Foreign Policy magazine’s three-dimensional story telling
You became the CEO and editor of Foreign Policy Magazine in 2012. What have been some of the biggest developments you’ve seen for the business during your time in the role?
Ever more of our business is happening on the web; even more of our business has been on social media; even more of our business is interactive; even more of our business is going to be multimedia, whether it is web, or print, or live events, or podcasts, or video. On the business side we have discovered that the old business model – selling pre-packaged advertising space – doesn’t work anymore. We ended up creating a new customised solution for every major client we have, adding a whole new category to our portfolio: Nation branding with clients from Russia, South Africa, Nigeria.
Who are Foreign Policy’s competitors?
I don’t know that we have direct competitors; we are much bigger than all of the specialised foreign policy publications. Our website has four million unique visitors per month. We are the publication where you go for high value-added information on global trends in the US. In some way, The Economist and World Economic Forum are our competitors. But in terms of being a media company that is devoted to the coverage of major international events of the day, there is nobody who is doing quite like what we are doing.
How does Foreign Policy use social media? Any interesting findings on how to work with a sophisticated audience, such as yours?
We use social media much like everybody else does. The concept of how a news website works has changed. People now come to Foreign Policy through an article that was referred to them, as opposed to coming to the homepage and looking for what they are interested in. In fact, a big part of our traffic today comes from referrals from social media. In the time that I’ve been here, we’ve gone from just over 100,000 Facebook followers to one million. We’ve gone from just over a hundred thousand Twitter followers to now well over 650,000, and we are growing extremely rapidly.
Are your visitors from social media a new audience, or current visitors/subscribers?
It’s both. The younger audience prefer to use social media more; older audiences prefer to go through the traditional subscription process. The reality is that almost everybody is using social media at this point. Facebook has over a billion users. Ten years ago most people got their news from a newspaper or a nightly broadcast, now all people get news updates throughout the day. About a third of our traffic is mobile. We are launching an iOS app in July, which will give people a chance to have a customised one–stop shop to go and get all the news they want from around the world. In the coming weeks and months, we will be introducing new product enhancements including custom alerts, a 45-year print archive and the roadmap includes a tablet app as well.
Are you planning to go into the video production business?
We are in the process of building a studio; we should have it done within three months. We are installing fiber and will use this both because we do a lot of live interviews with television networks, and we also do it for video production on our side. We will produce video podcasts and a variety of other things.
What is the overlap between your print and online audiences?
Our print audience is 100,000, and online is four million. The print audience is an important portion of it, but we publish more content every day on our website than we publish in any single issue of the print magazine.
In a recent online session with readers on Reddit, you also mentioned this. Why keep the print edition, if digital is a priority?
The print edition lets us display articles that are ‘evergreen’. The experience of sitting with a magazine is different; a lot of people still like to do that.
Print lets us do a lot of different things graphically. We have redesigned the magazine from back to front, including the layout, changing the paper stock, the structure of the publication and authors we work with. The response we are getting from people who enjoy having a magazine is fantastically good.
Marshall McLuhan said in the 1960s that “the medium is the message”. In my view, he is wrong. The message is the message. Some people want it in print, some people want it online, and some people want it on mobile, podcast, and video. Our job is to provide real-time high-level analysis of what’s going on in the world in whatever forms our audience wants to receive it.
The events business in the US is a very crowded marketplace. What is so special about Foreign Policy’s events, and how important are they to the brand’s revenue?
Events are about people. The agenda of the event is who is in the room. If you have a unique audience and you can offer them a unique perspective on the topic, they will find the time to come to the event. There is nothing that beats the interactive quality of having a senior policy maker, or having a leading global thinker in a room. You ask them questions, they respond, you follow-up – it is a much richer kind of experience. I view our events as the live version of our web and print products: same people, same audience, same stories, but providing a different way to tackle them. We’ve gone from having zero dollars in events revenue to making it about a third of our business.
What changed at the Foreign Policy Group (the owner of the brand and ex-owner of the Washington Post is Graham Holdings Company) since Jeff Bezos bought out the Washington Post? Did it have any impact on your operations?
The Washington Post is bigger and better than ever before. Graham Holdings Company, which owns us, and which is a multi-billion dollar company, has continued to give us a lot of support. The impact of selling the Washington Post is zero. Don Graham (the CEO and chairman of Graham Holdings Company) and the people at the Graham Holdings are incredibly supportive. They let us grow. Our revenues have tripled in the last three years.
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