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Michael Clinton To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: 2019 Will Be The Flight Back Year To Quality, Quality Brands, Quality Environment, Safe Environments, And Obviously, Our Magazine Brands Represent That. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Michael Clinton, President, Marketing & Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines.

January 2, 2019

The Real Influencers Of The Marketplace : The Brands Themselves 

“I think credibility is a real issue right now because there was that moment in time where influencers were viewed as an important platform. Well, I think the market has learned that many people who set themselves up as influencers really are not influencers. They’re just people trying to set up a business and when you’re coming through the Cosmo lens or the Elle lens or the Good Housekeeping lens, that’s influence.” Michael Clinton…

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 Michael Clinton is a confirmed believer in the trust factor of magazines and magazine brands. In fact, according to Michael, it’s all about the brands; everything. The brands are the trust factor and that spans the entire multiplatform existence of each and every Hearst product, from the legacy titles, such as House Beautiful and Town & Country, to the latest mega-success stories, such as Pioneer Woman and Airbnb, the brands are the key to consumer trust and creditability, from print product to pixel.

I spoke with Michael recently and we talked about the trust factor of the brands and the legacy titles of Hearst that continue to grow audience and gain new readers, even after 100 years of service to the consumers. Michael said that evolvement is a big reason that Hearst products continue to flourish and grow, and that innovation has always been a part of their magazines’ DNA and will continue to be so. From the year of “Data,” which is what Michael said 2019 will be, with data working for companies in a much larger way, to “Content with Purpose,” Hearst’s new editorial mission, innovation and evolution are key.

This first Mr. Magazine™ interview of 2019 was such an eye-opening and interesting way to start the magazine New Year off. Michael Clinton is optimistic, but totally aware of the challenges that the latest “shiny new thing” of 2019 could bring to the world of magazines and magazine media. However, the passion and strong faith that he has for and in the Hearst brands is palpable and always uppermost in his mind as you will tell immediately from our conversation.

And now without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Clinton, President, Marketing & Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On his predictions for 2019 where magazine media is concerned:I think one thing that we’re seeing is a flight back to quality, quality brands, quality environment, safe environments, first-party environments, and obviously, our magazine brands represent that. And I think there is a lot of concern about context and I think a lot of CMOs are really beginning to step back and rethink things and I believe that plays well for magazine brands. So, I would say that’s one.

On how Hearst keeps growing audiences with its numerous legacy titles, many of which are over 100-years-old:What has to happen with the print magazine is that it obviously has to evolve with the culture. And so, it has to represent what is happening in the culture at any given point in time. If you go back to Town & Country in the 1980s; the eighties had a very different affluent market than today’s affluent market. So, you have to reflect the contemporary times and you have to move the reader along as well. I think it’s the magic of our editors who are constantly evolving the product.

On how he conveys that message of evolvement to advertisers:It’s all in the product; you walk them through the product and show them how the product is evolving and how the product will evolve. Brands want to align themselves with contemporary messaging. And they’re doing the same thing, they’re always taking their brand message and their brand packaging and they’re evolving it and they’re changing it, and they’re changing their message points based on the culture at the time to make it relevant for both their existing customer and new customer. So, I think they’re always looking for the environments in which we can pro-message together.

On print advertising and whether that same trust factor carries over into all of the platforms:First of all, it’s all about the brands, right? The brand is the trust factor. So, if I’m a Cosmopolitan reader, I have the trust factor in print, in digital, in social, on Snapchat, because I trust the brand. And that gets into the context discussion. I think that if you’re seeing something that is on Cosmo.com, you know that it’s been produced by professional editors; it’s authoritative; it’s been vetted properly; as opposed to some pure play digital site or some influence, it has a real credibility.

On how print can be used in today’s digital age to its own best advantage:That’s a great question. Hearst today is the dominant player in the fashion/luxury market; with our brands we produce more content in that space, in print, digital and in social. So, we now dominate. That’s been an evolution and we’re proud of that position we have now with the global luxury brands. One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve really believed in the production values of all of our luxury books: Bazaar, Marie Claire, Elle, Town & Country; they’re all oversized; they’re a luxe presentation. The amount of time, energy, and money that is put into beautiful photography and amazing representation of the luxury market; well, the editorial grit behind all of that really allows us to have those great connections with the consumer.

On whether his job today has become more difficult or easier than it was 10 years ago:I would say that it’s become more complex. What is exciting is that our brands now live in many different places. So, 10 years ago, you were basically selling a print platform, right? Today you’re selling a print platform, a web platform, a video platform, a social media platform, and an experiential platform. So, where the excitement lies is in the fact that the brands have been unleashed and we now have consumers interacting with our brands in so many different places, knitting all of that together to create a community  and that’s what’s really exciting.

On what he feels is a big challenge facing the industry today:I would say two things to that. One is there is within the buy-side of the world, there is oftentimes, the chase for the shiny, new thing. And the shiny new thing is not necessarily what’s going to move the consumer to action. So, the pessimism I would have is the lack of appreciation for the broader view of the media world, the media mix. There needs to be more of an investment in educating and training on the buy-side for what all of the different mediums represent. So, that’s one.

On what he thinks will be the “buzzword” or important one word that will define 2019 as the year of what:It’s the year of data. It’s the year of really putting our data to work in a much bigger way and so that data is both print data and digital data. And we’re doing lots of work on the data front, not just for our own content creation, and Troy (Young) may have touched on this, but our new editorial mission is what we call “Content With Purpose,” and when I say content with purpose it doesn’t necessarily mean socially conscious, although that could be a part of it. But it’s content that we know through our data that our readers really respond to.

On any new titles that may be coming in 2019:Possibly. But first let me say that Pioneer Woman has been a huge success for us, it just broke half a million rate base, as you may know. Airbnb will move to six times frequency in 2019 and it will have a rapid circulation growth. So, that’s good. We’re always looking at new products, both print and digital. There’s nothing that’s eminent, but we always have something in the kitchen. Nothing eminent now.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him:That I’m a New York Mets fan. (Laughs) I’m actually a Yankees fan, but that’s beside the point. I do have a reputation of being a bit of a workaholic, but I would argue that I have an extremely well-balanced life. And you have to nurture both sides. While I work hard, I also have lots of interests outside work.

On whether he ever feels as though he’s running in a magazine marathon:That’s a great question and I would just make the response that life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. When you take the long-term view, like in marathon running, you always have stamina and you always have a good Zen-like view of the future, because it is a long play.

On what he hopes is the first thing that comes into people’s minds when they hear the name Michael Clinton: That he respects all people, that he believes in service to people, so as you may know, I have a foundation that some friends and I started eight years ago called Circle of Generosity and it is our commitment to have service to others. And I think that’s just a really important part of how we should live our lives.

On how he decides what to retweet:I think it’s about the optimism of our business. And you’re self-included. I think it’s important to get the positive news out there about our business and about our industry and about media. As you know, parts of the media are under siege these days, and I think what we do is an incredibly important service. And while our magazine company is not in the news business, it’s really important what we do, because we inform people and educate them and entertain them. And so the Retweets are something that are either positive about the business or something that’s really innovative and unique that one of our brands is doing or that I see in the marketplace that is an innovative idea in terms of how you can use magazine brands.

On what keeps him up at night:I’m a good sleeper, but the only thing that keeps me up is when my puppy jumps on my head in the middle of the night. (Laughs)

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Clinton, President, Marketing & Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: Michael, put your fortunetelling hat on for a moment if you would, and tell me your three major predictions for what is going to happen in magazine media in 2019.

Michael Clinton: I think one thing that we’re seeing is a flight back to quality, quality brands, quality environment, safe environments, first-party environments, and obviously, our magazine brands represent that. And I think there is a lot of concern about context and I think a lot of CMOs are really beginning to step back and rethink things and I believe that plays well for magazine brands. So, I would say that’s one.

The second thing that I would add to that is, the addiction of too much bottom of the funnel performance-based media has sent shockwaves through a lot of brands, which have begun to see meaningful erosion of their brand equity or consideration. And we’re seeing, if you will, a rebalance of the media mix. And with that is an appreciation for all of the things that magazines represent, print magazines in particular, in terms of brand equity. And I think that race to the bottom has eroded a lot of brand equity, so I would say that’s the second.

And then on the third, I would say that the magazine brands’ digital platforms have a very special sauce to them, because we have very engaged users who are around our subject areas, so whether it’s fashion, beauty, or home, high levels of engagement, high levels of first-party engagement, safe environments, all of this is kind of connecting back to number one. And also in the world of content and context, that plays really well for us.

So, we continue to see huge growth on our digital platforms. I think you know that Cosmopolitan is at 38 million uniques. We just launched Oprahmag.com, and within two or three weeks we’re at 1.3 million uniques. Obviously, what Oprah and Oprahmag.com represents has great connection with consumers. So, I think all of these things bode well for both our print platforms and our digital platforms.

Samir Husni: I have been looking at and researching magazines from 1919 for the MPA’s 100thanniversary, and quite a few of the titles are from Hearst and are still being published today, 100 years later, whether it’s House Beautiful or Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar or Popular Mechanics. You publish more legacy magazines than any other media company. Tell me, how do you keep growing audiences with these legacy magazines? You just shared that Cosmopolitan had 38 million uniques, yet it’s a title that’s over 100-years-old. How do you do that?

Michael Clinton: What has to happen with the print magazine is that it obviously has to evolve with the culture. And so, it has to represent what is happening in the culture at any given point in time. If you go back to Town & Country in the 1980s; the eighties had a very different affluent market than today’s affluent market. So, you have to reflect the contemporary times and you have to move the reader along as well. I think it’s the magic of our editors who are constantly evolving the product.

I believe the sign of a great magazine is when you go to a particular magazine and you pick up an issue from two years ago, forget 100 years ago, just two years ago and you say: wow, that magazine was very different then than it is today, because the editors are constantly evolving the content, the relevance, the stories, and that’s what keeps it modern and fresh. And I think we have lots of great examples of that in the house.

Samir Husni: When you work with the other customer, the advertiser, how do you convey that message of evolvement to them?

Michael Clinton: It’s all in the product; you walk them through the product and show them how the product is evolving and how the product will evolve. Brands want to align themselves with contemporary messaging. And they’re doing the same thing, they’re always taking their brand message and their brand packaging and they’re evolving it and they’re changing it, and they’re changing their message points based on the culture at the time to make it relevant for both their existing customer and new customer. So, I think they’re always looking for the environments in which we can pro-message together.

It’s really the high-touch selling. I think one of the things is that print has always been a high-client touchpoint medium, and so, while we obviously work with our agency partners, clients have always been very, very interested in the print medium. So, there’s a lot of that high-touch human contact that goes with selling the print medium.

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Samir Husni: One of the points that I’ve noticed when looking at the legacy magazines from 100 years ago is there was always that guarantee that all of the advertising in the magazine was true and honest, guaranteed, there was a certain trust factor. Today, if I see that trust factor in print, can I take that promise with me to the digital? Or is it based on the brand?

Michael Clinton: First of all, it’s all about the brands, right? The brand is the trust factor. So, if I’m a Cosmopolitan reader, I have the trust factor in print, in digital, in social, on Snapchat, because I trust the brand. And that gets into the context discussion. I think that if you’re seeing something that is on Cosmo.com, you know that it’s been produced by professional editors; it’s authoritative; it’s been vetted properly; as opposed to some pure play digital site or some influence, it has a real credibility.

And I think credibility is a real issue right now because there was that moment in time where influencers were viewed as an important platform. Well, I think the market has learned that many people who set themselves up as influencers really are not influencers. They’re just people trying to set up a business and when you’re coming through the Cosmo lens or the Elle lens or the Good Housekeeping lens, that’s influence.

Samir Husni: How can you use print to its own best advantage in this digital age?

Michael Clinton: That’s a great question. Hearst today is the dominant player in the fashion/luxury market; with our brands we produce more content in that space, in print, digital and in social. So, we now dominate. That’s been an evolution and we’re proud of that position we have now with the global luxury brands. One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve really believed in the production values of all of our luxury books: Bazaar, Marie Claire, Elle, Town & Country; they’re all oversized; they’re a luxe presentation. The amount of time, energy, and money that is put into beautiful photography and amazing representation of the luxury market; well, the editorial grit behind all of that really allows us to have those great connections with the consumer.

A lot of it is production value and execution by the editors. And then of course, that rolls into the digital platforms as well. One of our fastest growing sites this year has been Harper’s Bazaar. I don’t have a stat in front of me, but Harper’s Bazaar, its luxe presentation in print and its digital execution has helped to drive huge digital growth for us this year.

So, when you look at the production values that those brands have on their websites and also on their social media, it also reflects that. And don’t forget, there are global brands and also don’t forget that we have, aside from global print brands, we now have the capability to work with our luxury partners globally across Elle.com globally or Bazaar.com globally. And that’s a big differentiator for us. So, we’re doing a lot of business with global luxury brands that want that kind of global footprint .

I would use those as a few examples, but we’re really proud of the fact that we’re now the leading fashion/luxury publisher in the world.

Samir Husni: If you reflect back 10 years ago at the dawn of digital, the Smartphone, the iPad, etc., has your job today, looking toward the future, has it become easier or more difficult?

Michael Clinton: I would say that it’s become more complex. What is exciting is that our brands now live in many different places. So, 10 years ago, you were basically selling a print platform, right? Today you’re selling a print platform, a web platform, a video platform, a social media platform, and an experiential platform. So, where the excitement lies is in the fact that the brands have been unleashed and we now have consumers interacting with our brands in so many different places, knitting all of that together to create a community  and that’s what’s really exciting.

So, today you have the women’s health community. And the women’s health community has exponentially grown because the user and the reader live in lots of different places. And that’s been very exciting for magazine brands because we were never able to live in multiplatform the way we do today.

But with that comes complexity, because the different platforms require different content; you get different analytics; you get different measurements, and so you have to knit all of that together for the marketing partner, but that’s the fun of it today.

Samir Husni: Someone reading this interview might say that you’re the eternal optimist, but what is something that you’re afraid is going to be a big challenge as the industry moves forward?

Michael Clinton: I would say two things to that. One is there is within the buy-side of the world, there is oftentimes, the chase for the shiny, new thing. And the shiny new thing is not necessarily what’s going to move the consumer to action. So, the pessimism I would have is the lack of appreciation for the broader view of the media world, the media mix. There needs to be more of an investment in educating and training on the buy-side for what all of the different mediums represent. So, that’s one.

And I think that leads to a lack of an appreciation for what the magazine media represents on all of its platforms. So, that’s our day-to-day job, to make sure we’re out there telling that story. So I think that’s the biggest, sort of pessimistic view that I would have.

But fortunately, we have a great team at Hearst and that’s what they do all day long  and they change perceptions and they put together great programs that have great metrics and great numbers. So, the proof is always in the pudding.

Samir Husni: For the last several years when I speak with people they’re always saying this is the year of “voice,” or this is the year for “video;” is there one word for 2019? It will be the year of…?

Michael Clinton: It’s the year of data. It’s the year of really putting our data to work in a much bigger way and so that data is both print data and digital data. And we’re doing lots of work on the data front, not just for our own content creation, and Troy (Young) may have touched on this, but our new editorial mission is what we call “Content With Purpose,” and when I say content with purpose it doesn’t necessarily mean socially conscious, although that could be a part of it. But it’s content that we know through our data that our readers really respond to.

A great example of that is that we know that the Good Housekeeping reader is passionate about the television show “This Is Us.” They watch it live; it is an appointment viewing for them; they’re passionate about that show. So, how did that express itself then in the content that we created. Creating content that had purpose for the Good Housekeeping reader is that there might be stories or covers about the “This Is Us” cast, because we know there is a high level of interest.

So, how do you take your data, connect it to content creation, and then connect that content creation and that data to advertiser partnerships for both advertising and ecommerce. Data-informed content, data-informed advertising partnerships, that’s what we’re really excited about for 2019.

Samir Husni: In 2018, you didn’t launch any new magazines, what with all of the changes that were taking place. Anything up and coming for 2019? Will we see any new titles based on partnerships or just from scratch?

Michael Clinton: Possibly. But first let me say that Pioneer Woman has been a huge success for us, it just broke half a million rate base, as you may know. Airbnb will move to six times frequency in 2019 and it will have a rapid circulation growth. So, that’s good. We’re always looking at new products, both print and digital. There’s nothing that’s eminent, but we always have something in the kitchen. Nothing eminent now.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Michael Clinton: That I’m a New York Mets fan. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too.)

Michael Clinton: I’m actually a Yankees fan, but that’s beside the point. I do have a reputation of being a bit of a workaholic, but I would argue that I have an extremely well-balanced life. And you have to nurture both sides. While I work hard, I also have lots of interests outside work.

Samir Husni: What was the latest marathon that you ran?

Michael Clinton: Albuquerque.

Samir Husni: How many marathons have you ran so far?

Michael Clinton: 15. And the next one will be in Anchorage in June.

Samir Husni: If you were to rank them, which one would be the number one, the one in the Artic, or where?

Michael Clinton: I would have to say Antarctica because it was such a surreal experience and it was my seventh continent and there are less than 1,000 people in the world who have run all seven continents, so I feel like I’m part of a very special club.

Samir Husni: Do you compare your work with magazines to your marathons? Do you feel as though you’re running in a magazine marathon?

Michael Clinton: That’s a great question and I would just make the response that life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. When you take the long-term view, like in marathon running, you always have stamina and you always have a good Zen-like view of the future, because it is a long play.

Samir Husni: When people hear the name Michael Clinton, what do you hope is the first thing that comes into their minds?

Michael Clinton: That he respects all people, that he believes in service to people, so as you may know, I have a foundation that some friends and I started eight years ago called Circle of Generosity and it is our commitment to have service to others. And I think that’s just a really important part of how we should live our lives.

Samir Husni: How do you decide what to Retweet, because every now and then I see you Retweeting something.

Michael Clinton: I think it’s about the optimism of our business. And you’re self-included. I think it’s important to get the positive news out there about our business and about our industry and about media. As you know, parts of the media are under siege these days, and I think what we do is an incredibly important service. And while our magazine company is not in the news business, it’s really important what we do, because we inform people and educate them and entertain them. And so the Retweets are something that are either positive about the business or something that’s really innovative and unique that one of our brands is doing or that I see in the marketplace that is an innovative idea in terms of how you can use magazine brands.

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

Michael Clinton: I’m a good sleeper, but the only thing that keeps me up is when my puppy jumps on my head in the middle of the night. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] says Michael Clinton, president, marketing, and publishing director, Hearst Magazines, in an interview with Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni. This is true for “legacy titles, such as House […]



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