‘Our elegant weapon’: How Hearst is building a global digital network

Hearst has deep roots in print, but it’s intent on making sure that doesn’t impede its digital expansion overseas.

Hearst has been building a technological backbone for its editorial and business sides to feed into and share resources. It rolled out this so-called “media operating system” in the U.S. in 2014, and is now extending it internationally across its 300-some titles including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Elle spanning 46 markets.

The media OS has helped the company enter new markets while growing its international traffic. The company had 230 million monthly readers outside the U.S. in March 2016, up 28 percent year-over-year, according to the company’s internal figures.

“I call it our elegant weapon,” said Gary Ellis, chief digital officer of Hearst Magazines International.

Hearst has been breaking down silos among its U.S.-based titles for some time, with the goal that 20 percent of a site’s content would be sourced from another title within the group. A centralized news desk combs Hearst’s network of sites for stories that could translate well to other sites.

Now it’s applying that technique internationally. Editorial teams across Europe and Asia, for example, can see what stories have performed well and localize them for their own markets, thus reducing duplication of effort and helping spread stories that have already popped in their original markets, said Ellis.

“Greenfield” initiatives
Having a centralized operating system gives the company a foot in the door of other as-yet-untapped markets. Hearst has several of such “greenfield” projects underway in Nigeria, Scandinavia, Taiwan and Japan. Launching digital-only properties that are plugged into the Hearst network is a way to keep both editorial and sales teams lean, as Hearst did with Nigeria, where it introduced a digital-only Cosmopolitan to help advertisers reach the rising mobile-internet population there. Almost 100 million Nigerians have mobile phones, and 27 million of those are smartphones, a figure that’s expected to reach 34 million by 2018, according to eMarketer.

Magazine brands outside the U.S. are being transitioned to the global operating system gradually, and Elle will roll out on the platform in the U.K., Netherlands, Italy and Spain until the end of next month. A digital-only version of Women’s Day has also just rolled out in Spain.

Pivot to video
The advantage of having news teams in multiple markets is that they can share expertise and knowledge. This is useful for video, where Hearst is putting more of its resources, said Ellis. Hearst has a strong food-and-recipe video foothold in Spain, for example, and it’s looking to distribute those across the network, while Asia and Italy produces a lot of fashion week video that can be shared with other markets.

“We have pockets of real expertise, and now we’re looking at how to galvanize those in terms of how we share those experiences across our network,” said Ellis.

Regional hubs
The U.K. is Hearst’s second-biggest market after the U.S., with 15 million monthly unique readers, according to comScore, so the London office has acted as the regional hub for Europe and a driver of programmatic sales. Ellis plans to add ad tech roles in the coming months to the current team of 50 people, who span roles such as product development, tech, ad operations, content operations and programmatic ad sales. The company is building a similar regional operating model in Tokyo.


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