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As Hearst Magazines refines its approach to print and digital in a quest for more consumer-generated revenue, the publisher has created a new function, creative director of content extensions, and installed veteran David Kang in the role.
Kang is now charged with extending such legendary brands as Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping.
The executive was freshly tapped from Rodale, where as SVP/GM of Rodale.com, he helped turn The Biggest Loser Club into a $100-million + online diet and health products franchise.
I talked with Kang about his plans for Hearst.
How do you define the term content extension?
It’s conceptually thinking about our magazines as brands. We’re not wedded to the one product of the magazine.
We can bring new products into the marketplace that can be from archival content that already exists or develop new content specifically with the idea that it’s going to live in several different platforms, from the magazine to possibly a book, an app, a digital online toolset, or even downloadable PDFs.
Where is your role in terms of working with others in the Hearst organization?
I report into John Loughlin, executive vice president and general manager. The structure is such that I am working with each of the magazines (each of the brands).
The way Hearst President David Carey has put it to me is that in a way I’m a catalyst and the group is a catalyst to help the brands and editors-in-chief take their ideas and develop them into products, getting them to think in more of a 360-degree way. The best products are always driven by great ideas that come from the editors.
Some can be books. So Jacqueline Deval, VP and publisher of Hearst Books, is part of this content initiative as well. It might be a digital product so I’ll also be connecting closely with the folks in Chuck Cordray’s digital group.
The third part is the marketing and business model around it all. Thinking of strategies for putting the products into the market using a broader array of tools.
From a circulation perspective, Hearst acquires a lot of subscribers through direct mail and online. Hearst hasn’t put a lot of focus on using those same tools to market products beyond the magazines.
We’re developing and investing in this great intellectual property with voice and brand What other products should we be developing? We’ll be doing this at inception, rather than as an afterthought.
There’s been some of this, but it's not been the emphasis. (Last year, Hearst produced a bookazine derived from cooking site Delish).
David Carey has said part of the strategy moving forward is to increase consumer revenues. The ad downturn hit us in 2008. That’s recovering. But as pocketbooks tightened, circulation tightened as well.
How will you be using Hearst’s customer data to define the new content extensions?
Magazines are built on a foundation of building the circulation file and certainly all Hearst magazines have strong circ files. Going forward, what digital especially gives us the opportunity to do is to engage the consumer and learn more about them with the goal of being able to offer content, products and services that are more fine-tuned to the things that matter to them.
A nice example is on the Seventeen website. There’s a quiz you can take where it says what kind of shoes should I be buying next? It serves the reader and deepens the relationship with the brand and experience they have in digital.
As we think about products, there will be a feedback loop. When there’s a lot of interest in a certain content area, we want to listen.
Will these be advertiser-sponsored?
Great question.The first mandate is around generating revenues from the consumer as we try to develop revenue streams that can help us grow that are not dependent on advertising.
That being said, when you create great products that superserve the audience, that high level of engagement creates a lot of opportunity for branded entertainment or sponsors to come in with 100% share of voice.
We expect those to happen as we develop products. Our first and foremost product objective is to earn the trust and business of the customer.
Where do you see the low-hanging fruit?
We’ve looked at all the brands. Cosmo is a great example. Obviously there is the magazine circluation happening. Cosmo also has a great game they do for steamy sex games for the bedroom and it’s obviously very Cosmo.
There’s opportunity while the customer is engaged to have them purchase additional items that are within brand.
So will we be seeing Cosmo condoms sometime soon?
No. That's licensing. This is very much figuring out content extensions. It does cover print because we’re still in a hybrid world. The iPad is an obvious example and the array of new devices that are apps-driven and HTML5 based
We want to be able to leverage the absolute state-of-the art in those technologies. What’s the right mix of products and new technologies. (See the new Cosmo Mancaster app.)
Will you create the products or will you partner?
The goal is really to create products. We’ve already got a number of great ideas you’ll start to see in the coming months. We want to create ways to surprise, delight and make it compelling.
Take photos, for instance. We can put one image in the magazine and a full array of images in the apps.
You’ve come to Hearst with more than three years and a track record of success at Rodale. What did you learn there about content extensions?
Look at Eat This, Not That! The eleventh book just went into the market, the Eat This, Not That No-Diet Weight Loss Solution. Part of the power of that is to think about franchises, with a vision for the editorial that is robust enough that it can really become more than just a one-off.
Once you have a great franchise concept, you can develop great products within that line and around it. There’s an Eat This, Not That app that turns the intellectual property of the franchise into a game. It’s the power of comparisons.
There’s always the disbelief that this looks healthy to me, but the salad has twice the calories of the little burger over there. I give a lot of credit to Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko for thinking through a brand lens as well as a franchise lens.
What about The Biggest Loser Club?
Biggest Loser is a Rodale partnership with NBC Universal and Reveille. One of the things we learned is the great opportunity there is to create digital experiences that people find valuable and are willing to pay money for. It’s still hard making money selling digital content per se.
The big thing about The Biggest Loser Club is that it creates a customized experience that puts it in a different class from content per se. It’s an online diet experience. Allows you to set whatever goal you have, whatever amount of weight you want to lose. And builds a plan against that.
The club helps you through the myriad digital tools to make a very difficult behavioral change to choose a healthier lifestyle. There’s a community going through the same arc you are. It’s very supportive. That makes a huge difference in terms of actual results.
The expert support is all vetted from the editorial creation. Wonderful people like editor Melissa Roberson understand the brand inside and out and give unique access and voice to it. It’s a great content extension of a TV show. The books are part of the value proposition.
For most of the new subscribers, they receive the Biggest Loser books. We’re at a moment in time where there’s a lot of print and a lot of digital. At Rodale, we also did a lot of testing.
When will we see the first results at Hearst? And what about Esquire, Road and Track, Popular Mechanics and the many other brands you’re picking up through the Hachette acquisition?
The focus now is on the current Hearst magazines in the building. There will be some prototypes in the coming months and we’ll see some very tentpole launches in the fall.
Certainly we’ve started to have the preliminary discussions about how the new products will fit into the strategy. One of the great things is that both John and David have been careful about making sure I stay focused and the group stays focused on specific brands and projects rather than be spread out over all the titles.
There are so many opportunities.
The great news is that the buiding blocks of what Hearst needs to be successful in this business are already here. That’s a great thing for someone coming into a new role. The other thing is everyone understanding the vision of content extensions. It allows people to stretch and find exciting new opportunities within their own roles.
If you think about different parts of the organization, it will help our circulation business, and our abiity to target ads across digital properties.
Also, importantly, the editors in each of the magazines are really being encouraged and empowered by David and John to think of their magazine properties as a brand. The additional content and new revenue streams are going to count on how their brand gets viewed, and the resources it is given and how people think about the success of the brand.
The shift is at the top of the organization as everyone understands the importance of this direction and the opportunity for growth. It’s being started with just a couple of people, but there is this mandate and this longer view of building out capabilities and adding resources.
The building is a wonder. I’m on the 35th floor and the first day I was mesmerized looking out at the ice skaters.