- Publishing giant Hearst is taking a new tack in its online advertising strategy with a focus on internal data and its history as a conduit between consumers wanting to make a purchase and brands, according to a report in Business Insider. Hearst Magazines titles include Cosmopolitan, Elle, Redbook, Good Housekeeping and Esquire.
- Instead of filling a top-of-the-funnel role by presenting products to consumers, Hearst wants to become a player at the bottom of the funnel where purchase decisions happen — an online space owned by Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon. Troy Young, the global president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media, is leading the change and told Business Insider that the publisher has always been in the business of telling people what to buy: A few years ago, Hearst opened a standalone e-commerce site called Best Products, and it's now encouraging editors to keep track of how many sales editorial content ends up driving.
- The publisher has been making investments in technology and data science to help pull together subscriber and billing information, email addresses and visitors to its desktop and mobile digital properties. On this point, Hearst believes it can compete with the two digital ad giants — Google and Facebook — because of its unique dataset; it says it's created 120 million unique profiles on digital consumers over the past year.
One concern with Hearst's pivot could be a further breakdown between editorial and promotional barriers on very well-known and venerated magazine titles. Having editorial teams produce native ads and sponsored content already blurs the transparency line in many cases, but pushing editorial staff to keep track of how many sales that content is driving might realign their priorities and is also not an area most editors have expertise in. As Business Insider noted, there's also not a ton of clear evidence that people like making direct purchases on publisher sites, even as sites wield a good deal of influencer over purchase behavior.
Instead of being concerned about creating inquisitive writing, journalists might feel pressured to look at sales figures and make decisions to help boost those numbers. It's an extension of online media companies turning more often to raw clicks rather than quality as the key indicators of success and is yet another sign that the legacy publishing space is facing serious churn.
Publishers are locked into a tough spot right now with ad block adoption hurting revenue and users showing a demand for more video over traditional printed content. With the new advertising strategy, Hearst appears to be taking an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach to the challenge.