Condé Nast’s head of digital talks video, social media, and more

Tell us a little about what your role as head of digital entails. What have been some of the biggest developments you’ve seen for the business during your first (almost) year in the role?

The role is really quite broad, given that I have three teams reporting to me which cover the spectrum of editorial, commercial and product development.  It’s one of the only jobs in Condé Nast that has a view that wide across the whole business.

We have had so many developments over the last few months that it’s hard to pick just a couple, but appointing Dolly Jones (below) has been huge for us in terms of our approach to editorial. We’ve released an avalanche of new commercial products, including native advertising units, social media campaigns, video and mobile. We’ve launched Vogue, GQ and Glamour as native iPhone apps that replicate the content in the magazine in a 4.5” friendly way, which is changing how our readers consume the magazines.

Your most recent appointment is Dolly Jones as digital strategy director. What does this role involve and how will it support the Condé Nast Digital team?

Dolly Jones ()

Dolly is leading our audience development team, a team that is something new and different for Condé Nast here in the UK. Whilst our individual titles have total control over their editorial and what they write, we found they were looking for more support looking at editorial data in detail – who is arriving at the site from where, when they are coming, what our competitors are doing, how social is impacting us, etc etc. I decided to set up the team in order to get more proficient at how we use data to change what we do to better serve our readers. Dolly has an incredible depth of experience on both the editorial and product management side, having been editor of, so she is perfectly suited to spearhead this initiative.

Another recent appointment is Danielle Bennison-Brown as director of video content. How important is video in Condé Nast Digital’s strategy?

Danielle Bennison-Brown ()

It is absolutely crucial to us going forward. Video is an incredible growth opportunity for us, and we have several competitive advantages that allow it to do it better than many other people – relationships with talent, incredible creative heritage, brands that can cut through the noise and get viewers really engaging. If you look at the data for digital commercial growth in the UK, it’s clearly being driven this year by mobile, creative solutions and video segments, and we’d be crazy not to lean into that given our strengths.

Related to the above: how big is the video team and do you envisage this growing?

Currently six full-time producers and content strategists – this will double over the next year. We are working with all the key production houses and studios to execute on our strategy and do the day-to-day delivery.

Still on video: the video team is now producing content across all brands for both editorial and commercial. How do the requirements differ for both?

On the whole, they don’t. We have a clear mission with video: deliver content that our viewers want to watch, that draws them in, and which provides a platform for an advertiser to deliver a message that will be welcomed and engaged with by the viewer (oh, and do it at a high quality worthy of the Condé Nast brands). Whether that’s pure editorial, sponsored editorial or advertorial, the goal is exactly the same.

Condé Nast reported 8.7m unique users a month across all its websites between November 2013 and January 2014 – an increase of 247 per cent since November 2010. Have these figures improved over the last year?

For the same period November 2014 – January 2015 we are at 12.2m unique users.

Last year, the company reported digital revenue had grown by more than 250 per cent since 2004. Do you have an updated figure for this?

Last year digital revenues grew by 17 per cent over 2013 and this year we are expecting growth of 25 per cent+ over 2014.

How are Condé Nast’s audiences changing (referring specifically to demographics such as millennials) and how are the company’s brands reflecting that digitally?

It’s no surprise that Condé Nast’s audience in print generally skews older than in digital, where the millennials are clearly one of the dominant audience segments that we have. What’s interesting is how that change manifests itself; we see a much greater proportion of traffic originating through social media, and a much higher frequency of visit throughout the day from mobile.  The biggest change our brands are having to make digitally is to focus more on the user who is coming multiple times a day from social links (the ‘Twitter front page’ effect) and who is much more likely to be reading on a phone than a desktop.

Condé Nast recently moved responsibility for digital advertising sales from the digital team into individual brand teams – can you give us an update on how this is going?

We actually have a hybrid approach, where single-title buys are dealt with by the individual titles as you’ve identified, but multi-title buys are dealt with still by my central digital team. The split works really well – it means our clients are able to access a central point of buying where it’s convenient across titles, but also get the in-depth experience of buying directly with a single brand where that is what they are looking for. It’s the best of both worlds.

What do you make of new digital content delivery platforms, such as Snapchat’s Discover?

There is always a tendency to jump on the latest thing in publishing, and sometimes that is justified and sometimes it’s not. Clearly millennials are using media in completely different ways, and it could be that Discover becomes incredibly successful, but I think it’s too early to say. We usually say here that “we are the curve” – we’re not ahead of the curve, we’re not behind it, we’re exactly on it, which seems to be where our advertisers and readers want to be. I am personally more interested in Facebook’s approach to video than I am in Discover right now – FB is sitting on an absolute mountain of video views every month, and currently does nothing to monetise them. When it decides to switch on that tap, it’s going to be a phenomenal success almost overnight.

Related to the above: how does the company utilise other social media channels, and can you share any insights from this?

Twitter and Facebook are obviously the two biggest social channels that we use, and all our brands are highly focused on growing our reach and engaging audiences there. For some of our titles, social traffic is now a bigger segment of our audience than search traffic from Google. The secondary platforms right now are Instagram and Pinterest, and these show high engagement on-platform, but currently limited ability to drive traffic back to our sites or to monetise directly. Clearly our audiences love them, but I don’t think we’ve cracked the code there yet.

How important is having print legacy brands in the company’s digital strategy? (e.g. they have established trust and authenticity with their audiences)

The Condé Nast brands are absolutely iconic and have stood the test of time in a way that very few other media brands have – indeed, Vogue celebrates its centenary in 2016. In a world where digital can feel incredibly ephemeral, there is still a very high value attached by both our readers and advertisers to the brands – a shorthand for quality, authority and a premium look and feel. In an increasingly fragmenting digital world, cut-through is so important and our brands are very effective at doing that.

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