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Bauer’s Secret Sauce For Success: Connectivity With The Readers. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

September 23, 2019

I think the successes (of Bauer in 2019) were really that we’re the only major publisher to have absolute growth in the ad revenue, the absolute year after year growth in the subscription revenue and the continued share growth on the newsstand. The successes as well, being our products in a reader-driven company, the changes we made to Woman’s World based on our reader study, taking it even more toward inspirational type of content… And the kind of editorial success, where we feel like we’re still engaging our readers the way that we want to engage them.” …Steve Kotok (On the success story of Bauer in 2019)

 

Would you believe me if I told you that there is a magazine media company in the United States of America that is doing well, very well indeed, on all fronts: advertising revenue, subscription revenue, and holding its own on the newsstands revenue.  Ad revenue up 38% in the first six months of 2019, ad pages up 24% for the same period.  Subscription revenue is up year to year, and the newsstands, in a market where some publishers have seen a drop as deep as 22%, Bauer has performed better than all the top publishers by dropping only 4% in retail dollars.

Add to that Bauer Media USA publishes the two bestselling magazines at retail in the country, Woman’s World and First for Women. The refocus on women for the entire company has been a continuation of success for Bauer. Success that has produced a partnership with the world’s largest retailer: Walmart. Whoa, Wait. available exclusively at Walmart, originated from a pair of personal shoppers who gained their fame on Instagram (a prime example of print and digital working together) and who now can be found on the pages of print in a magazine you can find both at the frontend by checkouts and in the mainline of the store.

Steven Kotok is CEO of Bauer Media Group USA and believes reader connection is key to media companies being successful today. With the two largest selling magazines on the newsstands, Woman’s World and First for Women, Bauer and its master at the helm know a thing or two about women’s service journalism. So much so that while others are seeing a decline in ad pages and ad revenue, Bauer is seeing increases. No top publisher has performed better than Bauer on the newsstands, and they have the smallest subscription to newsstand sale ratio. Market shares are growing and Woman’s World sells more total copies than any other magazine.

So what’s the secret sauce? How are they performing these daring feats? I asked Steve just that in a recent conversation we had and his answer was simple:  we believe in our connection with the reader. Audience first. Music to Mr. Magazine’s™ ears. During the conversation, I heard the total love for Bauer and for what he is doing in the tone of his voice. The humble and kind way he spoke about his coworkers and his staff, the generosity he gave all the other titles out there belonging to other publishing companies was inspirational. And his true and total belief in Bauer’s mission in women’s service magazines was stalwart.

While many others are still in scared-mode and have a “the-sky-is-falling” mentality, Steve is hopeful. To paraphrase what he said: the sky is always falling to some degree, have hope, it hasn’t hit the ground yet. And Mr. Magazine™ believes it never will.

So, I hope that you enjoy this delightful conversation with a man who is both humble and visionary, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he would describe the status of magazine media today from Bauer’s point of view: As you know, Bauer is a very unique company in that 90 percent of the revenue comes from our readers, so I wouldn’t say that we’re typical or a bellwether. From our perspective the state of media is obviously a challenging industry, but for us it’s strong. Our readers still connect with our products. Our concern is gatekeepers; it’s the gatekeepers on the retail side, which is part of why we’ve been building our subscription base more aggressively so that we have that ability to connect with them. For our demographic and what we do and the way we do it – service content for the readers we serve, it’s strong. Our concern is the supply chain and things like that, not reader demand.

On being quoted as saying that Bauer was “looking for alternatives” to that supply chain: We are. That may be more of a medium term project, but we’re definitely, on an ongoing basis, kind of pricing out whether there was a shock to the supply chain, because we need to know how to get our product to where the readers are buying it in a different way or very quickly. We make a choice at some point to make that change. It seems prudent to know how we would go about that and to, on an ongoing basis, understand the financial costs, as well the resource and logistical distraction type costs.

On the fact that publishers used to work together to get readers and now that’s not so common: I don’t want to overgeneralize, and I’m sure someone can point to a lot of counter examples, but I’ve generally found that on the reader revenue side there’s a lot of collaboration. I mean, publishers who were supposed bitter rivals would always allow each other to mail each other’s mailing lists for direct mail, for example. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of reciprocity. They wanted that ability and they figured if you mailed their people and they mailed your people, the right people are going to subscribe to the right magazine.

On retail space shrinking in the giant chains, yet Bauer has just published a magazine specifically for Walmart: There are trends and then there are individual products. An individual product that is going to connect with the readers is still going to succeed in an up market or a down market. The Whoa, Wait Walmart is designed for that Walmart shopper, the content is shoppable. We worked with Walmart; we followed their guidance and were able to put that Walmart label on the cover and it’s actually one of the rare  magazines sold both in the frontend by the cash registers, but also in the mainline.

On why Walmart chose an ink on paper product for an idea that originated on Instagram: I don’t know that they chose it. I think the Whoa, Wait Instagram account and blog, from two women who have really connected with their audience in a very unique way; I think Walmart was aware of the power of that. I think honestly, if we had come to them with a product that they thought didn’t do what the shopper wanted, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with them. They get offered a lot of things all the time, so I don’t think they chose it as much as we made them a pitch based on our partners’ understanding of the Walmart shopper and our understanding of the Walmart shopper. And Walmart believed that we hit it right.

 

On why no one has been able to replicate the success of Woman’s World and First for Women: I don’t know that anyone is trying to replicate the formula. Again, we build our business from a different revenue model than a lot of these other also great products. As you are, I’m a lover of magazines, so I don’t look around and see a bunch of terrible products and then just two great ones. There are a ton of great products out there, ours happens to be oriented toward the retail buyer. It’s meant to be purchased for a certain use and a certain environment.

On why Bauer’s numbers are up, subscriptions are growing, ad revenues are up, while many other publishing companies can’t say that: On the subscription side it’s really investment; we believe in our connection with the reader. It hasn’t really been as much of a focus in the past, when the retail supply chain was healthier, it wasn’t as much of a need, but we wouldn’t make those investments if they didn’t return to us in the readers responding and subscribing and renewing, but that’s purely from investment.

On whether it was the right decision to sell the celebrity titles and focus on women’s magazines: It was definitely the right decision. The way that category was going, there needed to be an efficiency of one owner of that category. When we looked again, and as Mrs. Bauer said recently, in terms of decades, not in terms of years, as we looked over the real long-term, if we’re going to make that kind of investment, it seemed like making it in the women’s space was the best place to make it. So, we made the decision to sell, but we’re looking to make acquisitions in the U.S., but probably not in that category. AMI is a very good operator and we respect them a lot, but it’s a tough category. Those titles are down pretty significantly on the newsstand.

On Bauer’s interest in acquisitions: It takes a lot of work to do that, but yes, that’s where we have a big focus going forward into 2020. Again, as a long-term operator we think there are opportunities, whether that’s print properties, like the celebrity portfolio that we think will fare better under AMI’s ownership than maybe things that will fare better under our ownership, or whether it’s more in the digital space. Again, with the focus on properties driven by consumer revenue, or at least consumer action, a consumer performance type of marketing.

On whether they ever ask themselves about publishing another women’s weekly magazine: We do ask those kind of questions a lot. We look at First for Women, which does so well, and think could we raise the frequency of that? It’s strange because First for Women is maybe the only 17 x per year product out there, but it actually seems to be the right frequency for it. We’ve looked at taking it more frequent and for a variety of reasons I think it’s going to perform better at the frequency it is. So, no, I don’t think we believe there’s a way to slice and dice the market that way. We definitely have ideas, things that we’d love to do editorially, but I just don’t know if that… it’s just so tough to get that retail space now. The investment isn’t just investing in the brand and in the staff, it’s really investing in that real estate. It’s not impossible, but I think a weekly would probably be unlikely.

On who devalued magazines at retail, the publishers or the retailers and distributors, who’s to blame: For some products, their demand may have changed. Obviously, there has been an overall decline in retail sales for some. Maxim, where I used to work, we would sell a million of some issues and those days, selling a young men’s product like that, are gone. So, I do think some of it was a readjustment to what types of products work in that medium. I don’t think it was killed by retailers. Like a Maxim, for example, I don’t think we would still be selling a million if not for the evil retailers. I believe that this rapidly changing society and economy, and what content in what medium people want, does change.

On whether he feels the bookazine market is saturated: There’s probably some oversaturation there, But I don’t think that’s uncommon when there’s a growth area in print. I think we’ve seen that in many categories that showed growth, as you see a little bit of a mini gold rush from oversaturation. I don’t think it’s a great thing and that it will equalize to where it should be, but I think it’s a good thing in the sense that the vitality and growth is there and that people want to invest into that.

On what success stories he would share with Mrs. Bauer from 2019: First of all, anyone meeting with Mrs. Bauer should be talking about 2020 and 2030 and what they’re doing to build the company she owns. But if she were to ask, I think the successes were really that we’re the only major publisher to have absolute growth in the ad revenue, the absolute year after year growth in the subscription revenue and the continued share growth on the newsstand. The successes as well, being our products in a reader-driven company, the changes we made to Woman’s World based on our reader study, taking it even more toward inspirational type of content. That’s just as important to her. And the kind of editorial success, where we feel like we’re still engaging our readers the way that we want to engage them.

On any stories he would share with Mrs. Bauer about things that he wished the company hadn’t done: That’s a good question. I think a lot of those are things that you wished you’d done sooner. There are so many things, as much as we want to be a fast-moving company and a low bureaucracy company, there’s still things like the CMS we’re on or certain types of process things, where we could run more efficiently, probably all of those, if we were wiser, we would have gotten there faster. But I don’t think we made any big missteps. I believe there are some things in our own bookazine program that we’ve really made more efficient and more successful, but again, that’s more a matter of things we probably could have done more quickly.

On anything he’d like to add: The main thing is a lot of it is the people. We’ve done so much work here internally to get to know each other better and to communicate with each other better. The numbers are great, but the hidden strength is that we are all starting to work really well together. There are a lot of new people here and it has taken us time to get to know each other and I think that’s a strength.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I’m not sure anyone thinks about me enough to have a misconception. (Laughs) I think people have pretty accurate perceptions. When I was a print guy, people would perceive your ability in a certain way; when I was at the Wirecutter, which was 100 percent digital, people perceived it in a certain way; now I’m at a print company and people perceive it in a certain way. Something that I get when I’m interviewing people is that people’s abilities are  more diverse and flexible than I think most people realize.

On what keeps him up at night: I think when you’re in media, in general, including digital, anyone who started doing this long ago learned that you have to be able to sleep at night. The sky is always somewhat falling, in digital as well, as you see with BuzzFeed and others, I think if you don’t sleep well at night, you should be in a different business, because of its very nature. The idea that you don’t sleep well at night is because something is changing in a scary way, but that’s been the case for 20 years, to the extent that it really shouldn’t be scary anymore.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO of Bauer Media Group USA.

Samir Husni: How would you describe the status of magazine media today from Bauer’s point of view?

Steven Kotok: As you know, Bauer is a very unique company in that 90 percent of the revenue comes from our readers, so I wouldn’t say that we’re typical or a bellwether. From our perspective the state of media is obviously a challenging industry, but for us it’s strong. Our readers still connect with our products. Our concern is gatekeepers; it’s the gatekeepers on the retail side, which is part of why we’ve been building our subscription base more aggressively so that we have that ability to connect with them. For our demographic and what we do and the way we do it – service content for the readers we serve, it’s strong. Our concern is the supply chain and things like that, not reader demand.

Samir Husni: You were quoted recently that you were “looking for alternatives” for that supply chain.

Steven Kotok: We are. That may be more of a medium term project, but we’re definitely, on an ongoing basis, kind of pricing out whether there was a shock to the supply chain, because we need to know how to get our product to where the readers are buying it in a different way or very quickly. We make a choice at some point to make that change. It seems prudent to know how we would go about that and to, on an ongoing basis, understand the financial costs, as well the resource and logistical distraction type costs.

Samir Husni: As they like to say in Europe, in the “golden-olden” days, magazine publishers used to work together, whether it was to establish national distributors, wholesalers… they were always working together. You don’t see that anymore. Has the industry become so fragmented and dominated by publishers that they don’t want to work with each other?

Steven Kotok: I don’t want to overgeneralize, and I’m sure someone can point to a lot of counter examples, but I’ve generally found that on the reader revenue side there’s a lot of collaboration. I mean, publishers who were supposed bitter rivals would always allow each other to mail each other’s mailing lists for direct mail, for example. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of reciprocity. They wanted that ability and they figured if you mailed their people and they mailed your people, the right people are going to subscribe to the right magazine.

On the retail side, it’s a little more competitive for space, but I think there is also collaboration on working to make the larger retail chains understand the value of the magazine retail buyer. People who buy magazines in retail also buy, surprisingly, a lot more groceries and other items.

On the reader side, I think there has always been a lot of collaboration, because it’s not really competitive, people can buy more than one magazine. On the advertising side, I find it’s a little more of a zero-sum game, the ad budgets are fixed and people compete for that. So, I don’t want to overgeneralize, I’m sure people will point to all sorts of ad cooperation, but that’s generally what I’ve seen. And because the U.S. magazine business is kind of more ad-driven, they’re often run by people from that side, but historically I think there has been less of that cooperation than in Europe.

Samir Husni: You mentioned there is cooperation on the retail side, yet you can see that the retail space is shrinking, the nature of the magazines distributed in the retail space is moving from regular frequency magazines to bookazines. And even a giant retailer like Walmart is reducing the space allocated for magazines, yet you have published a magazine specifically for Walmart. Can you elaborate on that?

Steven Kotok: There are trends and then there are individual products. An individual product that is going to connect with the readers is still going to succeed in an up market or a down market. The Whoa, Wait Walmart is designed for that Walmart shopper, the content is shoppable. We worked with Walmart; we followed their guidance and were able to put that Walmart label on the cover and it’s actually one of the rare  magazines sold both in the frontend by the cash registers, but also in the mainline.

So, we had that support with them and Walmart isn’t known as a company that’s not thoughtful about what they do. So, that was based on their understanding of their shopper and their appreciation for what we were offering them. So, I think a good product can still break through decline or growth.

Samir Husni: Why did Walmart choose an ink on paper product for an idea that originated on Instagram?

Steven Kotok: I don’t know that they chose it. I think the Whoa, Wait Instagram account and blog, from two women who have really connected with their audience in a very unique way; I think Walmart was aware of the power of that. I think honestly, if we had come to them with a product that they thought didn’t do what the shopper wanted, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with them. They get offered a lot of things all the time, so I don’t think they chose it as much as we made them a pitch based on our partners’ understanding of the Walmart shopper and our understanding of the Walmart shopper. And Walmart believed that we hit it right.

Samir Husni: Bauer has Woman’s World and First for Women, the largest selling magazines on newsstands. Technically, nothing comes close to them, especially with Woman’s World. What’s the secret sauce that you use and why do you think nobody has been able to replicate this formula?

Steven Kotok: I don’t know that anyone is trying to replicate the formula. Again, we build our business from a different revenue model than a lot of these other also great products. As you are, I’m a lover of magazines, so I don’t look around and see a bunch of terrible products and then just two great ones. There are a ton of great products out there, ours happens to be oriented toward the retail buyer. It’s meant to be purchased for a certain use and a certain environment.

Other products are really made more for subscribers and on a more ad-revenue model. And they may be incredibly successful at that, but I don’t know that a lot of other publications are trying to serve the reader that we serve, in the environment that we serve them in. We’re all just doing different things. I do think that we’re the best at what we do, but someone else may be the best at what they do. So, I don’t think others have failed, we’ve just gone a very unique path as part of our European heritage of that kind of reader-driven business model.

Samir Husni: When I look at the numbers, I see that your ad revenues are up, where not too many companies can say that. You have the largest total number of copies sold on newsstands; you’re growing your subscriptions; you’re challenging the retail market – do you feel like a loner in this space, or are you getting ready for call to arms, or is it the New Jersey water instead of New York?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) On the subscription side it’s really investment; we believe in our connection with the reader. It hasn’t really been as much of a focus in the past, when the retail supply chain was healthier, it wasn’t as much of a need, but we wouldn’t make those investments if they didn’t return to us in the readers responding and subscribing and renewing, but that’s purely from investment.

On the advertising side it definitely comes from hiring great people here. We really focused our message when we focused our company around being a women-focused company. We did a deep reader study and brought those reader insights to the advertising community.

I think a lot of it too is, whether it’s a pendulum or whether it’s a shift, there is a recognition that reader connection is more important than ever. And I think that’s driving, just anecdotally from our experience, and it is from the advertiser’s response, it seems to be driving advertising decisions maybe in a more significant way than it has in the past. Maybe magazines aren’t as glamorous or something, so just the pure efficacy matters more, which is where we think we really separate ourselves with engagement.

It’s hard to say, but I think that there has definitely been a shift and as magazines are trying to get more revenue out of their readers, I think that advertisers also recognize ability to activate is more important. So, we definitely changed our messaging, but I also think what the advertising community values and emphasizes may have shifted as well.

Samir Husni: When you made the decision to sell the celebrity titles and focus on women’s magazines, and in fact refocus the entire Bauer Media in the United States on that, some people asked whether you had lost your mind or just what was going on, the company had launched all of these weeklies and now you were selling them, many may have thought the company was in trouble. As you look back, was that the right decision? And now as a Monday morning quarterback, do you have any regrets or maybe think you should have done something differently, or are you happy with your decision?

Steve Kotok: It was definitely the right decision. The way that category was going, there needed to be an efficiency of one owner of that category. When we looked again, and as Mrs. Bauer said recently, in terms of decades, not in terms of years, as we looked over the real long-term, if we’re going to make that kind of investment, it seemed like making it in the women’s space was the best place to make it. So, we made the decision to sell, but we’re looking to make acquisitions in the U.S., but probably not in that category. AMI is a very good operator and we respect them a lot, but it’s a tough category. Those titles are down pretty significantly on the newsstand.

So, we absolutely know that we made the right decision and it has paid off with the products we have seeing growth, an absolute growth in multiple revenue streams, not just share growth. And we’re going to back that by investing further into the category, whether it’s print or digital. That’s the focus for us really, around the women and health space.

Samir Husni: And did I hear you right when you said you’re looking to acquire or buy?

Steve Kotok: We are. It takes a lot of work to do that, but yes, that’s where we have a big focus going forward into 2020. Again, as a long-term operator we think there are opportunities, whether that’s print properties, like the celebrity portfolio that we think will fare better under AMI’s ownership than maybe things that will fare better under our ownership, or whether it’s more in the digital space. Again, with the focus on properties driven by consumer revenue, or at least consumer action, a consumer performance type of marketing.

Samir Husni: Being the publisher of the only women’s weekly magazine left in the country, a women’s service journalism weekly, have you ever asked yourself why don’t we compete with ourselves and publish another women’s weekly? Or do you think the market can only handle one?

Steve Kotok: We do ask those kind of questions a lot. We look at First for Women, which does so well, and think could we raise the frequency of that? It’s strange because First for Women is maybe the only 17 x per year product out there, but it actually seems to be the right frequency for it. We’ve looked at taking it more frequent and for a variety of reasons I think it’s going to perform better at the frequency it is. So, no, I don’t think we believe there’s a way to slice and dice the market that way. We definitely have ideas, things that we’d love to do editorially, but I just don’t know if that… it’s just so tough to get that retail space now. The investment isn’t just investing in the brand and in the staff, it’s really investing in that real estate. It’s not impossible, but I think a weekly would probably be unlikely.

Samir Husni: What about that retail space? Was it the publishers who devalued the magazines at retail or was it the retailers and the distributors who felt like print was going away? People kept saying print was dead, so why would they carry something that was dying in their stores? Who’s to blame?

Steve Kotok: For some products, their demand may have changed. Obviously, there has been an overall decline in retail sales for some. Maxim, where I used to work, we would sell a million of some issues and those days, selling a young men’s product like that, are gone. So, I do think some of it was a readjustment to what types of products work in that medium. I don’t think it was killed by retailers. Like a Maxim, for example, I don’t think we would still be selling a million if not for the evil retailers. I believe that this rapidly changing society and economy, and what content in what medium people want, does change.

We know that the audience we serve is incredibly engaged in print with our products and there are plenty of products. The growth of the SIP, the bookazine, even with that being so different, that’s been massive growth in a retail print product, which again shows that it may be changing and morphing, but that demand is still there. The smart marketers can kind of keep up with what kind of content people want and in what form.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that whole bookazine market, with Meredith putting out 1,200 titles or more a year, with AMI putting out bookazines… I’ve lost count with all the bookazines on the newsstands.

Steve Kotok: If you’ve lost count, that’s something. (Laughs) You’re the counters of all counters.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

 Steve Kotok: There’s probably some oversaturation there, But I don’t think that’s uncommon when there’s a growth area in print. I think we’ve seen that in many categories that showed growth, as you see a little bit of a mini gold rush from oversaturation. I don’t think it’s a great thing and that it will equalize to where it should be, but I think it’s a good thing in the sense that the vitality and growth is there and that people want to invest into that.

If it changes and consumers start wanting something else in the medium that we’re providing, in that retail environment, obviously, someone will figure that out first. Then there will be other people who feel they’re good at connecting with those consumers in the retail environment and they will probably follow again. Hopefully, that happens.

So, yes, it’s concerning when you’re trying to put out your own product. I think last year the total number of SIP/bookazine products increased double digits, but a significant decline per publication, in terms of the average sale per publication. So, that’s obviously concerning, but people who aren’t being successful at it will probably eventually leave the market and those of us who are committed to it will try and continue and hopefully thrive or at least make a living at it.

Samir Husni: If I’m a fly on the wall when you’re meeting with Mrs. Bauer, what success story will you share with her from 2019?

Steve Kotok: First of all, anyone meeting with Mrs. Bauer should be talking about 2020 and 2030 and what they’re doing to build the company she owns. But if she were to ask, I think the successes were really that we’re the only major publisher to have absolute growth in the ad revenue, the absolute year after year growth in the subscription revenue and the continued share growth on the newsstand. The successes as well, being our products in a reader-driven company, the changes we made to Woman’s World based on our reader study, taking it even more toward inspirational type of content. That’s just as important to her. And the kind of editorial success, where we feel like we’re still engaging our readers the way that we want to engage them.

So, I think those are the major successes. We have lots of other little seeds we’re planting, but if we were done talking about 2020 and 2030, I think that’s what is important.

Samir Husni: Would you point out anything to her that you wished the company hadn’t done in 2019?

Steve Kotok: That’s a good question. I think a lot of those are things that you wished you’d done sooner. There are so many things, as much as we want to be a fast-moving company and a low bureaucracy company, there’s still things like the CMS we’re on or certain types of process things, where we could run more efficiently, probably all of those, if we were wiser, we would have gotten there faster. But I don’t think we made any big missteps. I believe there are some things in our own bookazine program that we’ve really made more efficient and more successful, but again, that’s more a matter of things we probably could have done more quickly.

Hopefully, we’ll try enough new things in 2020 that there are a few mistakes, but for this year it was mostly good things that probably could have happened sooner.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Steve Kotok: The main thing is a lot of it is the people. We’ve done so much work here internally to get to know each other better and to communicate with each other better. The numbers are great, but the hidden strength is that we are all starting to work really well together. There are a lot of new people here and it has taken us time to get to know each other and I think that’s a strength.

My immediate team is really excellent and the whole team is great. When I got here, the biggest thing that struck me was how proud people were to work at Bauer. They may have loved everything, they may have had things that they wanted to tell me that we could change, but the pride of the people working here was really exciting.

When you see numbers and things like that, the hidden piece of that is all the people working.  And half of the good things or 90 percent of the good things happen where I’m not even going to know about it enough to know that it’s two people working together, figuring out something better that doesn’t make a big Mrs. Bauer presentation. That’s the one missing piece from the numbers that’s worth mentioning.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Steve Kotok: I’m not sure anyone thinks about me enough to have a misconception. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Steve Kotok: I think people have pretty accurate perceptions. When I was a print guy, people would perceive your ability in a certain way; when I was at the Wirecutter, which was 100 percent digital, people perceived it in a certain way; now I’m at a print company and people perceive it in a certain way. Something that I get when I’m interviewing people is that people’s abilities are  more diverse and flexible than I think most people realize.

The idea, especially in this day and age, of anyone attached to any particular medium is… I get the question all the time, to me I’m a consumer revenue guy, whether that’s print or digital. And I think the same goes for people who are great at connecting with brands and in helping them understand how to spend their promotional money. In this day and age, that kind of transcends the medium. I have no compunction in hiring a print person to sell digital or a digital person to sell print because it becomes such a consultative type of sell that you’re really doing marketing programs for people.

I’m not sure that’s a misconception about me or just media in general, but really it’s about understanding the way a customer, whether that’s a reader or an advertiser, engages with what you’re doing, more than it’s about the medium itself.

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

Steve Kotok: (Laughs) I think when you’re in media, in general, including digital, anyone who started doing this long ago learned that you have to be able to sleep at night. The sky is always somewhat falling, in digital as well, as you see with BuzzFeed and others. I think if you don’t sleep well at night, you should be in a different business, because of its very nature. The idea that you don’t sleep well at night is because something is changing in a scary way, but that’s been the case for 20 years, to the extent that it really shouldn’t be scary anymore.

When I work with younger people in digital, I always tell them and it’s always been borne out, whatever your number one traffic sources are today, you just have to assume they won’t be around in five years because that’s the nature of how this medium changes. Facebook traffic, where people used to get Yahoo linked to whatever; I just think all parts of media, maybe the whole concept of media, at least the parts that I know, are just changing so rapidly. At this point, I sleep very well at night because I expect exactly the level of change that we’re getting, which is rapid and kind of complete. I hope my colleagues are the same because we need great, well-rested people guiding our content company.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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