How TMB is combining innovation with 100-year-old values for success in the media landscape

Trusted Media Brands may have its roots in more traditional print media, but the company has evolved rapidly over the last couple of decades to sit at the forefront of multi-platform media brands. At the FIPP World Media Congress 2023, CEO Bonnie Kintzer shared how this 101-year-old company is driving innovation… by staying true to its values and harnessing the power of its community.

Trusted Media Brands (TMB) is a community-driven company home to some of the best-known media brands in the world. With social media accounts boasting monthly video views of 2.5 billion, and partnerships with Apple TV, Samsung and Peacock, TMB has embraced the seismic changes in the media landscape, winning Best Publisher Pivot to TV in the 2021 Digiday Awards. “I’m proud of that award, as I think it speaks to how we have continued to reinvent ourselves and take advantage of opportunities,” TMB CEO Bonnie Kintzer told delegates at FIPP Congress 2023.

The success of TMB is in part down to the overhaul Bonnie implemented when coming back on board in 2014. “I came back with a mission – to bring Reader’s Digest in particular back to its rightful place in the media ecosystem,” she says. “I hired an incredible team of smart people and told them their first order of business was to stabilise the print business – which had not been well cared for – and to develop a digital strategy because we didn’t really have one.”

They rapidly saw a good early turnaround in the print business, speedy growth in digital, and were debt-free by 2017. “When we put content online, people liked it. When we began marketing our magazine subscriptions again, people paid for them.”

While Reader’s Digest may still be the jewel in the TMB crown in terms of longevity and customer loyalty, the company has seen exponential growth in new media platforms such as social video and streaming TV. “One of the great things about us is that we now have massive reach across all aspects of media,” Bonnie said. That ‘massive reach’ translates to 90 billion social video views, 12 million streaming TV minutes, over 1 billion annual website visits, 260 million social followers and over 10 millions newsletter subscribers. “We very much talk to our audience wherever they are.”

While exploring the wealth of potential platforms, they soon discovered that scalability could be an issue. “What we learned about building our own products was that while we were very capable of making money, we simply couldn’t scale them. We loved video, but couldn’t afford to do enough of it, Bonnie said. This motivated TMB to turn its attention to acquisition.

After a couple of years of research, they found a ‘very, very complementary acquisition’ in LA-based Jukin Media. “We wanted an acquisition that would fit with the culture of TMB, that would enhance who we were as a company,” Bonnie said. “What we loved about Jukin was that they were also ‘audience first’ – all of their content was user-generated, very much like our own brands Taste of Home or Family Handyman.”

This partnership has helped them achieve significant growth in social and streaming, and add ‘production and licensing’ to advertising and commerce as one of their major revenue streams. TMB has teams located all over the world who source ‘clips’ – short videos filmed and submitted by consumers – that can then be used in TV shows and news programmes and sold to advertisers. They have paid out over $30 million over the last 10 years to clip owners, and clips have been used in commercials for Cheerios, Coca Cola and more.

Another factor in TMB’s success has been through affiliate revenue, for which several of their brands are a natural fit. “For Taste of Home, we’re testing kitchen products all the time; for Family Handyman we use lots of different tools – so this was a natural extension for our editors to move into,” she said. “We’re in a great position to build both on the trust of our brands and on our relationship with our audience, to sell products that we truly recommend.”

Not only is this beneficial for the consumer, it is an invaluable source of data for TMB. “We need to understand where the user goes when they come to our website, how they travel – we need to get them through the purchase funnel, so we use that data to inform the topics we want to cover,” Bonnie said. That is supported by formation of the right partnerships. “The relationships with our vendors have enabled us to create a better economic situation for our business – so the data informs the content, and the content informs the data. We love this business model.”

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True to its drive for innovation, TMB is also embracing  rather than shying away from the power of AI – the hot topic at this year’s Congress.”We understand the risks, but we are very much leaning in,” she said. “We’ve created a task force of the smartest people around our company to look at the many options for AI and figure out what would be the best way for us to use the tools to grow our business.”

The key to TMB’s success, Bonnie believes, is the symbiotic relationship between all aspects of the company and its content – and at its heart, their contributors, who, she says, ‘really help’ to power the company. “The really beautiful part is how you create this endless loop which includes your content, your audience, and of your contributors – for example, being able to take a brand like Family Handyman and have it as a magazine, a book, on the web and via streaming is very powerful. We’re always looking at how we can leverage platforms to make this circle as powerful as it can be.”

Although TMB has changed considerably to meet the demands of the last decade, it has remained true to its 100-year-old values. “It’s very inspiring to me that the words written about Reader’s Digest – ‘inspired by you’ – are still driving us today,” she said. “We are still the same company we were 101 years ago, or 10, or 20 – and we are always about our audience.”


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