Duncan Edwards on Hearst’s digital strategy

In the digital world, there are a thousand things businesses can do and the most important management skill is deciding what you should do (and therefore what you should not); focus is everything. Several years ago, HMI identified three priorities for digital: building large scale free web audiences for our major global brands to be funded by advertising; creating new digital products that consumers will pay for and experimenting with ecommerce.  

As time has passed, we have focused more and more of our energy on the first of these priorities.  This is not to say that we have stopped working entirely on the others, to which our new paid digital initiative for Good Housekeeping in the UK or our fast growing e-commerce business in Japan both attest, but the sheer size of the opportunity on the free web means that this is where I want us to spend our time.  

In December 2014, our network of websites recorded 170 million unique visitors, up 70 per cent from the year before, and the rate of growth in audience is increasing. Our focus is on Cosmopolitan, Elle, Digital Spy and other major brands which have clearly defined content pillars and audiences, and our target is global reach. We intend for our digital products to be as important to audiences and advertisers in the future as our print products have been and continue to be.

In order to make this vision a reality, we have invested in a strong central digital team with leaders in content, audience, technology and product; we have built a proprietary content management system with engineers working hand-in-hand with product and content teams to ensure the best user experience. And we have begun the work of transforming our digital network through a new approach to content. For us, it’s not just a question of high frequency content creation and a 24/7 newsroom (although we definitely feel that these are the table stakes if you want to play), it’s also a question of how each of our brands approach the stories of the day. In our view, there is not much that Cosmo can’t have an opinion on, as long as the voice and point-of-view are distinctly Cosmo: differentiated and consistent in order to stand out and appeal to a huge audience of young women in a world of mass produced content.

What we are seeing in the Cosmo network is nothing short of extraordinary; wherever our teams fully adopt the content strategy, together with our specific social and search approach, audiences are exploding.  And as brand owner and licensor, we ensure that our partners and licensees benefit from the investment we are making in the business by offering access to our proprietary CMS platform through a SAAS model and providing access to the global 24-hour newsroom that we have established for Cosmopolitan and our other brands. In return, we expect adherence to our brand guidelines and a commitment to deliver a quality, always-on product.

As our plans rolls out and our expertise and experience increases we are more and more excited about the possibilities for our business in the future. Of course, we are committed to print but the prospects for growth in digital are becoming a reality. This year we have launched the first of our green-field sites with Cosmo in Nigeria a new model that doesn’t require cross-border publishers to have either a partner or a significant physical presence in a market in order to do business. We are seeing our pure-play digital competitors rapidly expand around the world and we are determined to be there first.

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