How Hearst Magazines stays unbound

For more from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on January 14 – 16 in New York City, visit the official recap.

For more from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on January 14 – 16 in New York City, visit the official recap.

Hearst Magazines had some soul searching to do. With the “death of print” narrative prevalent during the economic recession in 2008 (reminiscent of the “death of retail” narrative facing our industry today), the publishing company needed a way to stay relevant in the magazine business. At NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, Hearst Magazines President Michael Clinton and Chief Content Officer Joanna Coles spoke about the publishing company’s transformation during a time of immense change while maintaining a focus on “being unbound.”

Clinton described being unbound as continually testing new ideas and learning from mistakes while giving yourself permission to win — and permission to fail. Hearst abided by three core principles: produce high-quality content, stay mindful of the brand and be a “print-proud company.” Instead of losing sight of its print roots, the brand strengthened what it does best: making engaging and relevant print content. Or, as Coles put it, making print “printier.”

While the idea of launching a new print magazine in 2008 may have sounded absurd to some, it did the trick. The launch of Food Network Magazine filled a niche for those seeking simple recipes to save money during the economic recession. Hearst then launched a sister magazine, HGTV Magazine, which offered accessible do-it-yourself home improvement ideas for consumers on a budget.

A top takeaway for retailers: Although Hearst focused on print, there was also a need to expand into digital. Joanna Coles led Cosmopolitan magazine through a successful brand refresh, using an “unbound digital strategy.” Instead of stretching her team thin, Coles staffed up with digital natives and reorganized teams to create highly specialized experts. Rather than using the same content from print publications on the website, the specialized teams created new, engaging content tailored to each social media platform.

Staying ahead of the technology curve also gave Hearst a competitive edge; Cosmopolitan was on Snapchat before the platform blew up. “When you hit it right,” Clinton said, “you can develop an audience in a very exciting way.”

Although it’s important for both the print and retail industry to stay nimble and on top of trends, it’s more important to provide value. When it comes to producing valuable content, “more isn’t better, only better is better,” Coles said. To stay ahead of the transforming retail industry, retailers need to hone in on what their businesses do best — and start doing it better.

For more stories from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, visit the official recap page.