The latest bid to keep print relevant: Hearst offers print-to-digital targeting

Print magazines have struggled to compete with the rise of digital media and advertisers’ ability to target specific audience segments online. But now, Hearst is touting its ability to retarget print subscribers on their online journeys.

It’s doing so with a new campaign for Toyota’s new Prius, which marks the first time Hearst is targeting its print readers and then following them with digital ads, said Cameron Connors, who orchestrated the campaign as publisher and chief revenue officer of Hearst’s Popular Mechanics.

This is something that traditional print publishers, often bogged down by old data-collection systems, have struggled to do. Publishers are also aware that consumers might not want their personal information being used to target them with ads. Hearst’s ability to retarget was the result of its digital modernization over the past few years under its digital president Troy Young.

When someone fills out a subscription form online, that data is loaded up into Hearst’s system and attributes like age, ethnicity and household income from third-party data are tacked on. Hearst can then target those readers across its online sites.

All this won’t necessarily make Hearst competitive with Facebook and Google, but the publisher hopes it will give it a leg up with other legacy publishers and digital publishers that don’t have a print product, said Cameron Connors, publisher of Hearst’s Popular Mechanics, who spearheaded the campaign. “Toyota wanted to see how people are consuming print content, but also, did they follow [the brands] in digital,” he said.

Print still lags digital in terms of reporting data, proving ROI and accumulating an audience over time, said Debbie Sklar, who handles print buying for Horizon Media and who wasn’t involved in the Prius campaign. “It’s another burden we have to handle.” So the more a print publisher can tell about how the consumer is absorbing their content — if they’re going directly from the magazine to its companion channels, or if they prefer one channel, the better, she said.

Other publishers have been making moves to improve their targeting abilities. Time Inc. earlier this year bought Viant to create an ad-targeting giant.

The Prius campaign is also notable for its size. It’s a big one for Hearst, with a goal of reaching 50 million consumers. It’s a mix of print and digital and is slated to run from May to June across Elle, Elle Decor, Esquire, Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine, Marie Claire and Popular Mechanics. Connors wouldn’t say the dollar amount of the campaign but said it’s more than six times bigger in dollar amount than a precursor campaign that Toyota ran with Popular Mechanics last year.

The campaign is made up of native-style text and video ads and social posts. The idea was to associate Toyota with innovators in those magazines’ subject areas, so Elle Decor is carrying a video on a funky furniture designer and Marie Claire is running another one on phone apps that design makeup, for example. Hearst’s centralized native ad division created the ads, under the direction of Popular Mechanics and with contributions from the other magazine brands that are carrying the campaign.

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