The Medium Rules: Content With A Purpose, with Troy Young President of Hearst Magazines
The twin challenges of both monetizing content and managing the transition from a print-dominated world to a digital-dominated world are not for the faint of heart. For some, the scale and scope of this challenge would be at best daunting and, at worst, induce a level of anxiety and paralysis that would make many if not most media executives sprint in the opposite direction. Yet this is exactly the challenge that Troy Young took on when he stepped into the role of President of Hearst Magazines in November 2018.
On this episode of The Medium Rules, I sit down with Troy to discuss his take on the media landscape as it pertains to Hearst’s incredible collection of brand titles and his gameplan to transform Hearst from a print to an online content and publishing powerhouse for the 21stCentury. We cover Troy’s background growing up in Western Canada, his journey from the agency world in Toronto in the nineties to working in NYC and eventually becoming CEO of Say Media and then moving to Hearst in 2013 as Global President, Digital. In that role and under Troy’s leadership Hearst increased its aggregate traffic across Hearst’s digital properties from 63 million visitors/month to 108 million. In 2015, Troy was named Adweek’s Magazine Executive of the Year, an honor that recognized him for unifying Hearst’s “print and digital brands into a single, well-oiled machine whose traffic has surged”, and for his development of MediaOS, “a combined CMS, ad sales and data strategy tool for all Hearst properties.” As an added bonus, Troy gives us his Top 5 desert island vinyl picks, a few of which might surprise!
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Alan BALDACHIN: Thrilled to welcome Troy Young to the HBA podcast studio. Troy joined Hearst Corporation in 2013 as global president digital, and under Troy’s leadership, Hearst increased aggregate traffic across Hearst’s digital properties from 63 million visitors per month to 108 million. And during this period, the digital revenue saw 75% increase. In 2015, Troy was named Adweek Magazine Executive of the Year, an honor that recognizes Troy for unifying Hearst print and digital brands into a single, well-oiled machine, who’s traffic has surged, and for his development of Media OS, a combined CMS ad sales and data strategy tool for all Hearst properties.
In November 2018, Troy was appointed to the top job at Hearst stepping into the position of President of Hearst Magazine. So looking forward to a discussion with Troy today about his background in the agency business, his love of media, and his take on transforming Hearst and it’s incredible collection of brands, including LHarper’s Bazaar, Cosmo, Esquire to name a few, into a powerhouse print and digital company for the 21st century. So Troy, thanks very much for being on The Medium Rules, and looking forward to a great conversation.
Troy YOUNG: You know, I’m not very good with dates. And I was just sort of counting them up like, I guess it’s about six months, so…
BALDACHIN: Six months since you stepped into the top job?
YOUNG: Since November.
BALDACHIN: And how’s it going? How are the early returns in terms of…?
YOUNG: It’s amazing?
YOUNG: It’s the most, you know, I mean, I think it’s one of the most stimulating jobs that a guy could have.
BALDACHIN: I mean, it’s got to be one of the best media jobs, somebody who’s a media lover could ever want. It’s challenging, of course.
YOUNG: It’s an amazing job if you like, you know, if you’re passionate about media, if you like people, if you like systems, and the development, and if you like change it. If you’re an optimizer, you know, I think there’s businesses with different, you know, life stages that you would focus on, but I was…You know, in this case, it’s about invention and change. And that’s why it’s so exciting.
BALDACHIN: Yeah. And obviously, you get to work with these incredible brands…
YOUNG: Great brands, great people…
BALDACHIN: …Great talent.
YOUNG: And actually kind of corporate environment that’s incredibly supportive and has this really incredible history of evolution.
BALDACHIN: Yeah. Well, let’s take it back. Let’s wind it back.
Max: Try not to tap the table too much because we picked out straight through this.
BALDACHIN: Sounds good, Max. Thank you. So whining it back a little bit. First, I want to take note of the fact that we both went to Queens University.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, well, we won’t do an oil thigh but we will….
YOUNG: That’s not the Queens in the borough, by the way.
BALDACHIN: That’s Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. Thank you for clarifying. And I will say that you’re the third Queens grad on this podcast.
YOUNG: That’s excellent.
BALDACHIN: So I’m not…Actually, it’s a coincidence. I’m not going for it but you know…
YOUNG: We might be optimistically call it one of the Canadian Ivy League’s.
BALDACHIN: The Harvard of the North.
BALDACHIN: So you started your career in Toronto as an agency person?
YOUNG: Well, I started my career earlier than that.
YOUNG: And there’s probably a good story there that I could try…
BALDACHIN: Well, why don’t you sort of take us…?
YOUNG: Well, I mean, I think because I think it was foundational. I was a little bit…. Yeah, I have a…First I went to Queens and I was studying like philosophy and economics and a bunch of different things.
BALDACHIN: And I was doing English Lit, just for the record, so similar idea.
YOUNG: Yeah. And my dad at the time was very sick. And he said to me…And he’d invested a lot kind of getting me out of this kind of toxic environment that was Regina, where I lived in Saskatchewan, he said, I went away to boarding school. And so he was sort of invested. And he said, “You should be in a professional program, you should be in a professional program.” So I said, “Okay,” I moved into the commerce program. And I, you know, so I was figuring, you know, this is a good place to be as any. And so, I have a, you know, I got to BCOM from Queens in the business school and have a focus on finance and economics, which I always liked, and I was able to dabble in philosophy and other classes. And so I liked a lot.
But I didn’t really know, I mean, he wasn’t there at the end to tell me, you know, you should focus on getting into a consulting firm, or you should get ready for graduate school, or you should hear the paths that are available.
BALDACHIN: I didn’t have that either.
YOUNG: No idea.
YOUNG: And so, you know…
BALDACHIN: I can relate.
YOUNG: A little bit before that…Actually, in Kingston. I decided the only way that I can make money, if I just want to be enterprising is to be a waiter. Because I always thought, you know, it’s cash, I like to talk to people. So I got a job at Chez Piggy.
BALDACHIN: You’re kidding?
BALDACHIN: That’s crazy.
YOUNG: Yeah. And I was kind of what I consider a….
BALDACHIN: Classic Kingston restaurant for alumni….
YOUNG: Started in the kitchen, got to the floor. And I was a really good bad waiter, which is you could have—I’d make sure you had a good time but you know, I wasn’t always…
BALDACHIN: But the plates were on—the wrong dish with the wrong…
YOUNG: I never went up through the ranks. I was never trained. It was like the story and just kind of threw myself into it. So anyway, I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I moved to Toronto where I had some friends and I was waiting at a restaurant called the Amsterdam.
YOUNG: And it was a…
BALDACHIN: Did you know Mike…? My very good friend Michael Grange was there.
YOUNG: I have no memory from that period of my life.
BALDACHIN: That’s okay, so I know it well.
YOUNG: What I remember is…
BALDACHIN: It was a very hot spot at the time.
YOUNG: Yeah. Because the Blue Jays were hot trying it was…
BALDACHIN: That’s right. All the players hung out there.
YOUNG: Right. And I made great money, and I did my thing. And one night I was at a table and you know, I would often get into conversation with a guy. I’m like, “I’ve gotta get out of this job. I can’t take it anymore.” And he said, “Well, what are you doing?” I said, “Well, I have a business degree and really good with finance blah, blah, blah. I can…” and he said, “Well, you should come talk to me.” And I said, “Absolutely, I will.” So I followed up with him, and he was, you know, mid level guy or something at Nortel. And I became a financial analyst at Nortel. And I had this old Volvo I would drive to Nortel every day and I felt like you know…
BALDACHIN: No inbox?
BALDACHIN: Oh, oh.
YOUNG: Okay, the thing I like best when I started is I worked a lot of hours, and I would get free Swiss chalet at night because if you stuck around, you could expense it and I love that.
BALDACHIN: Great perk.
YOUNG: And I was analyzing like mainframe investments and looking at, you know what, it was a financial job, and I knew the great thing about that journey was I knew that that wasn’t my place and that there had to be, you know, more problems that were more interesting to me that I could solve. And so my wife now, my girlfriend at the time, was in Montreal, she was studying theatre. And I moved to Montreal, I started graduate school at McGill studying economics because I didn’t know what else to do—in between there some traveling and stuff. And while I was there, I ended up started doing design. And I did design at a hip newspaper in Montreal called the Montreal Mirror, which was like the sort of village voice…
BALDACHIN: The Now Magazine.
YOUNG: Now Magazine Montreal. And I thought, this is incredible, like media is, you know, left/right brain, it’s an incredible thing to do. And you know, I did all kinds of jobs, when it was there from design to, you know, distribution to new projects is to just everything, creating a book. And at the time, we started this project on what was called at the time of BBS, it was like your own version of AOL billboard system.
YOUNG: It sort of just slightly predated the internet, or adoption of the internet. And we would put our content on there and sell the service to people and they could get an email address from us and they could communicate with one another. And we probably had 1000 members. And I just thought this is fascinating. And then remember this a friend of mine name [Ahal 08: 21], who was the publisher and owner of the paper. And shortly after that, we had our first child, my Julie and I, had a pretty young age. And she said, and I’m like, “I’ve got to do something like, what am I doing?” I’m like…
BALDACHIN: Maybe make some money here, yeah.
YOUNG: “…I’m in Montreal, and I’ve got to make some money.” And he said, “You should focus on what you love, which is the intersection of digital stuff and media stuff.” And I thought that was a pretty good thesis. And I went to Toronto…
BALDACHIN: Good timing also.
YOUNG: Yeah. Good timing in Toronto. I had a short stint at CTV.
YOUNG: And then I started in the agency world. And I rose up very, very quickly, because I kind of could figure out the vocabulary of that world and I had a specialist skill in the area of digital that they needed. And so very early on, I, by the time I was, I don’t know, 28? I was running an agency. I was running a …. Or maybe, well, a direct and interactive marketing agency. And then I ran this agency in Canada called Organic. And it was, you know, an amazing gig. That was just when this new category of agency emerged, which was kind of digital….
YOUNG: Interactive agency.
BALDACHIN: At the time it would have been.
YOUNG: Basically, you know, digital development, web development and web marketing. And so, you know, that’s kind of where that journey started.
BALDACHIN: Who were your clients? What were the pockets?
YOUNG: Well, if you’re in Canada, your clients are always the same.
YOUNG: Well, if they’re not bear, they’re the banks. You might have an insurance company, you might have a lottery, you definitely have a telco. If you have a real business…
YOUNG: So you’ve got to have, you know, one of the banks, you could have a telco. And maybe you have an automotive our beer company, and you might do packaged goods but you know, that’s really what you need. And so our clients were largely the banks and telcos. And we had a nice little business.
BALDACHIN: And how did you go from there to…How did you end up in the US?
YOUNG: Well, the thing about being, I don’t know how you felt about it, but you know, I identifies the Canadian, I really love Canada.
YOUNG: But it always felt like I was really itching to get out because I felt like in media in particular, it was a bit of a farm team. And the problem was, is that I worked very closely with all my colleagues in New York and San Francisco and, you know, there was less original work in Canada, the budgets were one 10th, there was as a result, less opportunities for creativity and scale. And one of the great things about America is it’s a scaled market.
YOUNG: And so I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. And I was always kind of, you know, ambitious in terms of what I wanted to do. And so, Jill and I, you know, and I worked in New York a lot so we put our kids in the car, and we came to New York.
BALDACHIN: Did you have a job here?
YOUNG: Yeah, I originally worked for Omnicom in New York for one Omnicom companies. And, you know, I was the head of the strategy creative organization. And, yeah, that was my first job.
BALDACHIN: So then you join Same Media?
YOUNG: You know, I did. I worked here for quite a while. And then I had a friend who was a venture capitalist. And he said, “I’ve got these amazing guys I know, that have this really great video technology, and they’re from Yale, and maybe you should meet up with them.” And there were these three incredible guys, one of whom I you know, works with me at Hearst today actually runs an automotive business for me. And I just thought these, you know, if I want to get off of the…I did services for a long time, and I thought it would be fun to build something. So they had this technology and this company called Video Egg that was really early stage, our video company. And we started building it and it grew like crazy. And we lived in—Jill and I and the kids lived in San Francisco, and we were there for seven years. And eventually, we started buying other companies and the company became same media, which was the integration of a company called Six Apart which was one of the early blogging platforms And the Same Media video technology, and then we bought some content companies.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, that’s really that’s really the beginning of what was then kind of called Internet 2.0.
YOUNG: Well, it was certainly the beginning of the video, yeah. explosion,
BALDACHIN: We, at that time, represented Blip Tv. You remember those guys?
YOUNG: Mike Hudack.
BALDACHIN: Yep, Mike Yuda still owns—a good friend of mine.
BALDACHIN: And I mean, you know, that was pre—great guy—that was sort of as YouTube was just starting up.
BALDACHIN: And we were sort of always kind of sounds funny now, but view them as rival then they got acquired by Google, and off they went and buried everyone else. So then from 2006 to 2013, you were running Same Media?
YOUNG: I was the president of Same Media.
BALDACHIN: So you were the president? So I guess, in that period, what sorts of,I guess what would you kind of characterize is the tent pole changes in that business?
YOUNG: Well, I mean, in that business, you know, we, I think we’ve made…It was an incredible culture, it was an incredible group of people. The founder that stayed on Matt Sanchez, is this gentleman that I work with. He was an amazing guy. I mean, these it was, it was a really, really great time. I think we probably drove by five acquisition opportunities, waiting, you know, persisting in a vision that we had to create a holistic platform for media. And so we had a highly profitable kind of ad model and ad network that was built out Video Egg. And then we bought a publishing platform. And then we started to add small…
BALDACHIN: Brands like content.
YOUNG: Small brands, like we bought a company called terrific design brand called Remodelista. And we bought a technology blog, and we bought blogs in the pet space. And we started to put together, yeah. And at the same time, you know, we were doing it, there was another company in San Francisco that had done some similar things called Federated Media, a guy named John Hotel. And so we essentially said, you know, listen, we’re going to reinvent the content creation piece, we’re going to tie the advertising platform inside of that, and we’re going to do it around, you know, these sorts of new media brands. And, you know, it was amazing. I mean, the challenge was, is building up that business was very capital intensive. So we had a big sales organization, big technology organization, and a big sort of operations group, and it was in Canada was in the UK, and it was in, you know, centered in the US. And, you know, it was a really, incredibly fond memories of it. And the people and what we, what we built, Matt ultimately sold the company last year and he came to work with me at Hearst.
BALDACHIN: Okay. And I mean, I think, you know, at that time, you were probably building a lot of pieces of technology that you would now partner with Bolton…
YOUNG: Yeah, you know?
BALDACHIN: It would be much less capital intensive.
YOUNG: Yeah, we were trying to solve problems that, you know, the middle layer certainly started to solve. The other thing is that, you know, I think that the media brands particularly in the lifestyle space were quite resilient actually, had deep, deep advertising relationships, and certainly had real, you know, massive consumer recognition. And so I decided, you know, I started advising a gentleman named David Carey that had my job before me. And I knew a lot about what it took to sort of transform the content creation side in the technology platform side, and I always knew a lot about the app piece, so I had a pretty holistic sense of what the business needed. And it was clear to me that it was it was totally under optimized at Hearst, though they had, you know, as an amazing company, it just wasn’t, you know, there were there were structural impediments to, you know, really sort of accelerating the digital agenda. And what we started to annoy the company, I think, is that competitors were getting traction, like startups that were really focused on digital, and…
BALDACHIN: Digitally native.
YOUNG: Digitally native.
BALDACHIN: Brand like Tatste Made.
YOUNG: Like a Taste Made or Refinery 29, or others, like Pop Sugars, etc. And I knew, you know, essentially what their formula was. I was an advisor to pop to, or to refinery 29, amazing guys again. And I said to David, “There’s a better way to do this.” And we essentially had to really think very differently about the structure of the organization and sort of admit how kind of old orthodox things were getting in the way of progress. And it wasn’t the brands and it wasn’t the legacy of those, you know, they couldn’t connect with a new generation, it was how we were approaching…
BALDACHIN: Internally, structurally…
YOUNG: Yeah, how we’re approaching the content creation, how we’re approaching technology, the kind of culture that we build that connected, you know, a technologist and operations person, audience development person, and content creator that would allow us to grow audience and build a more meaningful advertising business surrounded. I mean, since then, the business has matured in a million ways. And the breadth of things that we’re doing, you know, today digitally is bananas. But that’s really how it started.
BALDACHIN: Yeah. And I mean, so then just staying on that, so you’re advising David Carey, who—for people who are listening who might not know that name, is really a legendary magazine executive.
YOUNG: Legendary human.
BALDACHIN: Legendary human being, I mean, impressive guy.
BALDACHIN: He brings you in in 2013, to run digital…
BALDACHIN: One of the first…
YOUNG: Well, originally to advise.
YOUNG: And then start working with the team. And then you know, he’s really testing me and then eventually run the job.
BALDACHIN: So you pass the test. And one of the first thing you do in there is you split apart the digital and the print sales teams, sales and marketing and basically, separate that out, as I understand it.
YOUNG: I mean, one of the first… I mean, there were many pieces, but we did make a lot of changes to the digital sales organization. One of the first things that I noticed, or that we had to do was really radically changed the ad product sort of offering, there was an enormous catalog of ad products, there was tremendous fragmentation of environments across the portfolio that led to tremendous complexity and how you ran an ad, how you sold an ad, how you reported back to the advertiser on its effectiveness, that created real operating problems. And I knew that we needed a different focus in sales, we needed a stronger sort of organizing ad—or a stronger ad product capability. And at the time that the industry was making a bit of a shift from the world of kind of banners, to branded content. So we needed to build branded content studio, we needed to create a way to distribute branded content across our portfolio sites. And we had these nagging issues where we had literally hundreds of templates, so anything that you wanted to do was very, very difficult to optimize, because you were just spending so…
BALDACHIN: Virtually just stoked.
YOUNG: Just managing like every ad insertion.You couldn’t get scale across your properties. So we embarked on a kind of a path to completely rebuild our platforms. And I had met a guy; we’d bought this company before my time in the UK, called Digital Spa. And there was this amazing young entrepreneur that had built a very, very nimble little CMS to support his hobby, which was publishing pop culture content. And I found him and said, “I need you.” We started with that platform rebuilding… We had this enormous kind of complex platform before that didn’t really work for anyone. And we started rebuilding this thing, and doing it the right way. And today, it’s called Media OS. So today, it is 50, 60 microservices that all work together and are assembled to, to manage all of our properties around the world. It’s not just content creation, it’s all the analytics around it, it’s commerce, it gives us an ability to syndicate content out really easily, effortlessly. It allows us to take in much more data around the consumer and really understand what they’re doing. We’ve connected it to all of our conversational systems that we use inside of the company, mostly on Slack. So that if you want to understand anything that a consumer is doing, and our properties are on social media, just tapping a question, and it’s become a real, a really important part of how we run the business. What’s exciting today is and you know, I’m getting into the future now.
YOUNG: We also on this company called CDS, and CDS is a company based into Toronto, that manages basically all the fulfillment and transaction processing and customer service for the magazine industry. So we make sure that if you’re building a customer for subscription or they’re calling you, and getting the magazine out to your house, we manage that for Meredith, for Conde Nast and obviously Hearst and other titles. And so inside of that is a lot of technology around how you manage a consumer. And you can see this time in the future where essentially what were once content management platforms, they become relationship management platforms. And I think that’s tremendously exciting. So like how you get someone into a content based relationship, and do all the things that you might want to do, whether that’s upsell them into a paid relationship, or sell them a product or get them to an event and communicate with them through that process is really what we’re focused on.
BALDACHIN: And your Media OS platform, that’s completely proprietary?
YOUNG: Completely, yeah.
BALDACHIN: That’s incredible. And how do you…? So everyone interacts with it in a different way on your teams basically. So your ad people interact with it one way, the content people, the distribution people…
YOUNG: Certainly all the content people and the people that are focused on like…
YOUNG: …Commerce or how we sell things. Certainly research uses it for sure. Our ad people use it and our ad operations team. So it’s a pretty holistic piece of…
BALDACHIN: How difficult was it, sort of pulling apart and building back up that culture?
YOUNG: Well, I mean, the difficult part of it was this, I remember sitting in a room thinking I got, there’s two paths. One is to you know, what I thought was kinda late in the cycle to build a platform, a lot of media companies have struggled doing that. We didn’t have perhaps as strong a technology culture is we could have at the time. Today, it’s very, very modern, in terms of how we work and how we build how we think about technology and data and all the machine learning and all that stuff. But I had some great people. And the choice was, am I going to invest in modifying WordPress, basically, or modifying a platform called Drupal? Or am I going to build something that’s going to allow me to build a really interesting global platform? It was a hard decision, because you know, we run our business really smartly. You know, that would have taken a lot of capital, the path of building your own, there’s a lot of risk in that.
BALDACHIN: And management challenges.
YOUNG: But the idea of building around, I don’t know, in my mind, the idea of building around somebody else’s roadmap, when I knew that, basically, how I wanted to build this business, that a lot of the things that I would want to build would be very bespoke. I just felt like we had enough scale that we could build our own platform. And so what ended up happening is just by force of will and a lot of great people, we built the a company, that’s basically half a media company, half a technology company. And I think that’ll put us in a good position in the future.
BALDACHIN: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about, about content. There’s been a lot written and a lot said, not only about Hearst, but a lot of the legacy print brands, companies, media companies in general. It’s a question you get all the time, I’m sure. But how do you see print evolving? How do you manage that challenge? How do you keep it vibrant? And given everything we’re talking about with respect to technology, and digital, in some ways?
YOUNG: Well, I mean, it starts with I mean, a love of print that, you know, I grew up in a small city, and with a deep love of magazines, and that was really how my world opened up. So it starts there. You really focus on delivering the best product you can across all the channels, and you really don’t want one to compromise the other. Print remains, I think, really important refuge from the barrage of interruption that is the digital world and your mobile phone. I feel…
BALDACHIN: Hollywood action, I would say too.
YOUNG: Yeah, I mean, I think as we realized that it plays too big a part in our life, I think that something heavily curated, that takes you on a journey for you know, half an hour or an hour, is a really, really wonderful thing to make. Print is a wonderful medium for editors, right? Because it’s finite. And finite means you have to make choices, and great editors can make choices on the behalf of the reader and take them on this on this journey. So I love print. But you know, the challenge is obviously, what’s the right amount to invest in it? And how do you manage rate base and frequency and investment in that product at a time of change? And so as I mean, those are the things that we’re good at.
BALDACHIN: With print, what do you see things working? I mean both with respect to content, and distribution and advertising, and which brands are you seeing that are more resilient?
YOUNG: Well, we have an insane portfolio of print publication. So I think we have the best portfolio in the world. And from service to fashion to enthusiasts, and I think always what I insist on with our team as something I called “content with purpose.” And I just think that you really have to understand and work hard to understand what role you’re going to play in someone’s life. And I think it’s important with print too because you’re competing with other choices that consumer has as far as how they spend their time. So I think that we have to be really data and research oriented in understanding what role you know, how well our publications do that? I mean, I think on the luxury side our titles are quite resilient in that they serve an important role in how fashion luxury companies market and in how people consume that kind of media. I think we have tremendous titles in the health space with Men’s Health and Women’s Health that we acquired almost two years ago now…
YOUNG: From Rodale.
BALDACHIN: Excuse me, Rodale.
YOUNG: Well, Rodale accusation. I love are enthusiasts titles in runners world and bicycling, we have amazing service titles like Good Housekeeping, we have Oprah has been a phenomenon for years, we have Esquire, we have Men’s Health. I mentioned Men’s Health. We have Pop Mechanics, we have an amazing portfolio of brands. And then we have a really extraordinary portfolio. We have portfolio in the auto space as well with car and driver and road and track and then a bunch of other assets around that. So I think the focus really is understand your audience, understand the role you play in their lives. And I think we’re really good at packaging and selling media. I mean, obviously, you have to be extraordinary at that too over the years in terms of how you work with advertisers, and how you bring content and data and creativity to that relationship. And that’s something we’re really, really focused on.
BALDACHIN: Are you seeing any shift back to print? Is there any kind of trend? You know, obviously Facebook and Google were sucking up huge amounts of advertising dollars. That has changed somewhat. Are you seeing sort of the any sort of kind of reversion back to that initial advertising in book across properties?
YOUNG: It’s a complex question. You certainly hear this sentiment a lot. Listen, our digital business is growing like crazy in the US and around the world. We’re really, really good at it. We’re really smart about our ad products and data and how we publish and all that. The thing that Google and Facebook have created is—remember that, after all the you know, [inauidble 31: 14]about privacy issues around Facebook, they released their numbers, and their numbers were extraordinary. And one of the things that you have to appreciate is they have 7 million advertisers. One of the things that both Google and Facebook has become is a resource to a really, really broad swath of people that want to buy media because it’s entirely systematized
And so those are really resilient companies with extraordinary amounts of data. And as the world has shifted from kind of media to data, it has benefited them. And the way that you can buy with precision in a self-service mode has made them you know, very resilient media businesses. So I think you hear from agencies and clients that they really appreciate the role we play in the media ecosystem, that quality content is really important, that our brands are important, that context is important. But you know, let’s be realistic about it, you know, we’re in, you know, it’s a very competitive market.
BALDACHIN: Yeah. How are you guys using data both internally and…? And what are you doing with your data? You mentioned machine learning, how are using that? Are using that…?
YOUNG: Well, it’s a crazy time once you start to dig into that stuff. And I mean, broadly speaking, you want to use obviously data to enhance your ad offering. And increasingly, what clients want to do is basically find their customers on your media properties, they want them match data sets, they want to understand what their customers are doing and how you’re influencing them. And increasingly, data can help them get a better understanding of that. So that’s just one piece. And I think that that challenges companies like ours to be much more sophisticated in how we engage with the client. Certainly, data plays an enormous role in supporting this idea of content purpose…
BALDACHIN: Content purpose, yeah.
YOUNG: Yeah. And how… I mean, Digital Natives, just, you know, they’re like, “Well, data is just how we work, right.” But you know, data applies—and certainly the insights it creates and research to how you think about your print product is as I’ve suggested, and we do that in many ways. And we find more and more quick, fast, interesting ways of getting reactions to our print products before we put them on the newsstand. So I’m very excited about that, but…
BALDACHIN: That’s really interesting.
YOUNG: Yeah, I mean, obviously, data is hugely important in how you think, you know, how you get new customers, if there’s 5 million subscribers, we need to be a very sophisticated marketing organization. I think it’s really important to us in terms of how we operate. Everything can be deconstructed and measured. So if you look at, for example, the data coming off of a sales organization, what product sold? At what price? To whom? How are they pitched against? What brands? What was the IO value? You can start to really understand where you need to put sales, resource sales and marketing resource to be more systematic at it.
But more broadly, what I’m really interested around data, and I’ll get to the machine learning piece, because it’s a natural extension, once you’ve got all this stuff, what do you do with it? And how do you make it understandable? Is I’m interested in the democratization of it. See, I’ve noticed that when you put analysts departments between a data set or a data source and the customer, it doesn’t work very well. So we would have a sort of analytical function that would power or provide the editorial teams with information. And they would send around big spreadsheets and focus on this and focus on that…
BALDACHIN: Right. If you write about this, if you include that…
YOUNG: Right, and I often found that that was ignored. And now what I’m doing is I’m empowering the whole organization with a kind of question and answer concept to data, which is like Alexa, “What’s the weather outside?” Alexa tells me that whether. “I want to play this song,” Alexa plays me a song. So if you’re on our systems and you say top stories right now on AOL, you’ll get it. Top stories right now on UK, top items on Instagram, top products sold and Bizarre today, top recipe content on Delish at this moment, it will give it all back to you, you know, best performing content over the last 18 months and on and on. So what we’re doing is taking more and more data source and making them available just like Google makes the internet available to you.
BALDACHIN: That’s using data as a research tool in a lot of way?
YOUNG: Well, it’s using data as broad empowerment for an entire organization, and it’s bringing the query into the conversational interface where we’re all hanging out. Because what I noticed is, on the digital team that we built, it was like the hive mind, right? They were all connected, we would release code on slack, and the editor would talk to the product manager, we were all like slacking all the time. And I noticed that communication was very different on in the print organization. And it’s the org was more hierarchical. And through that hierarchy, they built stars, right? They build sort of stars as editors. And that was an important part of the development of the allure of the brand, and I think actually really important.
BALDACHIN: I think still relevant. That’s in some ways what separates.
YOUNG: Totally, totally. And it built these amazing brands. And then on the digital side, there’s these kind of like, maniacal behavior in the hive. And I wanted both. And so I said to myself, “I’m going to move the entire company on to slack so that we are all connected. And then what I’m going to do is I’m going to put data into that world,” just like a phone, my phone is communication and utility, communication and applications. So now what I’ve got is a system that’s both communication, and access to information, right? So if you’re a sales rep, you ought to be able to update your account on Slack. Just type in, “Saw Dave, today,” he said x and that goes into Salesforce. But you know, if you’re anybody, like we just make it entirely transparent and available to everyone, so a little anecdote about that.
I remember one day when I was, youknow, early on starting in the org…You know, across the organization, we have sort of this brands are competitive with one another, right? So, like, Bizarre is competitive El.
BALDACHIN: In a good way? In a healthy way?
YOUNG: Well, I mean, I think competition is healthy, for sure. And what was interesting to me is that at the time, they both use chart beat, but they would never show each other what their chart beats, right. And I’m like, “This is crazy, guys,” like so immediately, I kind of unified our chart beat instance and I made all data available to everybody. I mean, that was a while ago, we don’t even use chart data anymore. But the same notion applies to what we’re trying to do here. Now on the machine learning side, this is where I’m super interested, what I would like to create is super humans, right? Like, that’s what’s interesting to me: super editors, super ad salespeople, super humans.
And you can take a lot of information and make life easier and make an individual smarter, and make them more efficient. And an example might be, you know, we can run our headlines, we can run our content through machine learning, and figure out meaning from like a headline. And we can start to look at what articles or what pieces of content, how they performed, such that if I typed in a headline, for example, the machine could predict how well that story’s going to do,you know, a future oriented headline based on an enormous corpus of historical performance. I could look at everything that my competitors are writing as an example. And I could start to sort that in terms of its applicability to different brands. And I could say these ones are worth paying attention to, based on historical performance on our properties.
We are looking at the simple things like how much time people spend with images, certain images. And so now you can go on to the system that I was telling you about, look at the top images across the hundred thousands of images that we create every month, and understand where people are spending more time. So there are so many applications of how you take a machine, and you get it to look for patterns, and then you get it to help you predict where you’re spending time. And those are just a few of the ones that we’re working on.
BALDACHIN: So is that something that from your perspective will be an internal Hearst tool? Or is that something that you see as potentially creating new technology and new revenue lines for the company? Well, is that something that you could then market to brands or…? I mean, obviously, you’re using it to get better content, enhance sales?
YOUNG: Yeah. So in, I’m interested in taking that. And what we’re doing is just to give you a sense of what that looks like, we have our own data in the middle, right, which is all—we make call it in the US 1000 pieces of content a day, every one of those like a f
BALDACHIN: lare, yeah, you get you see what was going on.
YOUNG: And everything is like a little hypothesis. And we can start to organize that information in interesting ways. And then we can add all of social data around that, right, there’s ways that to start to put social data around it. And then there are third party data sources that look at commerce, that might look at other demographic.
BALDACHIN: And you’re bringing those in?
YOUNG: You bring those in, you start to stitch together. And you then have this really extraordinary data, that we’re making available to our teams in really interesting ways. And essentially, what we’re doing is taking the role of like the Social Media Manager and building that into a system basically. So what we are is extraordinarily effective content marketers. And so I’ve been working on evolving this system to essentially become like a Bloomberg like resource for fashion and luxury. I’m so convinced that the way that we’re doing this, in terms of combining data accessibility with innovative ways of stitching data sets together, and then using machine learning to kind of make sense of it productive. Yeah, that it’s hugely valuable to us, and I think hugely valuable to many of our clients that are struggling with the same thing.
Right now that we’re you know, we’re obviously living in the age of data, I don’t, there isn’t a client, I go see whether I’m in Paris, or China or Japan or the UK, or obviously here in the US, that isn’t talking about data in some shape or form.
BALDACHIN: And how they can use it.
YOUNG: How they can use it to be smarter.
BALDACHIN: To be smarter.
YOUNG: Yeah. And so I’m interested in combining our media expertise, our data expertise, and essentially or software expertise, and creating a non-media product that is really just kind of data, data and new ways to understand and access it and build a business around.
BALDACHIN: So you must have a lot of data scientists work. We have data scientists, we have data taxonomists, we have people that work on how to maket that information more understandable. You know, I’m going to show to you right here. It’s all available on any device.
BALDACHIN: So I’ll take a look but have you…What have been…? I mean, that’s a challenge to put that team together. And we work with data science, with data science companies that are dedicated to doing that that struggle. Challenging to find the right people and put them in the right places.
YOUNG: Yeah, I mean, always, but you know what? People like passion down, and we have a lot of passionate people. And I’m not interested in what…I’m very respectful of what came before. But I’m interested in creating the kind of challenging environment where people can write a defining part of the chapter to their career. And so like, I’m an intense guy, and the people that work with me are really smart and intense. And I think that if you are creating opportunities for people to solve problems in new ways, in ways that they’re proud of, and that they’re invested in, and that their managers care, and their managers give them great feedback. There’s no reason why our organization can be as great to work at as Google. Yeah. And I mean Google, you can get like free curry and free crab legs and stuff, but like, Hearst is an extraordinary place to have a career.
YOUNG: And so I think that you can…No, I really believe that. I mean, I really think beyond all the crazy perks that someone gets, what someone wants to do is feel stimulated, feel respected, get honest, feedback be better.
BALDACHIN: And move the needle with the team.
BALDACHIN: I’m still at the Korean crab legs.
YOUNG: Well, I always think…I was just there the other day. And I always think when I’m there, the first time I went there, I had, I was like, “Oh, my God, look at the food, the range of food that’s there.” And I love curry. And so I went to the curry station. And I was like, “This is extraordinary, “and how it was amazing. And then I looked over and over there was like, a bunch of crap laid out. And it was almost like I thought, “Oh, my God, this is the end of the world.”
BALDACHIN: This sort of brings me up to where I where I wanted to go in this conversation, which is, you know, over the next three to five years, yeah. As you’ve outlined, there’s a heavy emphasis on data, using data, creating products with data, using data to obviously enhance all aspects of the business. Do you anticipate sort of sticking with the basket of titles that you have? Do anticipate birthing new titles and new brands? How do you sort of see the business evolving from a content perspective in addition to sort of the data?
YOUNG: Well, I’m always on the lookout for a great brand. But I have 28 of them, and 300 around the world, 300 editions, but it’s really those 28 that I think we need to focus on and take care of, there’s a few that we admire that might fit in. But you know, we also sort of spin show based or sort of product brands out of our brands. So increasingly, we’re also a video company, right, and you make brands and video by making shows. And I think you’ll see organic new intellectual property emerge there. So whether it’s a show about morning beauty routines, created by Harper’s Bazaar, that becomes a brand in and of itself.
BALDACHIN: That’s interesting.
YOUNG: So you start to see that we just opened a studio in Los Angeles, that we bought this company called Clever, which is a young women’s sort of YouTube oriented video company. And we launched a studio last week in Los Angeles. And we’ll, we’ll build lots of show brands around YouTube out of that market, and Cosmo as a brand will play a increasingly important role in that output. But you know, we have last year, we launched a yoga mat, that was just as an example that we had seen them selling in our properties, we had an idea about one we wanted to create, we paired it with an Alexa skill and sort of merchandised it as a smart yoga mat. And that was a separate brand, but sort of brought to you by Women’s Health.
And so we see opportunities to do that. You know, we’re launching a new VOD stuff that that will bring together a lot of our video content in the health space. Brands will emerge from our portfolio, but it’s really, really hard to build a brand that is known around the world like, like many of ours, whether that’s Bizarre, Cosmo, or Esquire or Men’s Health.
BALDACHIN: So, lastly, I understand your vinyl guy, and I just have to ask, do you have a top five Desert Island and Rush, if it’s on the list? A few bonus points as a Canadian.
YOUNG: I mean, if you were on an island and if you had power in a cell can actually, you take Spotify, for sure, you wouldn’t probably have vinyl.
BALDACHIN: Fair enough. But you are a vinyl guy?
YOUNG: I do have lots of vinyl. I like stereo equipment. If I was to do that…. I don’t know. I mean, you might be tempted to take records that you didn’t know that you loved but that’s pretty risky. I would probably take the following: I would take an album by Gregory Isaacs called Night Nurse, which can be listened to literally thousands of times. It is one of the great reggae albums of all time. I would take definitely Neil Young album, one called On The Beach, would take that. In honor of my son, who’s a fledgling musician and my wife, I would take George Harrison, All Things Must Pass.
BALDACHIN: That’s a great choice.
YOUNG: Yeah. That is also, it’s a triple album. So it’s wonderful. It makes me think of them.
BALDACHIN: That’s a great flavors.
YOUNG: Yeah, I love that album. I have two more. You know what I might take this new guy who I would encourage you to listen to that I really, really like, actually from Saskatchewan. I think he’s one of the great musicians to come out of Saskatchewan and out of Canada of this generation, his name is Andy Schaaf.
BALDACHIN: Don’t know him.
YOUNG: He released an album last year called—we’re getting a thumbs up from our producer over there –called The Partywhich I thought was a great, great album. And I could listen to that a lot. And I think one more choice; and that final choice would probably be might be like the Velvet Underground. I’m also a big…When I was a kid… I might take this by The Replacements called All Shook Down. Okay. And yeah, that would get me by for like random was
BALDACHIN: Yeah, that’s a great list. That’s a great eclectic list from a true media lover. Well, listen, thank you so much Troy for coming down on a Friday afternoon…
YOUNG: Appreciate it.
BALDACHIN: ….And sharing your views, and this was a great conversation. Hopefully we’ll do it again.
YOUNG: All right, appreciate it.
BALDACHIN: Thanks, Try.
YOUNG: All right.