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Troy Young, President, Hearst Magazines To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni On Publishing During A Pandemic: “We Have To Be More Innovative Than Ever.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

April 3, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (5)

“It’s time for us to be leaders. We have to be insanely creative in how we work and how we understand value as we’re creating. We have to be more innovative than ever, and there are going to be times that it’s really hard. We need to fuel that emotion and then move on.” Troy Young

“We’re seeing people want to consume lifestyle content because in some ways it’s an alternative to just the relentlessness of hard news. So, people want our content, they love our brands. And figuring out how we deliver against that and how we pay for it is one reason why we’re going through a period of so much change.” Troy Young

In this fifth installment of publishing during a pandemic, I reached out to Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines, to see how Hearst was managing during this tragic and uncertain time. As we continue to see the gloom and doom in the news media, and very rare mention of anything uplifting or positive, Troy and his team are determined to shed some bloom and brightness with quality content. The glass can be viewed as half full as easily as it can half empty, and Hearst is pushing forward with serving their customers where they are and via any platform they like.

I spoke with Troy very recently and we talked about how magazines and magazine media content is more relevant today than ever before. People are looking for valued and trusted information  from those credible brands that they have come to know. Troy pointed out that in one month alone,  the Hearst Magazine brands published 1,900 health-related articles.  Amazing indeed.

Trusted content will always come from trusted brands…

So, please enjoy the fifth installment of the Mr. Magazine™  series: Publishing During A Pandemic with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On how Hearst Magazines is operating during this pandemic: The first thing we had to do is move our workforce into collaborating and connecting in an entirely new way. Fortunately,— because we have a fairly large composition of very technically sophisticated workers, be it engineers or digital editors — it’s been relatively seamless. And, we have been using digital tools to connect with each other for a while now, so the transition to working remotely has been less disruptive than you’d expect. I’ve heard that from many others too, so I think the world is adjusting well.

On when the pandemic is over if he thinks there will be a pause for consideration in the traditional office environment:  I’m actually hopeful that we can use this as an opportunity to create some more lasting change. One of the bright spots for many people and for many senior executives is — for example — how efficient we can be when we create a virtual meeting. We set up a Zoom link and five people can be looking at each other and we can run a very productive meeting in 25 minutes. That gives us more flexibility in a lot of ways, in terms of our personal lives and our professional lives.

 On whether Hearst is considering any publishing schedule or frequency changes: What’s really important to me is wherever we’re creating a product —whether it’s a print, digital, video or experiential product — it has to be a great product and consumers have to value it. I think you’ll see us look critically at frequency across some of our titles, as we’ve been doing for a long time. We made the decision to change frequency on Esquire months before the pandemic crisis — you may see more of that.

On whether he had ever envisioned a crisis situation like we have today and how he might have prepared for it: I don’t know if you can prepare for it, but I feel like the fundamental structural transformation that we have gone through in magazine media was hard work and we had to make a lot of hard decisions. To an extent, that prepared us for the next set of hard decisions that are coming at us so quickly because of this pandemic. But, I don’t think any of us could have seen this coming as quickly as it did and as aggressively as it did.

On whether he thinks magazines and magazine media are relevant today: I think that we should separate two sides of magazine media: What is the content and how is it being packaged and distributed? To me, magazine media never goes away. And to me, magazine media is not the news. It is point of view; it is passions; and it is perspective; and it moves in and around the news and the things that people care about, but it brings more perspective to that conversation. And that’s what is so wonderful about it. And all of the journalism that surrounds it.

On any message he would like to send his advertisers, readers or staff: The first thing for our advertisers right now is we’re thinking about them, because I know that their businesses are incredibly difficult. And whether you’re in retail, luxury, fashion, beauty, or the automotive space, your business is facing many significant challenges. As a partner, I’m worried about them and their businesses and want to know how we can help them.

On what he tells his teams when they get together for a meeting: It’s time for us to be leaders. We have to be insanely creative in how we work and how we understand value as we’re creating. We have to be more innovative than ever, and there are going to be times that it’s really hard. We need to fuel that emotion and then move on.

 On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is that, as a society, we need to stay connected to our better angels. Cuomo said it best, and I totally agree: How do we keep positive; how do we keep helping one another. And I worry sometimes that in a crisis like this, we can let it get the better of us. And I think that we have to be like that on every level. With our families; with our coworkers; and in society. And if I worry about anything it’s, how are we reacting to these challenges and are we staying positive?

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

Samir Husni: There’s so much doom and gloom taking place currently, not only in the world, but in the media circles. How are you as president of Hearst Magazines operating the company during this pandemic?

Troy Young: The first thing we had to do is move our workforce into collaborating and connecting in an entirely new way. Fortunately,— because we have a fairly large composition of very technically sophisticated workers, be it engineers or digital editors — it’s been relatively seamless. And, we have been using digital tools to connect with each other for a while now, so the transition to working remotely has been less disruptive than you’d expect. I’ve heard that from many others too, so I think the world is adjusting well.

We’re starting to see some of the challenges though, in terms of the effect it can have on mental health. We’re seeing the challenges of parents who are having to balance managing a school in their home and doing their work simultaneously. These types of changes are concerning given that they have the potential to put more stress on our employees.

The other question is how — during these unusual circumstances — do we move bigger projects forward and implement bigger initiatives that we were planning. How do we get those going. I think this might be a little harder to do in the remote workforce.

On top of that, we have real challenges across the industry. We have a varied portfolio, from women’s services to luxury to men’s publications, but some of those worlds are being hit tremendously hard — fashion and luxury, in particular. It will impact everybody’s revenue in the industry. I’ve spoken to many across the magazine industry and the sentiment is pretty consistent, this is going to be a really challenging time.

Our point of view is that the effects of coronavirus will accelerate trends that we’ve already been working on for quite some time. And those trends are managing rate bases more aggressively: growing our digital business, growing consumer revenue, becoming a leader in the commerce space and further developing our video production capabilities. But those are challenges that we were facing before —they are now just coming at us really fast.

Samir Husni: When the pandemic is behind us, do you think there’s a possibility that, as in education, where universities are rethinking how they’re teaching online, considering how well your teams are working remotely, do you think there will be a pause for reconsideration of the traditional office environment?

Troy Young: I’m actually hopeful that we can use this as an opportunity to create some more lasting change. One of the bright spots for many people and for many senior executives is — for example — how efficient we can be when we create a virtual meeting. We set up a Zoom link and five people can be looking at each other and we can run a very productive meeting in 25 minutes. That gives us more flexibility in a lot of ways, in terms of our personal lives and our professional lives.

So, I do think some of the learnings will rewire how we think as workers and certainly as a media company. And some of those will be really positive.

Samir Husni: Are you thinking of changing any publishing schedules, any frequencies for the print products? Are you concentrating more on digital or is everything for now still status quo?

Troy Young: What’s really important to me is wherever we’re creating a product —whether it’s a print, digital, video or experiential product — it has to be a great product and consumers have to value it. I think you’ll see us look critically at frequency across some of our titles, as we’ve been doing for a long time. We made the decision to change frequency on Esquire months before the pandemic crisis — you may see more of that.

Some of these changes may be short-term, given the lack of ad-demand right now, some may not be. But what’s really important underneath all of it is that you still create a product that the consumer really desires.

Samir Husni: Did you ever, in your worst nightmares, envision a situation like this? And how do you prepare for it?

Troy Young: I don’t know if you can prepare for it, but I feel like the fundamental structural transformation that we have gone through in magazine media was hard work and we had to make a lot of hard decisions. To an extent, that prepared us for the next set of hard decisions that are coming at us so quickly because of this pandemic. But, I don’t think any of us could have seen this coming as quickly as it did and as aggressively as it did.

Samir Husni: In the midst of all that’s happening, why do you think that magazines and magazine media are relevant today? Or are they relevant today?

Troy Young: I think that we should separate two sides of magazine media: What is the content and how is it being packaged and distributed? To me, magazine media never goes away. And to me, magazine media is not the news. It is point of view; it is passions; and it is perspective; and it moves in and around the news and the things that people care about, but it brings more perspective to that conversation. And that’s what is so wonderful about it. And all of the journalism that surrounds it.

I think that will persist. How a model of delivering that content on the printed page in a package through a set of distributors and retailers and how that gets reshaped are different questions. But I believe there will be demand for the printed product for a long time and it will hold up better in some categories than others. I think it holds up really well in shelter and fashion.

And in other places like lifestyle media for men and in health — we see a strong demand and consumers really like the product. It’s changing and as it changes, our job is to evolve how we distribute content. And if you look at what magazine publishers have done over the last decade, we’ve become incredibly nimble at creating content for ten different distribution points. And creating multiple different types of content from short Tweets to new video formats to online features — and we still continue to produce magazines. I think our industry is really resilient, and our job as leaders is to follow how consumers want to consume our content.

Samir Husni: Is there any message you want to send to your staff or your readers or to your advertisers during all of this?

Troy Young: The first thing for our advertisers right now is we’re thinking about them, because I know that their businesses are incredibly difficult. And whether you’re in retail, luxury, fashion, beauty, or the automotive space, your business is facing many significant challenges. As a partner, I’m worried about them and their businesses and want to know how we can help them.

The second thing that I would say is, I just looked at our March digital performance — in terms of the content we created and how it was read, and I can tell you that people still want to hear from us. The distribution of our content continues to grow; year over year we’re up. Our teams have been incredibly responsive.

Last month, we published 1,900 articles around Covid-19, but found different ways to talk about it that was relevant to our different audiences. And we’re seeing people want to consume lifestyle content because in some ways it’s an alternative to just the relentlessness of hard news. So, people want our content, they love our brands. And figuring out how we deliver against that and how we pay for it is one reason why we’re going through a period of so much change.

Samir Husni: What do you tell your team every time you meet for a meeting? What’s your message of encouragement?

Troy Young: It’s time for us to be leaders. We have to be insanely creative in how we work and how we understand value as we’re creating. We have to be more innovative than ever, and there are going to be times that it’s really hard. We need to fuel that emotion and then move on.

And, most importantly, we have to care for our coworkers.

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

Troy Young: It’s so funny that you ask that, Samir, because our executive team meets every morning at 9:00 a.m. and sometimes we talk about a broad range of things. This morning, it started with how many people right now are waking up in the middle of the night? And I made the joke that maybe we should shift the call to 3:00 a.m.

But what keeps me up at night is that, as a society, we need to stay connected to our better angels. Cuomo said it best, and I totally agree: How do we keep positive; how do we keep helping one another. And I worry sometimes that in a crisis like this, we can let it get the better of us. And I think that we have to be like that on every level. With our families; with our coworkers; and in society. And if I worry about anything it’s, how are we reacting to these challenges and are we staying positive?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

One comment

  1. […] Click here for the full interview. […]



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