Hearst looks for global scale to native ads

Magazine giant Hearst is rolling out its native digital ad product to all 84 of its markets, buoyed by the success it has had in the U.S.

Hearst’s “shared spaces” product lets advertisers inhabit the same area as editorial content. It launched in the U.K. in January and will be implemented in all Hearst properties by the end of the first half of this year. After that, it will expand to Asia.

“The way we get the smaller markets to transform quickly based off a very successful U.S. model is an interesting business challenge,” said Andy Hart, who joined the company last September as chief revenue officer and senior vp of Hearst Media International, is spearheading the global rollout. “It’s about taking a scaled model and adapting it to different-sized countries and cultures, all in different development phases,” he said.

Hearst isn’t known as a brand that has nailed the transition from print to digital-first publishing businesses among agencies. But the global native-ad rollout signals a “positive shift” and an important revenue driver, particularly as brands look to connect with their audiences in deeper ways beyond programmatic and reservation media, said Essence head of planning and mobile Erfan Djazmi.

“Brands must be careful of not falling into the pitfall of ‘ticking the native advertising box’ and will want to move beyond advertorials and sponsored posts into co-created editorial,” he said. “The success depends on how well editorial content is matched to brand messaging, which makes the content valuable and meaningful to the user.”

Hart was previously vp of advertising and online for Europe at Microsoft and, prior to that, launched the now highly successful MailOnline. One of his top priorities is finding ways to get the smaller markets to transform digitally. That’s why it is quickening the rollout of media OS and Shared Spaces products — the latter of which Hart believes will catalyze the publisher’s native ad revenue.

“We’re facing the same challenges all digital publishers face: distributed audience, ad blocking, viewability, changing trust models in the commercial model, challenging subscription models in terms of consumers expecting stuff for free, and diminishing attention spans,” he added.

The legacy publisher is home to nearly 300 print magazines (19 in the U.K.) including Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire, and more than 250 sites across 84 countries. Transitioning a print legacy company of that size to the fast-paced world of digital media is tough. But Hearst is confident it has achieved that, in the U.S. at least. And a large part of it has been due to its investment in technology, namely, its “media operating system” through which its U.S. news desk can constantly comb through stories across the publisher’s network of sites to identify which stories would work well on other sites. Roughly 20 percent of a site’s content usually comes from one of its other titles.

The publisher claims that digital revenue has risen 35 percent in the U.S. since full rollout and that unique visitors to its sites grew by nearly 50 percent.  Hearst has over 113 million monthly desktop unique visitors, 16 million of whom are in the U.K. (on mobile and desktop), according to ComScore.


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