Condé Nast’s Eric Gillin on brand building, listening, and solving problems


Eric Gillin ()


Late last month, Gillin moved from Condé Nast’s lifestyle division, which includes Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit, and Self, to the culture division, which includes which includes The New Yorker, Wired, and Ars Technica.

Gillin explained that the advent of digital platforms and spaces have created an existential crisis for some publishers.  “We used to, as print publishers, own a fairly direct connection with the consumer and over the last 15 years, that’s all been sort of interrupted. So, I think people have this existential crisis of like, what am I doing with this brand if this brand is not magazine?”

Brands solve problems people have, Gillin said, adding magazine is about a platform and brand is sort of what that magazine is doing, “A lot of magazines are defined by a topic, voice, tone or, or those types of things,” he said. “But when I look at brands, brands are about solving problems and then it really becomes about the users that you’re attracting through that brand.”

He explained that he looks at platforms and how can brands in themselves inhabit platforms like print, TikTok, TV, digital videos, events and experiential. “All these different outlets or places where publishers can distribute content potentially are a place where you’re rain may or may not want to play. Anywhere your brand reaches a customer, in my mind, is a platform.” 

Gillin said that his work involves trying to figure out how to how brands should interact with platforms. “What I ended up focusing on more often than anything else is the people, the people that support that brand currently, who are they? What do they love about it? What did they not love about it? And then there’s a little bit of a future focus: Who should be liking this brand? Where are they?”

Great brands speak to specific audiences of people on various platforms. Take, for example, Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit. Gillin spent seven years with Bon Appétit, and he explained that when Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapoport  added a different element to the magazine, lifestyle events, which cultivated new audiences.


Have conversations, listen

“(Adam) added a whole new ingredient to that magazine,” Gillin said. “And that was where food and culture meet. It wasn’t just what was on the plate, it was about what was around the plate, and that expanded the world of that magazine. Now, if you’re a hardcore recipe lover, you might not have loved this other stuff that he added. But if you’re someone that isn’t just focused on what’s on the plate, he added a whole new dimension for you to sort of embrace.”

Bon Appétit’s extensions of the brands onto platforms were something that evolved over time.

“We had this great magazine and I think the first place where we really clicked was Twitter. The tone of the magazine and the writing of the magazine extended nicely to tweets and people thought it was a really clever feed,” Gillin said. “The next thing we did was extend the brand that was great in photography to Instagram. So, we just kept trying new things without over-committing.”

Bon Appétit tried Facebook, but were trying to game an algorithm, had tried video documentaries on YouTube. The strategy took years, but they had to make sure that every video they made could be sold to a sponsor or drive audience or metrics.


Eric Gillin Peter Houston ()


Steer into your strengths

But, brands are all unique, and what works for one on one platform may not work for another. It’s important that publishers move beyond the survey and talk to the people that actually read your brand and support it. “I think it’s really important to kind of have that conversation about your brand with the people that are engaged in it,” Gillin said. “Brands can become facilitators for the communities within their brand.”

“Where is your brand doing something, kind of a little outside of the lines where it’s working well and how much bigger can you make that? Steer into your strengths.”

The easiest way to do that is for publishers to stop thinking about scale, he said. “I think at the end of the day, like scale is fantastic, but scale gets very expensive for your business because you have to support it with all kinds of people and things in equipment and servers and you name it. So scale is not free,” Gillin told Houston.

Publishers ought to focus on discovering what people will love, because when people love something, Gillin explained, they will pay for it. If you have audiences willing to five you money, pay attention to them.  “Whether it’s clients or advertisers, we offer level of white glove service and kind of try to align our strengths with their needs,” Gillin said. “If somebody is willing to give you money for an experience or for immediate product, you’ve kind of got to do better job at customer service and really focus on what their needs are… so, it comes back to listening.”


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