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The Mr. Magazine™ interview: Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines, on creating content with purpose

“I would say that in all mediums we have to serve the customers and understand how we are serving those customers. And I call that content with purpose. And I think we just have to be incredibly mindful, whenever we’re delivering a magazine into someone’s home or we are engaging that consumer on YouTube, why we’re there and how we make someone’s life better. Print is heavily edited and curated and it’s like a celebration or an event that happens once a month. And there’s something really wonderful about that. And it’s a lean-back experience that I think gives a consumer a break from the intensity of the digital world. And I think increasingly that people are going to look for that. So, print plays a really important role in saying this is important and this has a place in culture, and take a moment to think and read about this and consume it. And I think our magazines are going to play an important role in how we do that for a long, long time.” - Troy Young on the role of print today

 

Mr. Magazine Interview ()

 

“I think digital performs a different role in that it’s about being relevant in the moment and responding to the news cycle, as well as reinforcing a very clear point of view that the brand has. There is a very complementary role that they play to each other. And I would actually add that video is largely an entertainment medium. Obviously, also useful or valuable as a service delivery mechanism, helping people do things.” - Troy Young on the role of digital

Troy Young was president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media since 2013 and this past summer was named president of Hearst Magazines, succeeding David Carey, who stepped down as president and is now chairman of the division. In his new role, Troy will oversee Hearst Magazines’ global business, encompassing more than 300 print editions and 240 digital brands. In the US, Hearst publishes 25 magazine brands in print and six additional digital-led brands, and of course in January, the company also acquired Rodale, the health and wellness publisher, with brands including Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Runner’s World.

It’s certainly a diverse and wide array of both print and digital brands that might be a daunting task for just anyone to oversee, but not for Troy, who is a man that knows what’s important in today’s magazine media world: research, data, and an all-encompassing conjoining of print plus digital across all platforms. There is nothing more important, in Troy’s opinion, than having the data needed to serve the reader and deliver content with purpose and excellence in the ways in which the audience wants to consume that content.

I spoke with Troy recently and we talked about his new role at Hearst magazines and the concept of content with purpose. And how an even more prominent print plus digital role can complement an already solid foundation of success, such as Hearst has. It was an informative and most pleasant conversation with a man who says he is not defined by digital, even though he has spent a portion of his career studying the ins and outs of it, but instead, he’s a lover of all media. And one who realises that a successful magazine media company in the 21st century must have a vastness of both. And now the Mr. magazine™ interview with Troy Young, president at Hearst Magazines.

 

Troy young headshot header 2018 ()

 

But first the sound-bites

On some of the pleasant moments he’s had so far since becoming president of Hearst magazines: It’s a great privilege to have this job and it’s a great privilege to follow David Carey, who did so much for Hearst and built such a solid foundation for me to build on. I love the job because there are so many amazing people here and I think when you go to work every day, a big part of it is laughing and enjoying your time with smart people. So, that part of it is incredibly rewarding.

On what have been some of the challenges or stumbling blocks that he’s had to deal with: To be quite honest, it’s a really complicated time. It’s a very complicated business because we operate in many markets around the world, because we have in general businesses like CDS. and it’s complex simply because we produce basically every media type for multiple distribution endpoints. And that means you have to be an incredibly agile, nimble company.

On whether it’s easier or harder for a legacy brand to move into digital: I think it’s an advantage. You know, creating a new brand has its advantages, but the great advantage of a legacy brand is the trust that it has with the consumer. I think that you can evolve your voice and point of view while still being true to what made the brand great. Media trust matters and that trust is built over a long period of creative time, so having a 100-year-old brand as a starting point is a really good opportunity.

On how he would define the role of print in this digital age: I would certainly be broad in answering that question and I would say that in all mediums we have to serve the customers and understand how we are serving those customers. And I call that content with purpose. And I think we just have to be incredibly mindful, whenever we’re delivering a magazine into someone’s home or we are engaging that consumer on YouTube, why we’re there and how we make someone’s life better.

On his reaction to naysayers who say or think that because decisions were made to, for example, close Redbook or change Seventeen, the entire industry is going to hell in a handbasket: Well, it’s definitely not going to hell. Seventeen will continue being published, but we will always evolve as a company. And we’ll always evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our brands across channels and figure out what the best mechanism is to deliver that brand and that content to the target market. We’ll invent new products and we’ll look at how to best deliver existing brands.

On the new research team of 12 and which area of the business this team will focus on: I won’t comment on the specific numbers, but I think that our ability to turn data into insight and to augment that with research is incredibly important across all aspects of the business, not the least of which is our editorial team. As I described a minute ago, this notion of content with purpose is supported by the idea of pulling a lot of the insight and knowledge out of our readers. I think that for a long time there has been the research practice in magazines that really involved face-to-face dialogue with readers, now we have so much data because we’re connected with consumers every day that we need a group that can help take that information and make it really actionable by editors.

On any new magazines or products that are up and coming that he can talk about: Nothing that I can really talk about. I think we have deep, deep expertise in how to create an incredible print product and get that out to people. And so to the extent that that’s relevant to building a new brand in partnership with someone else, we’ll look at that. I think in all cases now we want it to have some kind of digital companion and really understand how digital and print will work together in a really complementary way. But absolutely, new products are really important. And our work on Pioneer Woman and Airbnb are the two most recent indications that we’re really open to partnering and creating new print products.

On whether Hearst Global in the magazine media world is going to be reflective of all of the changes that are taking place at Hearst Tower: I think that the mechanics of the business in every market are very similar. The timing of what’s important or urgent in any of those markets is a bit different. The big difference between where we are today and where we were when we started those companies is that there’s no difference really in the relevancy and importance of these brands or types of content in those markets, but increasingly media is becoming a platform-driven business and there’s a lot of complexity on the tech and data side that is harder for smaller markets to master. And I would say that if you were to do it all again, you would roll out your international markets, it would be no less important, but you would do it on the back of a single, global platform.

On what he thinks is the biggest misconception that people have about him: You’d have to ask them that, but I’d say that maybe I’m cast narrowly as a digital guy, and I think of myself as a media executive, so I’m not defined by digital. I have spent a lot of my career thinking about how the pieces fit together in the digital world, but I’m more of a media person and a media lover and someone who really appreciates media brands and how they meet consumer’s needs.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Let me answer this in a different way; I did tattoo something on my body and it wasn’t a message to other people, it was a message to me. It was a sticky note on my body. And it says that faith is greater than fear. And I think that fear often gets the best of us and I think having faith in ourselves, that we can solve complex problems, that we can do things that we might not imagine. Having faith in other people, that they can do things that are remarkable. And having faith that people are fundamentally good was something that I wanted to remind myself of every day, because again, when people start from a place of fear it’s never good.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: That’s a good question. I would say I’m a voracious media consumer so you’d likely find me, if I wasn’t having dinner with my family, you’d likely find me – I have a room that has incredible stereo equipment and vinyl records and I would probably be sitting down there reading my iPad or a magazine and I might have a Scotch.

On what keeps him up at night: I would go back to how I answered one of the previous questions. What keeps me up at night is how do I make Hearst Magazine media a better culture for creators, and everybody who supports the process of creating media? So, how do I create a culture of excellence is something that I think about a lot because it’s a big company. And how do I get to a new time of stability in this category of media? What’s it really going to take to find that stability? And I think closely related to that is what can we do to simplify the business and empower all of the people who work here to make better decisions to grow our business?

 

Harpers Bazaar ()

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines.

Congratulations are in order, I haven’t had a chance to congratulate you since you became president of Hearst Magazines. You’ve been on the job for a few months now; what have been some of the most pleasant moments where you were extremely glad you took this job, and what have been some moments where you maybe wondered “why” you took this job, if any?

It’s a great privilege to have this job and it’s a great privilege to follow David Carey, who did so much for Hearst and built such a solid foundation for me to build on. I love the job because there are so many amazing people here and I think when you go to work every day, a big part of it is laughing and enjoying your time with smart people. So, that part of it is incredibly rewarding.

Obviously, the brands that we have are incredible, and are foundations on which to build a lasting media company upon and to navigate these channel-ships. And the leadership of the Hearst Corporation is incredible as well, and it’s a company built on evolutions, so all of that makes it an exciting, supportive place to continue to reinvent the magazine business.

What have been some of the challenges or stumbling blocks that you’ve had to deal with?

To be quite honest, it’s a really complicated time. It’s a very complicated business because we operate in many markets around the world, because we have in general businesses like CDS. and it’s complex simply because we produce basically every media type for multiple distribution endpoints. And that means you have to be an incredibly agile, nimble company.

On the positive side, I have the great privilege of starting to integrate our business more. And what that means to me is, take the great things that existed historically in the print world, that really made our brands so important and famous, and that is the authority of editors and the insight they bring to creating content, and balancing that with what is the virtue of a digital organization, which is, they live in the moment, they’re incredibly nimble; it balances editorial expertise with technical and data expertise. And it’s a highly iterative, more data-led business. So, you bring those two things together and I think you have an incredible competency in which to navigate through the new world of magazine media.

You’re the president of a company that has at least five titles that are over 100 years old; is it easier or harder for a legacy brand to move into digital?

Troy Young: I think it’s an advantage. You know, creating a new brand has its advantages, but the great advantage of a legacy brand is the trust that it has with the consumer. I think that you can evolve your voice and point of view while still being true to what made the brand great. Media trust matters and that trust is built over a long period of creative time, so having a 100-year-old brand as a starting point is a really good opportunity.

I think that you have to continually make a media brand relevant and make it relevant for the time and for the medium in which people discover and consume it. And there are lots of examples in our world of how we evolved brands that have a legacy, whether that’s Cosmo, which has an incredible legacy, but it evolves all of the time. And clearly environments like Snapchat and Instagram and our dot com has examples of how we stay relevant to a young woman and I think we’ve done that incredibly well.

Cosmo, again, is an example, it has a bigger audience than it ever has. And that audience extends across every digital touchpoint and in print, so I think it was a good starting point. You know, we’ve taken our fashion and luxury brands, like Elle and Bazaar, and made them part of the daily dialogue. And being daily and being in the moment with brands like that changes what you cover; you’re thoughtful about what underpins the brands and how that shapes what you do moment to moment.

I like where we are and I like what positions our brands have. If you look at a brand in a different category like Good Housekeeping, its reputation through the seal as a symbol of trust and the rigor it brings to testing products, is incredibly valuable when consumers are trying to make decisions. And I would say that’s also true for many of our other brands, whether that’s Car and Driver, Road & Track, or Elle Décor.

I think you use your position and you try to invest in how you keep it relevant for a new distribution environment and that’s what we’ve done.

 

Esquire ()

 

How do you define the role of print in this digital age? And tell me a little more about that integration; what’s the role of print and what’s the role of digital, especially with your legacy brands as you move forward?

I would certainly be broad in answering that question and I would say that in all mediums we have to serve the customers and understand how we are serving those customers. And I call that content with purpose. And I think we just have to be incredibly mindful, whenever we’re delivering a magazine into someone’s home or we are engaging that consumer on YouTube, why we’re there and how we make someone’s life better.

Print is heavily edited and curated and it’s like a celebration or an event that happens once a month. And there’s something really wonderful about that. And it’s a lean-back experience that I think gives a consumer a break from the intensity of the digital world. And I think increasingly that people are going to look for that. So, print plays a really important role in saying this is important and this has a place in culture, and take a moment to think and read about this and consume it. And I think our magazines are going to play an important role in how we do that for a long, long time.

I think digital performs a different role in that it’s about being relevant in the moment and responding to the news cycle, as well as reinforcing a very clear point of view that the brand has. There is a very complementary role that they play to each other. And I would actually add that video is largely an entertainment medium. Obviously, also useful or valuable as a service delivery mechanism, helping people do things.

But we look at all of those mediums in very different ways. What do those mediums need to do to be purposeful? And underneath that is, how are you establishing whether or not something is doing its job, whether it’s pleasing a consumer, whether it’s bringing delight. And that’s where data insight and research become really important in the modern media world.

And I look at it really simply; there’s a huge amount of media in our world, we are awash in media. We produce literally hundreds and hundreds of pieces of content every day in the Hearst Tower and we distribute those to fifteen different imports, whether that’s in newsstand or Instagram. And so the company that is able to do that in a very nimble way and in a way that is informed by insight from the consumer is going to do really well.

We sit in a different place in the media ecosystem than pure news, so we focus on passions and we focus on point of view and we focus on things that people do in their lives that are not just defined by the news of the day. And I think as such we play a really vital role in the media ecosystem and if we can get the different channels working together in a way that is complementary it’s a powerful mix.

When you hear people in the media talking or writing about the fact that, for example, Redbook was just killed or Seventeen is changing, what’s your response to people who are very reactionary to one or two decisions that may have had to be made and now the entire industry is going to hell in a handbasket?

Well, it’s definitely not going to hell. Seventeen will continue being published, but we will always evolve as a company. And we’ll always evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our brands across channels and figure out what the best mechanism is to deliver that brand and that content to the target market. We’ll invent new products and we’ll look at how to best deliver existing brands.

That kind of criticism doesn’t really bother me. I think that we are very visible as a media business and people are going to look at us and comment on what we do. I look at it like that’s just going to work, we have to keep inventing. And if I were to summarize what I think is really important to us as a business, in terms of how we operate, is that our goal is to bring a new stability to this type of media, one that existed for many, many years when it was a print-only business. And to continue to create and grow a culture of excellence in the business or in the content that we create. Now we have different tools and we have to look at that differently than we used to.

And I think in all cases what I really try to do is find the fastest way to feedback. To me that means that we live in a world where it’s pretty easy to get data signals back from the market. And so our goal in anything that we create is to ask, how do we get the water flowing? How do we understand that what we’re doing is working quickly? Or if it’s not working we move on.

So, I think that’s the kind of culture we’re trying to create, one that’s rooted in excellence, but one that is good at listening. And we’re highly critical of why we do things. I think that if we can do all of that and we can learn how to work together more closely across the print and digital world, we’ll keep evolving and we’ll have a really healthy business.

 

Cosmopolitan ()

 

There is talk of this new “team of 12,” a research team. Is this going to be for editorial, for the business side, or for launching new products? Can you expand a little on this research team of 12?

I won’t comment on the specific numbers, but I think that our ability to turn data into insight and to augment that with research is incredibly important across all aspects of the business, not the least of which is our editorial team. As I described a minute ago, this notion of content with purpose is supported by the idea of pulling a lot of the insight and knowledge out of our readers.

I think that for a long time there has been the research practice in magazines that really involved face-to-face dialogue with readers, now we have so much data because we’re connected with consumers every day that we need a group that can help take that information and make it really actionable by editors. I would say that at the same time our advertisers have never been more hungry for data and they’re looking at how we help them understand their audiences better. From cosmetics to luxury fashion, they’re all becoming more CRM-driven. And they want to understand more about their audiences. And our goal is to help them do that. The role of data science and analysts and researchers is just becoming more important in our business and I think that comment was a reflection of that.

Hearst has gotten us accustomed to seeing one or two new magazines coming out for the last decade or so, is there anything up and coming or on the backburner that you can talk about?

Nothing that I can really talk about. I think we have deep, deep expertise in how to create an incredible print product and get that out to people. And so to the extent that that’s relevant to building a new brand in partnership with someone else, we’ll look at that. I think in all cases now we want it to have some kind of digital companion and really understand how digital and print will work together in a really complementary way. But absolutely, new products are really important. And our work on Pioneer Woman and Airbnb are the two most recent indications that we’re really open to partnering and creating new print products.

You just came back from Europe, and I heard that the CEO of Hearst Magazines in Spain just resigned or retired. There are so many changes taking place; do you think that Hearst Global in the magazine media world is going to be reflective of all of the changes that are taking place at Hearst Tower?

I think that the mechanics of the business in every market are very similar. The timing of what’s important or urgent in any of those markets is a bit different. The big difference between where we are today and where we were when we started those companies is that there’s no difference really in the relevancy and importance of these brands or types of content in those markets, but increasingly media is becoming a platform-driven business and there’s a lot of complexity on the tech and data side that is harder for smaller markets to master. And I would say that if you were to do it all again, you would roll out your international markets, it would be no less important, but you would do it on the back of a single, global platform.

And that’s really what we’re working on. How do we connect all of these countries so that they can innovate at the same pace as the U.S. market that’s had more investment. If you look at the customer, the advertiser, what you’ll see is – I was just in Milan last week and the luxury advertisers want our help to connect real storytelling and brand-building expertise with performance advertising. And they all appreciate our literacy and data and they want those solutions rendered in multiple markets. And they can come to us through our team in London or our team in Milan and get a single solution from any international market. So, I think to the extent that those clients drive a big part of our business, they’re global and they’re thinking globally and they want global solutions.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?

You’d have to ask them that, but I’d say that maybe I’m cast narrowly as a digital guy, and I think of myself as a media executive, so I’m not defined by digital. I have spent a lot of my career thinking about how the pieces fit together in the digital world, but I’m more of a media person and a media lover and someone who really appreciates media brands and how they meet consumer’s needs.

If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Let me answer this in a different way; I did tattoo something on my body and it wasn’t a message to other people, it was a message to me. It was a sticky note on my body. And it says that faith is greater than fear. And I think that fear often gets the best of us and I think having faith in ourselves, that we can solve complex problems, that we can do things that we might not imagine. Having faith in other people, that they can do things that are remarkable. And having faith that people are fundamentally good was something that I wanted to remind myself of every day, because again, when people start from a place of fear it’s never good.

So, that’s how I remind myself. In terms of what other people might think – I have to tell you the first thing that comes to mind is remember to laugh. That would be it.

 

Good Housekeeping ()

 

If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

That’s a good question. I would say I’m a voracious media consumer so you’d likely find me, if I wasn’t having dinner with my family, you’d likely find me – I have a room that has incredible stereo equipment and vinyl records and I would probably be sitting down there reading my iPad or a magazine and I might have a Scotch.

And my typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

I would go back to how I answered one of the previous questions. What keeps me up at night is how do I make Hearst Magazine media a better culture for creators, and everybody who supports the process of creating media? So, how do I create a culture of excellence is something that I think about a lot because it’s a big company. And how do I get to a new time of stability in this category of media? What’s it really going to take to find that stability? And I think closely related to that is what can we do to simplify the business and empower all of the people who work here to make better decisions to grow our business?

Thank you.

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