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 talent to create products that delight consumers in whatever medium the consumer is accessing your content.

It’s not uniform, by the way. But I think what’s most important is if the medium and the consumer demands that we are publishing at a very high velocity that we have a kind of newsroom environment that supports that.

And I think the difference between what we do remarkably well by the month, which is publish magazines, and what we are building the culture to do digitally, which is publish by the minute, is that it’s a very different rhythm, and a very different imperative, and a very different requirement for technology and the people working together.

So we’ve separated the Cosmopolitan editorial team because they’re very much a newsroom. And that’s a very different way of operating than the magazine. That doesn’t mean they don’t share the same brand idea, that they don’t work together very collaboratively, but it’s a very, very different publishing … cycle.

So in some cases, we’ll separate them out and build newsrooms because that’s what the product demands. And in other cases, we’ll look at the best ways to have digital and print work together very closely.

The digital editorial teams report to the digital group, just to be clear. But what matters most to me is that we’re set up to publish the way the medium needs us to publish.

mS: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for media brands/companies right now, especially in the digital space?

TY: Well, I think that brands are really, really important. I think consumers trust them and look to them for perspective and curation, and as a way of understanding the culture of the world. I think that the biggest opportunity for us is to make sure we’re delivering on the tremendous power and potential of our brands … for a new medium.

The opportunity for us is to make it work for digital, and for an environment where people pull their phones out of their pockets a hundred times a day. How does our brand live in that world? How do we live inside of someone’s phone? How do we make ourselves relevant in a world of notifications and mobile phones and social distribution?Elle_Screen Shot

I think that first we have to get the product right, so consumers love us on those devices. And then the biggest opportunity is to parlay the trust of that brand into relationships between a consumer, us and an advertiser.

And increasingly, as advertisers are looking for premium content and ways of using content to connect to consumers, we are both a path to the consumer and a partner in creating that content.

mS: What is something new and/or unique that Hearst Magazines Digital Media is pursuing or exploring?

TY: There’s a lot of things. One is we’re in the middle of building a design system and an underlying platform that will allow our editors to publish very, very quickly on any device. That’s very exciting to me.

The second is the way our content teams across our brands are collaborating to create better content more quickly.

… Kate Lewis … is running our editorial operations and strategy and she’s a veteran of the content world … and her and her team work with the editors to provide them with: analytical frameworks, so that we’re making good decisions all the time; social media expertise, so we are leveraging social channels for distribution; centralized content resources, so when there’s breaking news, we can help those teams get news out really quickly across multiple properties; and syndication tools and resources, so that we can take feeds of content and deliver them to partners both outside of Hearst and inside of Hearst to increase the footprint of our brands.

And the exciting thing is also how our internal design and video studios are working with advertisers to create really amazing content with the support of our brands.GoodHousekeeping_screen shot

mS: What percentage of your web traffic is from mobile?

TY: Around 45 percent to 50 percent.

mS: What do you expect it will be a year from now?

TY: I think it will continue to grow. The way we’re thinking about it is that the phone is the first environment that we really have to think about when we’re creating content and designing interfaces and creating publishing tools. So … we’re pretty focused on how you make content and advertising work in that environment.

mS: What keeps you awake at night?

TY: My neurosis. … It’s a complicated business—digital—right?

You know, there are [a few] things that are challenges long term. One is essentially how we evolve, how we serve our customers to go beyond an ad unit.

Magazines have traditionally been very good at bringing ideas to clients and building really interesting programs for them, whether that includes promotions or events or custom content. That legacy is really important to how we evolve our digital business, and how we do that—in a way where we’re creating content that’s very high-quality …, so that users engage in it and value that experience—is a big challenge for an organization as it evolves.

I think there are two other challenges that we’re navigating, one of which is: What role will video play in our organization, how should we be investing in it and how do we make money off of it? And the other one is how do we evolve the free experience into something premium?

So there are three things: Serving customers better …, video and paid content relationships.

mS: What helps you sleep at night (besides counting sheep)?

TY: Ambien. [Laughs] … You know, the thing that helps me sleep is that you have to be really rigorous about finding amazing people. Because there’s lots and lots of challenges, and it’s not about a singular, brilliant editor or a brilliant publisher. In digital, it’s about great product people, great technologists, really insightful data people, great editors, video makers. It really is about having multiple cylinders firing together, and that’s fundamentally about talent. So the thing that helps me sleep is creating a group of unicorns that are really talented and able to work together. And they surprise me. …

That and Ambien.

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