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Hearst Magazines’ President, Troy Young, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Established Media Brands Are Rising Again.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

December 30, 2019

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Deeper. One word the president of Hearst Magazines, Troy Young, uses to define the focus for the company in 2020. A deeper relationship with consumers. According to Troy, a deeper understanding of what the customer wants and how Hearst Magazines is serving them is vital for the future. Hearst magazine brands are strong across all platforms, Troy emphasized, but video and affiliate partnerships are bringing in new revenue and strengthening the company even more.

However, he also believes that evolving with the digital times does not necessarily mean a business model change. Advertisement remains important, along with all the other added streams of revenue the company is enjoying. It’s a process of adapting and evolving, but without disallowing advertisement, which he believes will continue, along with a more consumer-driven focus.

So, please enjoy this conversation with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines, as Mr. Magazine™ continues his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound bites:

On his assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media: What magazines represent to readers, which is point of view, passion and perspective, that’s not going away. Magazines play an important role in the information ecosystem. Certainly, the Internet has changed how that information gets to the consumer. And it has changed the tools that we have to tell stories, but I don’t think that category of information is any less vital than it has been in the past.

On adding the word “media” to the mastheads of some of the Hearst titles: Well, we make all kinds of media, but it’s still definitely defined by magazines.

On any success stories he can share from 2019: I’m really happy that we keep evolving our business and through that evolution we’re hitting our financial goals. I love that we’ve created a more collaborative organization across print and digital. That’s enabling us to tell more ambitious stories. A few years ago video wasn’t as important to our work as it is today. We have dozens of series in production, which make up a significant part of our revenue. It’s just enabling us to become more ambitious storytellers.

On his biggest challenge for 2019 and whether he overcame it: We’re all working to overcome the fundamental changes in our business model, which is managing a decline in print advertising by growing new sources of revenue in areas like video and partnerships and affiliates. And I think that’s what everyone in the industry is doing. And it’s really forcing everyone to look at how you can become a stronger consumer business.

On how Hearst is seeing the evolvement of the business model, such as with higher cover prices, SIP’s on newsstands, memberships or something else: To me those aren’t business models. I don’t think the business model really changes. I think it’s still going to be advertising-dependent, and depending on the title, more or less will come from the consumer. Inevitably, more of our media business is shifting toward consumer revenue, but advertising will play a huge role, particularly in categories like fashion and luxury. The type of advertising that we generate through our media brands evolves, it shifts to video and data and more services. So, there’s a shift in where the money comes from, but it’s still advertising that’s a really big part of your revenue.

On whether he thinks the way magazines are viewed has changed over the years: Traditionally, magazines served as a format to deliver information and advertising that was really well-understood. I think as we introduced digital platforms, suddenly magazines meant not just print but all the ways that you could express these brands digitally, including video, podcasting and social media. We’ve always had very powerful consumer brands, so that was the real allure of creating new content for new channels, because consumers loved those brands and they wanted to interact with them in these new platforms.

On whether he believes social media is friend or foe to magazine media today: It’s allowed our brands to be bigger than ever. If you look at all of our brands, we touch more consumers today than we ever have because of how we live across social platforms. More people, across more generations experience our brands today because of social media. So, I’m positive on that account.

On whether the honeymoon stage is over for him now since he’s been on the job for a little over a year: Well, there’s a lot of work to do. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to build on the incredible legacy of Hearst Magazines. Every day when I come into the office, that’s my goal, to make sure that these brands are stronger tomorrow than they were yesterday.

On the one word he would use to sum up magazines and magazine media for 2020: Deeper.

On anything he’d like to add: I think that we’ve done an amazing job with building very large audiences. The next chapter in building stronger relationships with the consumer is to go deeper in our understanding of what the audiences want and how we’re serving them. And that really is an important next focus for our company.

On whether he thinks magazines have done a good job in promoting their own success stories or they can do better: I think that we can do better. The world went crazy about digital, but we had incredibly powerful brands. New media brands that were built through this digital transition got more attention. And I think what’s happening now is these established media brands are rising again.

On what keeps him up at night: Sugar. I’m not kidding.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Troy Young: What magazines represent to readers, which is point of view, passion and perspective, that’s not going away. Magazines play an important role in the information ecosystem. Certainly, the Internet has changed how that information gets to the consumer. And it has changed the tools that we have to tell stories, but I don’t think that category of information is any less vital than it has been in the past.

You have an industry that’s redefining itself for a new distribution system and a new set of storytelling tools, but consumers still want to connect around their passions and around their points of view. And they want the curatorial expertise of an editor.

I think what is happening though is the Internet or digital is, in some ways, ruthless in terms of forcing media companies to really earn attention every day with the consumer. It means that our magazine media brands need to be more meaningful than ever to consumers to earn their attention and earn a place in their lives every day.

That means we have to be really clear about what we’re creating and the audiences that we serve. And when we do that, we’re also able to find new revenue streams beyond the traditional advertising stream that magazines have. It also forces us to get more of our revenue from the consumer. And to me that’s the evolution that our industry is going through right now.

Samir Husni: I noticed on the mastheads of some your titles that you’ve added the word “media” to Hearst Magazines, was that part of this evolution?

Troy Young: Well, we make all kinds of media, but it’s still definitely defined by magazines.

Samir Husni: Can you name three accomplishments or successes for 2019 that you’re happy about?

Troy Young: I’m really happy that we keep evolving our business and through that evolution we’re hitting our financial goals. I love that we’ve created a more collaborative organization across print and digital. That’s enabling us to tell more ambitious stories. A few years ago video wasn’t as important to our work as it is today. We have dozens of series in production, which make up a significant part of our revenue. It’s just enabling us to become more ambitious storytellers.

So, I would say those three things: evolving the business, collaboration across our print and digital groups, and the evolution of video in our company.

Samir Husni: What would you consider to be the biggest challenge you faced in 2019 and did you overcome it?

Troy Young: We’re all working to overcome the fundamental changes in our business model, which is managing a decline in print advertising by growing new sources of revenue in areas like video and partnerships and affiliates. And I think that’s what everyone in the industry is doing. And it’s really forcing everyone to look at how you can become a stronger consumer business.

Samir Husni: The business model for magazines at one time was almost 90 percent dependent on advertising, but of course those days are gone. How is Hearst Magazines changing that model and how do you foresee the future of that magazine business model? Some companies are telling me they’re going the membership model, some the SIP’s on the newsstand, higher cover prices. How is Hearst seeing the future of the business model?

Troy Young: To me those aren’t business models. I don’t think the business model really changes. I think it’s still going to be advertising-dependent, and depending on the title, more or less will come from the consumer. Inevitably, more of our media business is shifting toward consumer revenue, but advertising will play a huge role, particularly in categories like fashion and luxury. The type of advertising that we generate through our media brands evolves, it shifts to video and data and more services. So, there’s a shift in where the money comes from, but it’s still advertising that’s a really big part of your revenue.

Also how we sell media changes. We are now helping people leverage and really understand our audiences, so that they can deliver targeted offers to them. And we can help them do that in more meaningful ways with content and by leveraging data.

I think that there’s an important new revenue stream that a lot of people will talk to you about, which is commerce revenue or affiliate revenue. In my mind, that’s a new type of performance advertising. And the revenue that a lot of us are getting from different platforms is becoming almost a “new” newsstand.

In some ways the business model hasn’t changed much. We get paid for our content from consumers, partners and we sell advertising.

Samir Husni: Do you think the view of what magazines used to be and what they are today has changed much over the years? And if so, how are you reflecting that at Hearst Magazines? I was speaking with Krifka Steffey, the magazine buyer for Barnes & Noble, and she was telling me that today she views magazines as luxury items. Hearst fits perfectly with that luxury item definition, but you also have a lot of service journalism for men and women.

Troy Young: Traditionally, magazines served as a format to deliver information and advertising that was really well-understood. I think as we introduced digital platforms, suddenly magazines meant not just print but all the ways that you could express these brands digitally, including video, podcasting and social media. We’ve always had very powerful consumer brands, so that was the real allure of creating new content for new channels, because consumers loved those brands and they wanted to interact with them in these new platforms.

And as a result of that, the understanding of what magazine media is really varies generationally. People who grew up with magazines understand magazines in a very specific way defined by print and I think younger people see a brand like Cosmopolitan as being a very different thing. It’s still curated; it’s still very driven by a very specific point of view, but it lives in different places and it creates different types of content. And there’s an informality to it.

I really think it ends up being generational and magazines fortunately can mean a lot of different things, which is really exciting.

Samir Husni: Do you think social media, in its many different platforms, is friend or foe to magazine media today, and why?

Troy Young: It’s allowed our brands to be bigger than ever. If you look at all of our brands, we touch more consumers today than we ever have because of how we live across social platforms. More people, across more generations experience our brands today because of social media. So, I’m positive on that account.

Samir Husni: Is the honeymoon stage over for you now at Hearst? You’ve been president now for a little over a year; is the changing of the guard complete or is it an evolving process?

Troy Young: (Laughs) Well, there’s a lot of work to do. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to build on the incredible legacy of Hearst Magazines. Every day when I come into the office, that’s my goal, to make sure that these brands are stronger tomorrow than they were yesterday.

Samir Husni: If you were to sum up magazines and magazine media in one word for 2020, what would that word be?

Troy Young: Deeper. Deeper relationships with our audiences.

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

Troy Young: I think that we’ve done an amazing job with building very large audiences. The next chapter in building stronger relationships with the consumer is to go deeper in our understanding of what the audiences want and how we’re serving them. And that really is an important next focus for our company.

Samir Husni: Many magazine media executives are telling me that a deeper relationship with the audience is their focus. And magazines do have very large audiences, more than most of the social media outlets. Do you feel that magazines have done a good job in promoting their own success stories or they can do better?

Troy Young: I think that we can do better. The world went crazy about digital, but we had incredibly powerful brands. New media brands that were built through this digital transition got more attention. And I think what’s happening now is these established media brands are rising again.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Troy Young: Sugar. I’m not kidding.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Next up. Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media (AIM).

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