This year, Trusted Media Brands, formerly known as the Reader’s Digest Association, experienced rapid growth as a digital-first multi-platform media company as a result of investing in digital talent and an aggressive digital initiative.
They hired approximately 100 new employees dedicated to digital, in areas such as social media, content creation, video production, programmatic, email and SEO. And as a result, Trusted Media Brands’ properties have seen significant increases in traffic.
The company’s properties, Reader's Digest, Taste of Home and The Family Handyman, all continue to grow year over year. In 2017, Trusted Media Brands reached 10.8 million subscribers across all properties, and 50 million readers across all properties. The company also reached 22.6 million millennials (ages 21-40) across all print and digital properties, and 88.4 million readers via social.
“We’ve been very focused on growth,” said Bonnie Kintzer, president and chief executive officer at Trusted Media Brands. “We started making a significant commitment to our content and really bringing the content to a much broader audience.”
The more content the Trusted Media Brands - including Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home and The Family Handyman - published online, the higher the traffic and engagement they saw. “We're strong at audience development in print and we were able to take that and do an incredible job of it digitally,” Kintzer said.
The content was resonating with people of all ages across the US and as a result, they pitched an idea to their board: “We believed we could grow much faster if we could bring on that much more staff,” Kintzer explained. “And, we laid out for them a business plan that showed if we brought on additional talent, we could grow exponentially.”
Now, that talent combined with the strength of Trusted Media Brands’ content across platforms is driving the company’s digital transformation. Over the last 12 months, TMB added scores of new talent to its digital team, to support content creation, to create custom video content for advertisers, “We have a total of about 100 people on our digital team,” explained Vince Errico, chief digital officer at Trusted Media Brands, Inc. “The vast majority of them are creating content, video, images, infographics, diagrams, building plans, etc.”
The new staff hires were also in specific areas - social media, partnerships, email newsletters, programmatic, email and SEO.
“When I got here, we were posting 30 stories a month on RD.com, and now we're doing over 800,” Kintzer explained. “You have to have people to do that, and you have to have talent to be able to figure out what is the right story mix and how to get people onboard. It is a big undertaking.”
Trusted Media Brands’ digital content strategy is data-driven, according to Errico. “We look at the content areas where we traditionally perform well, identify the audiences that like that content, and then match that data up with the channels where those audiences are?” Errico explained. “We looked at where we were reaching audience, how they were discovering and encountering our content and brands, and made sure to deliver content to them where they are on their preferred channels and formats.”
Errico illustrated that Trusted Media Brands‘ social accounts have been gaining momentum, month over month. For example, Taste of Home Pinterest referrals are up 63 per cent; Reader’s Digest Facebook video views are up 56 per cent; and The Family Handyman Facebook video views are up 335 per cent.
By bringing in a team with strong digital skills across social, search, content, the company has been able to breathe new life into the content they’re known for. They look at the brands’ existing content to see whether or not it is performing well, as well as looking into new content that would resonate in search. “By having a team focused on search engine optimization, for example, we’ve been able to invigorate the recipes Taste of Home is known for, and by producing new food lifestyle content, we’re creating for our digital audience, we’re attracting larger and new audiences,” Errico said. “Particularly, millennial audiences.”
For other publishers looking to emulate Trusted Media Brands’ success, investing in talent is definitely something to look into. “I think everything is about people,” Kintzer said. “When you meet people here at Trusted Media Brands, you see a tremendous amount of passion to really connect with the audience, and I think that is critical.”
Errico suggested while hiring talent with technical skills is critical, publishers ought to be mindful of hiring the right people. “It's not just finding the skills, but also finding the right people to work together because they have to work closely together,” he said.
Indeed, audiences are now interacting with Trusted Media Brands’ properties in ways that hadn’t existed before this year. Live events have also helped Trusted Media Brands’ growth as part of their digital marketing strategy.
Kintzer and Errico explained that the company has been experimenting with virtual reality with the Family Handyman brand. Each year, the Family Handyman builds a shed - it’s one of the most popular features in the print magazine each year - and they wanted to bring that to their digital audience, too. “So, we teamed up with a partner who was able to create VR version of building the shed and put that experience online,” Errico said. The experiment drove engagement and was such a success they’re going to do it again in 2018, but on a larger scale.
The company also launched Taste of Home Live in April, a new series of interactive, live pop-up cooking events across the US. It’s an avenue for the brand’s audience to interact with it in person.
Each year, Taste of Home also creates Gingerbread Boulevard, a life-size, interactive gingerbread house in Madison Square Park, New York City, in partnership with Folgers Coffee and Domino Sugar. The experience is multi-dimensional, Errico explained, because there are digital tie-ins, recipes and how-to’s on creating gingerbread houses, and also filters on Snapchat, and Instagram Stories.
Since its inception in 2014, Gingerbread Boulevard’s ad revenue has increased 70 per cent year-on-year and in 2016 alone, the family-favourite holiday activation welcomed 325,000 visitors over 10 days, generating 100 million media impressions.
Live events like this one increase consumer engagement and ad revenue for Trusted Media Brands. “Live events really speak to the customer-first philosophy we have here,” Kintzer explained. “Because while those were both ad-supported and advertisers loved those programs, the genesis of the idea is really what consumers expect from our brands, and that's what brings advertisers in, is because it's such an authentic experience for the consumer.”
Into the New Year, Trusted Media Brands will continue to employ its digital content strategy, Kintzer explained. “We will also be focused heavily on a lot more data collection and that will be used for advertisers and subscription efforts and we will embark on more product development.”
Indeed, as they gather more insight into their audiences and why people like Trusted Media Brands’ content and properties, are loyal and engage with the brands, Kintzer said they will also look at additional product development. Errico suggested they will look at using data to personalise the experiences their digital visitors have with TMBI’s brands.
Transforming a media company into a multi-platform digital media company isn’t something one does overnight. From the very beginning of Trusted Media Brands’ remodel, they’ve been disciplined in their approach, Kintzer explained. “It’s a multi-year strategy when you are transforming your company,” she said. “You must really know in what order you need to do things and what kinds of leadership you need to make the change. You have to have a plan. Life does not go in a straight line, so having longer-term thinking and leadership, I believe, makes it all possible.”
While this may outline Trusted Media Brands’ transformation, Kintzer notes it is not done yet. “We feel great about what we've done and we have a lot more to do but for sure have succeeded in part one,” she said.
Kintzer often calls what Errico and the digital team are doing a ‘re-startup,’ which helps keep focus on the big picture and what is needed to build the next layer of the business, Errico explained. “On the digital side, things are changing so fast from day to day, to be nimble, to be able to react to and make those changes very quickly,” Errico said. “We have a very-focused approach and a strategy, but we have modified it, even over the two years I've been here, in reaction to changes in the marketplace, changes happening in technology.”
Kintzer said the transformation has been a lot of hard work, but it’s been fun, too.
“It's a thrill that we've taken these brands and a 95-year-old brand, and made it into a modern day multi-platform company for a whole host of different audiences,” she said.
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