What’s going on with media brands? The moviemaking
Weinstein brothers are going to join Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon in
creating content for television. According to MediaFinder, 82
magazines stopped printing in 2012—far fewer, at least, than the
152 that closed the year before. Katie Couric just signed on to
become a global anchorwoman at Yahoo. Jeff Bezos bought the
Washington Post with plans to continue its long and august
history of independent journalism. And Forbes Media reportedly is
working with Deutsche Bank to see who might be interested in buying
into its vision, or even to buying it out.
The convergence of technology and entertainment, news
and public forum has blurred the lines between traditionally
separate markets. Media brands in every category find themselves
challenged by new companies that create and play by new rules. So
what’s a media brand to do?
I turned to Cathie Black to get her take on the issue
of building a media brand in today’s topsy-turvy market. Black was
chairman of Hearst Magazines, a division of the Hearst Corporation,
where she was president for 15 years. During her tenure at Hearst,
the company launched O,The Oprah Magazine and the Food
Network Magazine, and acquired Veranda, a luxury home
design and interior decorating magazine. What follows is an excerpt
from our conversation.
Allen Adamson: It used to be that if
you had an interesting piece of content, you could build a media
brand around it by owning that space or owning the content. But
today there is so much fragmentation, and so much instant access to
content, original and otherwise, that this recipe for building a
media brand is no longer relevant. What’s your take on this?
Cathie Black: Let me give you an
anecdote relating to this question. After years in ever more
beautiful offices, I now work in a shared space, populated by very
cool, very clever and creative people. In the elevator the other
day, I met a couple of young women and I asked them what business
they were in. They told me they were launching a luxury, e-commerce
site in interior design. My initial response, which I kept to
myself, was “Oh no, not another one.” But then I thought, you know,
maybe I’m thinking too old school. Maybe these young people will
come up with a way to do it better, differently, or more uniquely.
Maybe they will find a way to curate what’s relevant and
interesting. And, that’s the key—relevant and interesting—and a
very good understanding of to whom, along with the ability to find
AA: More so, with so much
information overload, it’s not just finding the user who is
interested in what you have to say, but holding on to them. You
have to have a fresh point of view along with the firepower to
build out and evolve before the competition does.
CB: Brands today are not just the
giant consumer packaged goods products on the supermarket shelf.
They’re artisanal, be it food or a unique piece of clothing. When
you look at how many brands fall out, even the top brands from the
1950s, you see that they did not continue to look for ways to touch
the user in extraordinary ways. The best brands have a clear sense
of who they are, what their brand stands for, and how to build on
When I launched the Oprah Magazine over 13
years ago, there was clarity about who she was and what she stood
for. This brand has expanded to digital channels without losing
sight of its inherent promise. Oprah’s motto, “Live your best
life,” has been at the heart of her television shows, her magazine,
and her website from the start.
And, look at the Food Network brand as another
example. Yes, it has broad media presence, being on television, the
web, and in print. It has traction because at the end of the day it
is not only a very good product based on a simple premise, but it
also gives people a new reason to come back time and again.
AA: Proprietary content is still on
top of the list of must-haves for those seeking to build a strong
brand. It’s got to be good, differentiated, and able to whet
people’s appetite for more. I don’t think enough thought is given
to that these days. There’s an immediate gratification factor
that’s taken hold. Differentiation needs to last more than five
CB: This means you have to have
relatively deep pockets. The ability to create a new company in a
new space requires a lot of plug and play. Yes, you can outsource a
huge number of functions that a decade ago no one dreamed of
outsourcing, be it a financial person, the head of sales, the
engineering and software development, but building a brand and
getting recognition for the brand still takes scale. People have
started businesses off the kitchen table for years, but you still
have to have a revenue stream to scale it up.
AA: Let me ask you a question about
the number of players involved in a brand’s build-out. In the
agency world we have experts in advertising, in public relations,
in promotions, in direct marketing, and in social media. And
everyone sees the world and the work through their own lens. More
and more we’re finding that to succeed today, you have to have a
team that can see across channels. Success is never about an
individual channel, but how all channels work together. Do you
think this is true in the media world?
CB: Yes. We have people who grew up
in print, in broadcast, in radio, or in whatever, and not many of
them have the ability to play all the instruments. It’s a real
issue. If you’ve grown up in e-commerce, then you want to attach
your content to e-commerce, and the other way around. A magazine
editor today needs to know how to showcase a sweater, for example,
but also needs to know how to give the person who wants to buy the
sweater a way to buy it right now.
AA: What I’ve been experiencing with
branding is that it’s very hard to get out of the traditional
linear thinking model. Forbes and Bloomberg have been doing a very
good job of trying to turn the traditional branding model
upside-down. They’re not tacking on video as an afterthought, at
the end of the conveyor belt, but assess where it fits within an
initiative, and why.
CB: In part, it takes being able to
think like the younger, more visually oriented generation. They
think, “I want to watch this now, on my own time, wherever I happen
to be.” Media brands have to put themselves in the position of not
thinking about a reader, per se, but a customer who is consuming
content on their terms, in whatever way they want. If you think
about the same group consuming in one area, you’re going to miss 75
percent of the available audience.
Back to my earlier story. Everyone thinks they have a
bigger, better idea and the Internet has opened it up. You don’t
have to spend nine months building a factory. But you do have to
spend the time really thinking about the idea. Every brand’s
success is still a function of its relevance, its quality, and its
performance over the long haul.
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