms have failed (Jon Wilde): From an editorial side, Snapchat’s “Discover” is really fascinating for us. It’s this really interesting way to reach a crowd that we might not normally reach. We’re a magazine; I don’t know how many 13-18 year-olds are spending $20 of their hard-earned cash on a magazine being sent to them. But I can tell you that demographic is a much larger percentage of our audience on Snapchat Discover. So suddenly we’re reaching them; we’re seeing what they’re responding to.

On whether they think there will come a day where, like Wired, GQ will start putting digital content behind a paywall (Rob Dechiaro): I think there’s going to be an analysis and conversations around any sort of paying experience across all Condé brands and I think across all magazine brands. I believe that’s the next iteration of the web as we see it, especially with the amount of information and what’s going on around us in culture. For GQ in particular, I think it’s going to come down to really looking and analyzing what truly engages our audience at an in depth level.

On whether they think there will come a day where, like Wired, GQ will start putting digital content behind a paywall (Jon Wilde): The interesting thing about the paywall is that it’s often talked about as if it exists in only one way, and I think what Rob really wisely alluded to is that there are a wide variety of ways you can put in a paywall. It could be just to get to the content or just to get to our expertise, which I know Golf Digest does. It could be to get to a variety of newsletters that brings something to you and deliver it daily to your inbox.

On how they define content in this day and age (Jon Wilde): What is content? (Laughs) We’re contenting right now. That’s a tough thing, especially with a brand like GQ. As Rob mentioned, we can cover anything. We’re not in one space. We do entertainment and we do style; we do some tech and we do dating and relationships; we do grooming, but we also do politics, travel and food. If there’s a thing that a guy is interested in, and at this point that should be just about everything, we’re probably going to have a moment with it. So, what isn’t content for us? Probably nothing.

On how they differentiate, as they plan to monetize their digital audiences, between the engaged audience and those that are considered out of range, that “trash audience” that exists online in places that cannot possibly affect their revenue streams one way or another (Rob Dechiaro): I think Jon alluded to it just a moment ago with the idea of engagement. And the idea of the one-and-done traffic; you need to take that with a grain of salt. And I think that’s what we’re going to start doing. We want to find the audience that’s coming back two, three, four times a month and really focus on what they’re doing onsite.

On how they differentiate, as they plan to monetize their digital audiences, between the engaged audience and those that are considered out of range, that “trash audience” that exists online in places that cannot possibly affect their revenue streams one way or another (Jon Wilde): As we track people as they move through our spaces, there are two things we look for. There’s engagement, which is the time they spend with us. We don’t want somebody who just kind of pops in for 10 seconds. I mean, it would be nice for them to pop in for 10 seconds, we’d love to get them in the door, and hopefully we can show them some other things that will keep them around. But we’ve also starting talking, obviously, about footprint, which is really interesting for us because coming into 2017 our social footprint was right around 7.4 million. By the end of the year we moved that up to 9.2 million. And it’s still steadily growing. So, that’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

On why they think print hasn’t been able to reach those large-scale circulation numbers like 9 or 10 million the way digital can (Jon Wilde): To me, the really basic thing is the Internet is now with you at all times and you’re going to it. And you’re going to go there for a million reasons, but it’s always there. It’s a lot more, in some ways, passive. You’re there and if something flows through your timeline, you’re going to spend some time with it hopefully, if it’s good. Whereas, with magazines, you had to actively reach out. You had to send a card in and hope that in a month and a half they sent you the issue, and hope you didn’t have to follow up on it. Maybe you had to send a check because nobody was doing credit card payments that well. Or they sent you a bill and you missed it. It was tough. You had to really want a magazine then.

On what they’ve done to keep their digital audience “sticking” around (Jon Wilde): What did we do to make people stick? We make good stuff. The tough thing is, obviously there’s a lot of stuff you can do on the product side, particularly with a website, to help people move around more. You can have better recirculation; you can have a nicer design; you can have moments that are really sticky, like video and deeper stories. When it comes down to it, what GQ does amazingly well; what every Condé Nast brand does really well; what every brand that is worth a damn does in this word really well is, deliver good, enticing, intriguing, unexpected stuff. It is paramount.

On anything either of them would like to add (Jon Wilde): One thing that we haven’t talked about, which is interesting to us, is the e-commerce movement. It’s amazing for us to step into there, because we’ve been doing a version of it for 60 years. It will be 61 this year. We’ve been helping guys figure out what to wear, whether it’s to buy their first good-fitting pair of khakis or their 17th amazing Gucci jacket. We’ve been there to help say we have our eye on you and we know what’s going to work and maybe what won’t. And now we’re in a space where we can feed that beast we’ve created. We did a survey last year that told us somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of our readers wanted more product recommendations. So, we’ve gone really hard at that with everything from “Best Stuff,” which I talked about and is editorially-driven to find the best stuff in the category. And on up to this new thing we’ve launched, this new product called “Recommends.”

On anything either of them would like to add (Rob Dechiaro): I think the way Jon describes it summarizes a lot of the questions that you were asking. Just going through that process where Jim talks about really understanding what your audience is doing. We got those results back from the survey, about 30-40 percent, and then we dug in and asked what is the experience that we can build for them, to simply give them more to do with the site? From an engagement perspective that meant changing the product, changing the design.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Jon Wilde): I’m not impervious to the same things everybody is in this business, in this world. I’m probably on some combination of my phone and my laptop. I’ve probably got something on Netflix going and a half-eaten something on a plate in front of me, because I received a text or an email that I need to get to. The wide world of me just never stops. It just doesn’t. We’ve got weekend editors that are running full-time; we have things that we have to get prepped for. But none of us would be here if we didn’t really enjoy this process.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Rob Dechiaro): I completely agree with Jon. It’s going to be somehow tied to work. And I think that’s why we got into this media business. It is definitely addictive. When you get home, when I get home, it’s about surveying everything that’s happening around us, maybe not that’s directly tied to GQ, so that we can find those instances where we need to extend again to connect our audience, where we know technology is giving us the opportunity to have all of those platforms.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Jon Wilde): He did the best with baldness as he could. (Laughs)

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Rob Dechiaro): I think we all just kind of hit it on the head when we were talking about the idea of getting into the media business and I think we all did that for a particular set of reasons that are to ourselves, but for me it’s that we enjoy the ride. I enjoy the ride of experiencing all of the things that are happening in tech and media and the world around us, because media plays in all of it. And if I want to be remembered for anything, it’s that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and we enjoyed the ride.

On what keeps them up at night (Jon Wilde): Trying to make people want more. And figuring out what exactly that is in a world that is flooded with “more.” It used to be pretty easy when you made a magazine. You went up against some other magazines, but now everybody makes content. You’re trying to horn in.

On what keeps them up at night (Rob Dechiaro): Echoing what I said earlier about enjoying what we do, but it’s also being able to enjoy what you do and make a difference. Given everything that’s happening in the world around us; how do we do what we do, but make a difference to people in a positive way? And I think that should be the goal of all of us. We have to impact people in a positive way.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jon Wilde, executive digital director, and Rob Dechiaro, general manager, GQ.

Samir Husni: No one is talking about print versus digital anymore. You have to be in it all. H

At the GQ offices at One World Trade Center in NYC, (l to r), Rob Dechiaro, Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni & Jon Wilde.

ow do you differentiate in your thinking when it comes to what content belongs to print and what content belongs to digital?

Jon Wilde: I worked on the magazine for five years before I came over and took over the site editorially. And one thing I can say is we don’t think of something as being one place or the other. What we think of is what’s the execution across a variety of platforms.

So, let’s take an easy example; a cover story, right? We’ve got Colin Kaepernick sitting right in front of us on the table here, so we’ll go with that one. A big, huge moment for us last year, naming him our Citizen of the Year in the December issue. We knew that needed to be a big visual moment for print; that it needed to be something that stood out on the newsstand and said something loud and clear. And we got that obviously with the cover.

Our rollout online was interesting because the story we did inside was a compilation of 10 people who were close to him that were speaking about what he was trying to do on the activism front, how he made that movement from player to social activist. We took those, where in-book they were a compilation, online they all got broken up. All of those voices became individual voices that spoke to Colin, but also had their own. So, Ava DuVernay could speak to what Colin was doing, but also a little about what she was hoping to achieve. It became bigger in scope online.

We knew on Twitter that those photos were going to be a driver, we’ve seen our covers like this, especially in the social activism space, just really resonate. So, we had a different plan for seeding those out there, and for using Instagram, our biggest social platform, as a place to gather those. It became our most-liked Instagram photo ever.

In those ways, as we’re pulling these things together, we’re thinking that we know what the story is going to be; we know what the images might be; let’s figure out what the video is; what’s the plan for Instagram where we have four million people; what’s that Instagram story. Maybe we’re taking some of those extended-cut quotes and matching them up with beautiful behind-the-scenes video that we shot up in Harlem, such as we did when we recreated that iconic Muhammad Ali photo session.

So, it isn’t that one thing exists here and one thing exists there, it’s how does something that we’re really excited about exist everywhere, but in a time and space and way that is particular to that platform.

Samir Husni: And does coordinating that content between the many platforms make your job easier or harder? You’ve been there before, pre-digital.

Jon Wilde: It’s more complex, for sure. There are more people in those rooms. When you settle on doing something; when you think about doing something; you’re not thinking just will it make a good cover and a good story, you’re thinking will it resonate online? Will it hit the audience? How do we get it to the audience that we know we want to get it to? Is it going to say the right thing that we want to say, because a magazine can be a closed space, but the Internet, as we all know, has its’ own conversations and fluctuates in moments. You’ve got to really be aware of how something is going to land, and whether you’re moving it in that space or not.

We’re constantly having those conversations. When we’re just talking about covers, maybe before it would have been five or six print editors, now it’s myself and our editorial director, and Carly (Carly Holden, executive director of Communications) is in that room, and our head of Social is going to be in that room; our video guys are going to factor into that too. All of us come together to create these moments; you have to have everybody in there. It’s a little bit more complex, but also it leads to a bigger, richer story all of the time.

Rob Dechiaro: I think the reality is a testament to Jim (Jim Nelson, editor in chief) and to Jon and the entire editorial staff. The content is strong enough to resonate across all platforms. I think it’s our job to make sure that it connects with that audience in the most natural way, based on that platform, because the content is just that good and it should be able to span all of those audiences to anybody who cares about GQ.

Samir Husni: Last year you published GQ Style, so you’re not leaving print by the wayside. Yet, there are some other Condé Nast brands like Teen Vogue and Self that you decided to stop the print versions. Does each brand at Condé Nast have its own business plan or business formula? Or will we eventually see a trickle-down formula that will apply to all brands?

Jon Wilde: Anybody who can prognosticate the future of print in media, please come on over and tell us what that looks like. (Laughs) We’d love to see into your crystal ball. But yes, you can’t treat brands as if they’re all one in the same. The New Yorker; the print version of that defines the thing. It’s carrying it around with you; it’s getting the tote bag; it’s sitting it on your coffee table. That’s a reading experience that I don’t think anyone plans on giving up anytime soon.

When you talk about Self, what they do maybe is a more digital native thing. The crowd that they’re talking to; the audience that they have; where they live and what they’re looking for in that information, they made a decision which made a lot of sense for them. It’s intriguing watching them really push into Snapchat. And I think their Snapchat audience is bigger now than their website audience, which is amazing. They’ve managed to find the place where their people are. And at all times, that’s what we’re looking at. The New Yorker’s people are print folks, that will never go away. You see W becoming fewer issues, but more of a coffee table moment, almost a coffee table book. GQ Style is like that.

In GQ, the one thing I go back to print for is not only are you speaking to a particular type of person, who might actually be different than someone who’s looking at us online, but also it’s a space where people still find glory in. People want their cover. It’s a moment. And when you have something like that, that still has cultural weight and is something that people gravitate to, both as a reader and as somebody in it, you’re not going to give that up ever, if you don’t have to.

Rob Dechiaro: I think what you’re hearing from Jon is clear as to what we’re seeing at Condé Nast as a whole. Each individual brand’s task is to take a look at what is that business model; what is that business plan; and how do you create ancillary revenue streams around what the core is. And if it’s Vogue, what do you build around that to help some of the challenges that you’re seeing in print. But it’s not to go away from print, it’s to fortify it.

It’s to make sure that you have a lot of things going on to hit the multiple touchpoints that we were just talking about, when you think about digital and print working together. That’s how we look at it. It’s just about how do you build around that and around the audiences that we have in print to do different things within digital.

Jon Wilde: And the talk of engagement and how that’s become a bigger metric, certainly digitally. But I don’t know if you have any bigger engagement than somebody picking up a magazine actively and deciding to flip through it. And we still largely see some of our biggest stories in those moments where people gravitate to GQ, moments that have resonance, that cause ripple effects on through the Internet, they originated there. And it’s because it comes with a weight and a care and something that’s tangible, even if it’s on your screen.

Samir Husni: Correct me if I’m wrong, but no celebrity will ever ask to be featured on your website; they want to be on the cover of the magazine, if they can.

Jon Wilde: I’m going to disagree with that. It depends on who you’re talking about. Yes, JAY-Z is probably not going to come and just do a quick Q & A, but just this past month we did a major digital-only photo shoot with Taylor Kitsch, pretty big deal. There are definitely a group of people who exist largely on our website. They come through in moments where we do our own photo shoots with them. We’re doing a lot of that kind of thing now. We’re doing our own videos with them.

The cast of “The Good Place” is a really good example; people are loving it. We shot four of the main cast members, not including Ted Danson, and we’ve done our own photo shoots with them; we’ve done these large Q & A’s. And they’ve resonated hugely, traffic and time spent, in terms of those things; they’ve all shared them happily. It’s a different moment.

And in some ways, especially when you get into a younger actor, who’s at an ascendant moment in their career; what they can get out of a digital-only piece is not just eyes. When we put your great photo on our timeline, people don’t say that’s a digital-only piece. A great cover looks as good as a great shoot that we did just for the website. You’re still getting part of that GQ elevation.

Samir Husni: And how are you going to monetize that?

Rob Dechiaro: At the end of the day, monetization across all digital platforms; there’s not going to be a silver bullet. There’s going to be a lot of things that we have to build in different ways based off all of the platforms that we have to go to. That’s when we talk about footprint; that’s when we talk about engagement. Those are two things that we’re continuously talking about. If you look at our audience, where are they consuming content and how do we find them and engage them, then we can talk about monetization. We have to make sure that we’re delivering that content, and that experience of GQ, in all of those places, on all of those platforms. Then we can determine the best way to monetize.

We can’t sit here and think that we’re just going to monetize on site anymore. We’re going to have to monetize through partnerships with Twitter; with Instagram; with Snapchat. If you look at what we’ve done with Snapchat, there was a conversation at a Condé Nast level about whether we should be on the Snapchat platform. We were identified as a brand. Now we’re creating franchises in content that matches what we do in book, matches what we do on GQ.com, but now we can monetize it on Snapchat through a partnership with Snapchat.

I think it’s just examples from that. We have to make sure that when we find those areas that we know we can engage our audience with, it’s going to feel as if it’s one-off revenue models, but that’s the reality of the digital experience right now. And I think that’s what we have to focus on.

Samir Husni: Why do you think Snapchat’s “Discover” has succeeded where so many other platforms have failed?

Rob Dechiaro: I think part of it is the fact that they caught wildfire with the younger audience. And that’s a big aspect of it. They took the idea of messaging, which a lot of that younger audience uses Snapchat for. If you watch the young audience use Snapchat, they’re using it to message their friends, they’re not text messaging. And that becomes a platform where all of that audience is there on Snapchat. So, they had “Discover” play into that.

And I think they’re still trying to figure exactly how that works out and where they do that in the Snapchat experience, but it’s taken the partnership that Snapchat has created with all of these brands to create content specific for that platform, which makes it feel to the audience as if you’re publishing specifically for that platform. Now, we know that we’re creating the content; we’re expanding our content that we’re already creating, and that somebody who maybe just goes onto Snapchat, for them it feels very native. And I think that’s of the utmost importance.

Jon Wilde: From an editorial side, Snapchat’s “Discover” is really fascinating for us. It’s this really interesting way to reach a crowd that we might not normally reach. We’re a magazine; I don’t know how many 13-18 year-olds are spending $20 of their hard-earned cash on a magazine being sent to them. But I can tell you that demographic is a much larger percentage of our audience on Snapchat Discover. So suddenly we’re reaching them; we’re seeing what they’re responding to.

A lot of times we’re taking content that we’ve already made, but we’re redesigning it, recrafting it, repurposing it and figuring out a different angle. We’ve also had some times where we’ve actually created wholesale new shoots, new videos, that are only living on Snapchat. And what that has let us do is reach out to maybe the next generation of GQ readers, maybe introduce ourselves to them. Let them know that we’re still the place to go to figure out how to grow up and be an adult man. How to maybe get a little bit more stylish after your mom has been buying your clothes for you at the mall for the last five years. (Laughs)

But we’ve also been able to take a little bit back from that and ask what are the new waves where people are moving; what are the things that people are grabbing? Everything from time spent on there to the number of times they actually screen-grab something, we find ourselves higher than benchmarks. And so, we’re really heartened to be able to kind of walk into that space and reach a new set of eyeballs. And take something away while giving them something they seem to be really enthusiastic about.

Samir Husni: Wired is experimenting with the paywall. Now, after putting the audiences on a Welfare Information Society, giving them everything for free, the industry is seeing the futility of that. Do you think there will be a time at GQ where you will start putting content behind a paywall?

Rob Dechiaro: I think there’s going to be an analysis and conversations around any sort of paying experience across all Condé brands and I think across all magazine brands. I believe that’s the next iteration of the web as we see it, especially with the amount of information and what’s going on around us in culture. For GQ in particular, I think it’s going to come down to really looking and analyzing what truly engages our audience at an in depth level.

If you look at the way The New Yorker or Wired are doing it, they’re doing a paywall based off a metered experience and based off an audience that’s coming back multiple times. For GQ, we cover a lot of categories. We cover a lot of things and that’s something that GQ does extremely well and we’ve done for a lot of years. And we’ve earned the right to do that.

I think the step for GQ on where we go to a paid experience, a paywall, a service; something that gives the audience a reason to have to pay, to want to pay, we’re going to have to look at what aspects of our coverage deserve to be behind that experience.

Jon Wilde: The interesting thing about the paywall is that it’s often talked about as if it exists in only one way, and I think what Rob really wisely alluded to is that there are a wide variety of ways you can put in a paywall. It could be just to get to the content or just to get to our expertise, which I know Golf Digest does. It could be to get to a variety of newsletters that brings something to you and deliver it daily to your inbox.

You might consider it a minor paywall in that we have a “Best Stuff Box” now that we’re selling, which the Best Stuff is our kind of branding for us going out and rigorously testing something and finding the things that we really love, particularly menswear, but also in things like tech, grooming, and products that we know guys are really eager to find the best in. We’ve bundled some of that in a box and we’ve started selling subscriptions to it. We’ve had a mind-blowing take rate in the fact that it was really only soft-launched up until a couple of weeks ago when it became super-available online.

And the interesting thing is people are looking at that and when they subscribe to it, it’s $150 to subscribe for a year, they’re also oftentimes taking a subscription to the magazine. And you’re seeing this kind of back and forth between wanting to pull from our expertise, which is we’ve found something cool and we’ll send it to you, and also the fact that they would like to get a little closer to the content and the things that we do. So, I think that we’re really in an amazing place to figure out a paywall or paywalls could be in other places.

Samir Husni: How do you define content in this day and age?

Jon Wilde: What is content? (Laughs) We’re contenting right now. That’s a tough thing, especially with a brand like GQ. As Rob mentioned, we can cover anything. We’re not in one space. We do entertainment and we do style; we do some tech and we do dating and relationships; we do grooming, but we also do politics, travel and food. If there’s a thing that a guy is interested in, and at this point that should be just about everything, we’re probably going to have a moment with it. So, what isn’t content for us? Probably nothing.

That said, you’re always aware of your resources and your bandwidth. We’re also always asking the question, what do we want to achieve? As we switch from the raw, impressionistic news views, we need to just get uniques, uniques, uniques in the door. And when you do that, we’ve all seen what that leads to. It leads to scale, certainly, but not a very fun scale. You kind of race to the bottom and you’re chasing whatever is trending. Whereas now, as we move into engagements and little bit more of the notion of having a footprint growth, which is bringing people in who really want to be around all of our stuff, you start to care a lot about what the thing is that you pull off and write about. And it has to be something that’s meaningful and that means something on the platform that you’re putting it on.

And when you go back to that idea of what’s digital and what’s print, it all goes back to whether it’s a good story for GQ. Do we have something valid to say and is it going to resonate in the place and with the people that we’re speaking to? And that math generally points you in the right direction on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes you try a thing out and it doesn’t work, and you say okay, lesson learned. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: I interviewed Bob Garfield, who’s supposedly considered the “Marketing Guru” media writer. And he said with all of this digital growth, there’s also a lot of “trash audience” in those numbers. People reading the website or watching the videos in China, Hong Kong, or Lebanon. How do you differentiate, as you plan to monetize these digital platforms, between the trash audience and the engaged audience?

Rob Dechiaro: I think Jon alluded to it just a moment ago with the idea of engagement. And the idea of the one-and-done traffic; you need to take that with a grain of salt. And I think that’s what we’re going to start doing. We want to find the audience that’s coming back two, three, four times a month and really focus on what they’re doing onsite.

Now, we’re going to have to have a serious conversation with our friends and marketers on the advertising side and our other partners to determine what does scale look like versus what does an engaged audience look like. And how do you change your models at which you’re measuring your advertising, which we all know that we need to have in a conversation.

But to me, from an audience perspective, you just have to determine who is coming back and who is in love with your brand. And who is coming back multiple times per month, I think it has to be on a monthly basis, and you have to make sure it’s the people who are reading and scrolling through the content that are the true and genuine eyeballs. It just has to be taken with a grain of salt from scale perspective until we have the technology and everything built out from a measurement perspective that we can easily filter that out. It’s all about engagement.

Jon Wilde: As we track people as they move through our spaces, there are two things we look for. There’s engagement, which is the time they spend with us. We don’t want somebody who just kind of pops in for 10 seconds. I mean, it would be nice for them to pop in for 10 seconds, we’d love to get them in the door, and hopefully we can show them some other things that will keep them around. But we’ve also starting talking, obviously, about footprint, which is really interesting for us because coming into 2017 our social footprint was right around 7.4 million. By the end of the year we moved that up to 9.2 million. And it’s still steadily growing. So, that’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

The intriguing thing about that is while you’re not running at scale, because you’re not just trying to collect every eyeball that flows through the timeline on Facebook, what you are trying to get is people who want to stay with the brand. They want to click follow and they want to click subscribe, and they want to see the next thing that comes out even though they don’t know what it is. And so that’s what we’re really focused on right now.

You’ve got engagement, once they’ve been brought in and you see if they can move through your space really well; can you get them to like a photo and maybe drive them to see a video that maybe gets them intrigued enough to come to your website. They may see a few pieces and buy a Box from us. But also you want to keep growing those spaces where what you’re putting out there is special enough for them to say they want to subscribe. Not just to the magazine, but to Instagram and then everything kind of reaches them. And then we can make those cool things that make Colin Kaepernick, who looks great on the cover, look amazing on Instagram. And then that brings another great round of feedback.

Samir Husni: Why do you think in print no one has been able to reach that scale of nine million or 10 million? The largest magazine circulation will hit one million and then it stops. What is the difference between the engagement of your audience on digital and the engagement of the print audience?

Jon Wilde: Two things. To me, the really basic thing is the Internet is now with you at all times and you’re going to it. And you’re going to go there for a million reasons, but it’s always there. It’s a lot more, in some ways, passive. You’re there and if something flows through your timeline, you’re going to spend some time with it hopefully, if it’s good. Whereas with magazines, you had to actively reach out. You had to send a card in and hope that in a month and a half they sent you the issue, and hope you didn’t have to follow up on it. Maybe you had to send a check because nobody was doing credit card payments that well. Or they sent you a bill and you missed it. It was tough. You had to really want a magazine then.

And that’s a thing nowadays; it’s heartening when you still have people like that, because they’re the kind of diehard readers that you want to keep close and deliver the really cool stuff to.

But we’ve got a big distribution platform now, where everything kind of flows by their eyes. And that’s where you get into the scale, making good content engagement space, where you know it’s probably going to cross in front of them at some point, but what’s going to make a grab and stick, entice and intrigue, and want to stay with them? When we now talk about subscribing, it’s tapping a button really quickly.

And interestingly, I think the same thought processes are still there, that it was with the magazine. Am I willing to give over something of myself to it? In this case, a lot of time. It’s time nowadays, right? Am I willing to give over entre to my newsletter? Am I willing to give over my timeline that I curated really nicely? You’re still weighing something, but it’s a lot easier to get there.

Also, like you said, we gave a lot of stuff away for free for a long time. Free gets a lot of people in the door, and now you have to figure out how you monetize what was free for so long.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I always tell the students is, on the web, same as in print, you have to learn how to make somebody click, tick and stick. The clicking and ticking is always there, it’s the sticking that is sometimes difficult. What did you do to make people stick?

Jon Wilde: What did we do to make people stick? We make good stuff. The tough thing is, obviously there’s a lot of stuff you can do on the product side, particularly with a website, to help people move around more. You can have better recirculation; you can have a nicer design; you can have moments that are really sticky, like video and deeper stories. When it comes down to it, what GQ does amazingly well; what every Condé Nast brand does really well; what every brand that is worth a damn does in this word really well is, deliver good, enticing, intriguing, unexpected stuff. It is paramount.

It is why you can blow up and grow to scale, and ultimately it would be kind of empty. Whereas, we may never reach those kind of BuzzFeed-ian, hundred-million-esque heights, but what we did have was great stuff. Amazing stuff. Stuff that you couldn’t deny was good. When you have that, you can always build something around it.

We’re also blessed because our reader could conceivably be anybody. We know we’re aimed at guys; we know demographically where that kind of sweet spot is, but our readership in a lot of places is 25 percent or more female. You put out a great story like Colin Kaepernick, that doesn’t just stay in one space. That’s always been the driving force from Jim Nelson on down.

Samir Husni: And that cover story made the rounds, from Fox News to CNBC, so you covered the entire gamut. Some folks loved you and some folks didn’t. (Laughs)

Jon Wilde: Right. (Laughs too) I don’t know that Fox News was in love with it, but when you can put something out there and people care enough to talk about it, you’ve done your job, I think. We have at least.

Samir Husni: Is there anything that either of you would like to add?

Jon Wilde: One thing that we haven’t talked about, which is interesting to us, is the e-commerce movement. It’s amazing for us to step into there, because we’ve been doing a version of it for 60 years. It will be 61 this year. We’ve been helping guys figure out what to wear, whether it’s to buy their first good-fitting pair of khakis or their 17th amazing Gucci jacket. We’ve been there to help say we have our eye on you and we know what’s going to work and maybe what won’t.

And now we’re in a space where we can feed that beast we’ve created. We did a survey last year that told us somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of our readers wanted more product recommendations. They wanted us to tell them more specifically what to buy. They wished that there was an easier process to find those things on our site.

So, we’ve gone really hard at that with everything from “Best Stuff,” which I talked about and is editorially-driven to find the best stuff in the category. And on up to this new thing we’ve launched, this new product called “Recommends.” It’s kind of a store within GQ, but it’s still editorially-driven and it turns over often throughout the week as we recommend more products, pull ones out that maybe have gotten old or have gone off sale.

And it’s this great warehouse where a guy can walk in and say that he needs a new shirt and then ask what GQ thinks he should get. He doesn’t have to search; he doesn’t have to go to Google and type in GQ shirts and hope that the first thing that pops up is the most recent one. He can walk in there and see the 40 shirts that GQ thinks he should buy that day.

And it’s been great. We’ve seen an amazing response to it. It’s already driving 11 percent of our affiliate revenue on GQ.com, and we’re really pushing hard on affiliate, in both GQ and across Condé. We’re seeing a huge click-thru rate on that as well, which is interesting because we pair it with editorial stories, kind of going back to the stickiness and engagement.

They come to us because they want to figure out what shirt or what suit they should buy, what pair of shoes, but then they also click on a piece because there’s a reason they came to GQ. It’s because our voice and our point of view is as much what they want as just the clothes themselves. So, that’s been really heartening to see our e-commerce click with our reader.

Rob Dechiaro: I think the way Jon describes it summarizes a lot of the questions that you were asking. Just going through that process where Jim talks about really understanding what your audience is doing. We got those results back from the survey, about 30-40 percent, and then we dug in and asked what is the experience that we can build for them, to simply give them more to do with the site? From an engagement perspective that meant changing the product, changing the design.

But then we figured out a different revenue stream to tie to that, so that it’s not something new and big to replace print, that’s not the plan of this. This is something we didn’t run at; this is something we’ve been doing for a very long time. We just used technology and the platforms that were engaging our audience to make it easier, and to better engage them on that platform. And I think that really summarizes what we do from a commerce perspective. But honestly, the way we started that, the way we used that process, should be the way we evolve GQ as a brand throughout the next several years.

To Jon’s point about the data that we’re gleaning, in that it’s both editorial and commerce, 40 percent of the people who are on that commerce experience, that we built specifically for making it easier to go buy those products, 40 percent of those people are then clicking on an article of content to go read. That’s how you build the stickiness. But that comes from an understanding of what our audience desires. And just tying all of that together.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Jon Wilde: I’m not impervious to the same things everybody is in this business, in this world. I’m probably on some combination of my phone and my laptop. I’ve probably got something on Netflix going and a half-eaten something on a plate in front of me, because I received a text or an email that I need to get to.

The wide world of me just never stops. It just doesn’t. We’ve got weekend editors that are running full-time; we have things that we have to get prepped for. But none of us would be here if we didn’t really enjoy this process. Some of us get a little tired of it; some of us walk out and take two-week vacations and think about not coming back. (Laughs) Ultimately, there’s a little bit of a drug in it, whether for good or for bad. But you’re probably going to find me doing some work.

Rob Dechiaro: I completely agree with Jon. It’s going to be somehow tied to work. And I think that’s why we got into this media business. It is definitely addictive. When you get home, when I get home, it’s about surveying everything that’s happening around us, maybe not that’s directly tied to GQ, so that we can find those instances where we need to extend again to connect our audience, where we know technology is giving us the opportunity to have all of those platforms.

So, to me, the downtime away from just GQ is really about understanding what are the new platforms? Netflix; what if something happens with Netflix where it would make sense for GQ to get involved? And just taking all of those things that are happening around us and really making sure that we’re constantly thinking about how our audience could possibly want to find GQ there. And that’s something that we can’t forget and should be our downtime.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Jon Wilde: He did the best with baldness as he could. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Rob Dechiaro: I think we all just kind of hit it on the head when we were talking about the idea of getting into the media business and I think we all did that for a particular set of reasons that are to ourselves, but for me it’s that we enjoy the ride. I enjoy the ride of experiencing all of the things that are happening in tech and media and the world around us, because media plays in all of it. And if I want to be remembered for anything, it’s that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and we enjoyed the ride.

Jon Wilde; Yes, I think it’s that we made people want more. When we do our job well, we make people want more. It’s the thing that we’re always on the hunt for; it’s why we don’t mind being up until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. on our phones. If the things that I put out into the world make people want more, then I’ll feel pretty good about my time spent.

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

Jon Wilde: Trying to make people want more. And figuring out what exactly that is in a world that is flooded with “more.” It used to be pretty easy when you made a magazine. You went up against some other magazines, but now everybody makes content. You’re trying to horn in.

Literally on Instagram, we have four million followers, which is a lot, but also think about, we have to squeeze in between your best friend who just went on vacation, or your cousin who just had a baby. To that, everything is content, but the bar got higher. The bar shot up. Which is weird, because we talk about the bar lowering, but really for the bar to make it through the noise and to hit, it skyrocketed. And in some ways that’s tough. But in a lot of ways you step up your game. And stepping up your game is never easy, but it means you always feel like you’re working as damned hard as you possibly can to do something good.

Rob Dechiaro: Echoing what I said earlier about enjoying what we do, but it’s also being able to enjoy what you do and make a difference. Given everything that’s happening in the world around us; how do we do what we do, but make a difference to people in a positive way? And I think that should be the goal of all of us. We have to impact people in a positive way.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t walk in here and the team around me makes me better and I hope I make them better. And I think we need to do that for our audience, and our audience needs to do that for us. So, what would keep me up at night would be how do we continue to make that impact? How do we continue to make a positive difference in the world?

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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