Publishing’s Phoenix: U.S. News & World Report Emerges With a New Set of Wings, Part II

U.S. News & World Report was one of those magazines that had always just been there—packed into the stack of mail in the mailbox, on the coffee table at the doctor’s office, at the newsstand, being read on the train on the way home from work. The day in Fall 2010 when the venerable magazine announced it would cease publication (a process that was a year or two in the making) was a tough one to stomach. Publishing was in trouble. And it wasn’t just newsweeklies and newspapers. We were all in this boat together, and we watched as one of our industry’s flagships went down. (Or so we thought.)

Even the U.S. News and World Report staff—from top to bottom—may have thought it was the end. About half of the 150-person staff was let go. “For those of us who have been with the brand, you know six, seven, eight years ago, those were challenging times,” says Kerry Dyer, U.S. News & World Report’s publisher. “When U.S. News was down in ad pages, it was the beginning of the talk that was going on about whether U.S. News could survive. There was also talk about print surviving. That, I can tell you, was challenging. If you’ve lived on both sides of it, you know the feeling, and we certainly at U.S. News know that feeling, and we’re not looking back.”

But it wasn’t the end. It wasn’t a death. It was the beginning of a rebirth—one that is not only inspiring in its positive outcome, but also packed with lessons for us all, in free and paid content, in building digital audiences and successful products, in brand expansion, revenue diversification, e-commerce, lead-generation and more. Here is the story of U.S. News & World Report’s resurgence, as told through a two-part interview—Part I with U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly, and Part II with Publisher Kerry Dyer, shown here.

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Part II: Interview with Kerry Dyer, Publisher, U.S. News & World Report

mediaShepherd: What is the brand’s largest source of revenue?

Kerry Dyer: Right now it would be display advertising—single source [online].

mS: What is its fastest-growing?

Dyer: That’s a good question. It’s all growing pretty fast. We don’t disclose specific figures either on growth or percentages, but display advertising is among the fastest-growing; licensing; as well as lead generation. All three of our main revenue streams are growing at a very healthy and very consistent rate.

mS: What are you finding that marketers are looking for today from U.S. News? Have things changed in recent years?

Dyer: Well, there’s been a lot of talk in the press and the media/advertising press of a changing consumer, and changing advertising needs and wants, but having been in the business for about 30 years, over half here at U.S. News and the other half at a large ad agency in New York—Young and Rubicam—honestly, I don’t see a lot changing.

In the end, marketers are still looking for finding the right audience at the right time and the right place that will engage with their messaging, and to find a need and a want for the right service. Fundamentally, that is the essence of advertising, and it really hasn’t changed all that much in my estimation.

mS: U.S. News moved into e-commerce with entities such as the Best Cars site, where U.S. News gets revenue when people buy cars through the site. Is this something new?

Dyer: It’s realtively new in the scheme of existence of U.S. News. We’re 80 years old. The U.S. News Best Cars site is about 5 years old, …

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Are Your Editorial Practices Ethical? 7 Issues to Watch

Monitoring editorial ethics activity can assume Wild West proportions at times, and this was especially true last year. Several incidents made an impression strong enough to suggest needed revision in the American Society of Business Publications (ASBPE) ethics code.

So it’s not surprising that 2013’s code review became a six-month flurry of intense discussion that saw the addition of several new sections and revised wording of existing advisories. Of the dozens of changes actually made, seven clearly stood out as involving issues having impact on business-to-business editors this year:

1. Increased marketing involvement.
2. Attempts to undermine front cover integrity.
3. Added push for ad formats closely simulating regular editorial content.
4. Slipshod fact-checking policies.
5. Sales pitches guaranteeing editorial involvement in sponsored content creation.
6. Need for development of tailored ethics policies.
7. Review of existing practice covering requests to “un-publish” archived content.

Here is a brief background on why code revisions were necessary and what actions have been taken as a result.

Are Your Editorial Practices Ethical

1. Church/State Positions Have Relaxed

When I assumed the ethics chair post three years ago, I immediately noticed a stern ethics code revision advising that editors refrain from any involvement in marketing activity. At the B2B publishing company where I spent 21 years prior to launching a consulting firm, management policy encouraged editors to occasionally wear marketing hats. Contrary to popular views that some still hold today, such involvement did not undermine integrity. And marketing strategy clearly improved thanks to editorial input.

Today, in some cases often by mandate, some editors have assumed “content director” roles that include supervision of sponsored content. And in many other cases, editors not in such positions still provide marketing strategy input. Even so, my committee felt it was still necessary to draw a line in terms of how big a hat an editor could wear. To that end, here is a newly added excerpt from the ethics code section addressing the editor’s role in sponsored content or supplements:

“A senior-level editor may work with sales personnel to ensure that no conflict exists between the advertiser-sponsored content and editorial content. Thus, the editor may suggest topics for the sponsor, but the publisher or the sales staff should be the ones to communicate these suggestions to the sponsor. (In other words, the editor should not directly communicate with the advertiser.)

“A publication’s editorial staff should not write, edit, design or lay out special advertising sections or supplements. This role should be handled by a freelancer hired by the sales staff or publisher or a separate non-editorial department.”

2. Preserve Front Cover Integrity

For some reason, ASBPE’s previous ethics code had not taken a position on front cover integrity. Meanwhile, there were several cases where the committee was asked to comment—by publication editors or the industry press—on efforts to deviate from acceptable practice for purposes of commercial gain.

In one annoying case, we were told that an inexperienced publisher new to the job made an immediate attempt to treat front covers as sponsored positions. For me, the last straw in a series of snafus was a publisher whose ad pitch guaranteed blurbs using standard editorial format to promote sponsored sections inside the issue. Our response was this advisory:

“Regarding a publication’s front cover, in print or its online home page: Because cover or home-page advertising may raise concerns about the publication’s credibility, such advertising must be approached carefully.

“‘False covers’ designed to resemble genuine editorial format should not be used, nor should teaser blurbs that refer to advertiser-sponsored sections or supplements.

“A full-page cover ad that includes a magazine’s logo, whether a false …

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What Consumer Publishers Can Learn From B-to-B

Consumer Publishers

As digital and data become coveted Holy Grails of the publishing industry, consumer media brands are pushing forward fervently. However, I continue to be amazed at how many consumer publications aren’t implementing some of the most basic strategies for lead-generation and basic cross-chanel publishing tactics. It struck me that business-to-business publishers are well ahead of many consumer publishers (there are exceptions, of course) in a variety of areas. Here are a few places where consumer publishers can learn from b-to-b:

Consumer Publishers

1. The E-newsletter. Many consumer brands don’t have e-newsletters. Yet e-newsletters have been a staple of b-to-b publishing since the mid to late ’90s. It shocks me that more consumer brands aren’t compiling email addresses or are just starting to do so. (I’ve worked with several publishers who simply don’t have email lists big enough to send out a newsletter and/or charge for advertising in it, as the database with email subscribers pales in comparison to the print circulation.)

And it shocks me even more that they don’t know what e-enewsletters can achieve or even what content to include. (This could be an entire blog post in itself, and may be the next one I write.)

B-to-b publishers know that e-newsletters are effective ways to engage with audiences on a more frequent basis in between print issues, and to “push” content out to remain top of mind. Newsletters also are effective tools for cross-promoting other forms of content—print magazines, books, conferences/events, webinars, apps, etc.—and the website, of course.

And, by not having e-newsletters, consumer publishers are leaving money sitting on the table—they can be significant traffic-drivers and revenue-generators in their own right. Imagine the engagement some audiences have with consumer brands, and the power relevant newsletters hold for both the publishers and their marketing partners.

2. Cross-promotion. B-to-b publishers have been masters of cross-platform promotion for years. They long ago discovered the value in engaging their audiences at multiple touch points. Print publications featured house ads for e-newsletters, website features, webinars, and any other related platforms. Print magazine tables of contents featured Web-exclusives, directing print readers to the related websites. And, websites promoted print subscriptions, newsletter sign ups, lead-generation efforts for data-acquisition, and more.

As websites have taken on their own roles in publishing organizations, they have become less of print-promotions … but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still serve to help push print subscriptions! I know of at least a handful of major consumer brands that don’t push print subscriptions from their websites at all. Seriously. You have to dig around to find out that a print publication even exists. Why?

All of your products that serve under a brand should work to promote each other—all the time. Websites drawing millions of visitors a month could convert at the very least thousands of non-paying web visitors to paying print subscribers. For many publishers, their websites still are the primary source of new subscriptions. The Web is a tool for discovery, and its where many discover your brand for the first time. Why wouldn’t you try to get them to sign up for any and all means to receive your content?

3. Data. Consumer brands, and companies, such as Meredith, have come a long way in acquiring and using data about their audiences. Still, lead-generation and profile-building (with everything from geographic to demographic and professional information) have been the practice of the b-to-b world for much longer than the consumer world. Consumer brands could do well to investigate what some b-to-b publishers are doing to incentivize their audiences to share valuable information about themselves.

The Myth: That’s Not My Market

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10 Questions With … Troy Young, President, Hearst Magazines Digital Media

If ever there were a daunting position out there, it just might be the one Troy Young holds. Young is the president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media—and as such, he directs the digital strategy of one of the largest magazine publishing companies in the world. With digital strategy being what many see as the path to the future, one could say the very future of the company rests on his shoulders.

Of course Young isn’t operating alone, but he has a hefty responsibility and extremely significant role in shaping the company’s digital progress. He oversees the digital content, technology, operations, product and business development strategies for the magazine division’s 26 online brands—including Cosmopolitan, Elle, Elle Decor, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire and Seventeen, as well as several digital-only sites, such as Delish.com. In addition to being responsible for a bucketful of major brands, all of these brands’ together draw 60 million unique visitors and 640 million page views monthly, which makes Young’s imperative that much more grandiose.

Young’s background is a mixture of roles from various sides of the publishing arena. He was formerly president of digital publishing company Say Media—perhaps best known for its women’s lifestyle brand xoJane, now with 6 million monthly visitors, according to Say Media’s website—where he grew the company to $100 million in revenue, as his bio states.

Before that, he was the “chief experience officer” of the Omnicom digital agency Organic, “advising on strategy and creating award-winning work for clients including American Express, Virgin Mobile, Sirius XM, Chrysler and Bank of America” (also per his bio).Cosmo_Screen Shot

His background seems to have culminated in this relatively new position at Hearst Magazines Digital Media—which he took on about a year ago and where his efforts focus on engaging consumers with content and advertising, and mapping a way forward through the era of the mobile screen. His M.O. is upping the publishing game from months to moments, a phrase he apparently uses quite frequently.

mediaShepherd caught up with Young to talk about the opportunities that lie ahead for Hearst Magazines Digital Media and other media brands, what’s new and exciting at the digital pinnacle of Hearst Tower, what keeps him awake at night, and more.

mediaShepherd: What is Hearst Magazines Digital Media’s fastest-growing revenue segment?

Troy Young: By category, fashion and beauty.

mS: What is its largest revenue segment?

TY: I don’t know off the top of my head. Across the company, it’s probably fashion and beauty as well. Cars is big, too.

By type of advertising, probably big integrated deals and content marketing.

mS: What is the biggest challenge Hearst Magazines Digital Media is facing right now?

TY: I would say the biggest challenge is creating … the right culture to support a vital digital business—and that is one that integrates product thinking, technology, content and advertising into one cohesive group. That’s been our focus to make that happen since I arrived. It is about recruiting wonderful, creative technologists and building on all the success the company had before I arrived. It’s about creating a new generation of content creators that thrive on minute-by-minute publishing—[who] are “of the Internet.”

It’s about building an advertising competency that understands how to live in this new world of native. But to me it’s a cultural thing. It’s all about talent.

mS: From what I understand, Hearst separates out its print properties from its digital properties from a business perspective. Why is this?

TY: You know, I get asked that question a lot. I think that what you want to do is set up your your business and your …

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