‘We’re all making it up as we go along’: Dazed CEO Jefferson Hack on what comes next for media

Youth and culture magazine Dazed faces many quandaries as the growing coronavirus pandemic restricts movement and throttles ad revenues. For one, what happens to culture when people can’t congregate and the physical spaces — clubs, theaters, exhibition centers — are closed for business? 

“When all physical culture is shut down — plus an entire generation of young creatives are out of work — the secondary threat is, without culture, who are we when we come out of this?” said CEO Jefferson Hack. 

Doing its bit, Dazed is participating in initiatives like “Culture is not Canceled” to showcase creativity without physical access. Hack is also on the board of the Creative Industries Federation and involved in lobbying for payment relief for self-employed creatives. The CEO discusses how Dazed, with 120 staff, is staying valuable to brand partners. The interview has been edited and condensed.

How are you and staff adapting to the new reality? 

Isolation is a big psychological challenge. It’s going to be tough. We are taking the best duty of care for our staff and applying the same consideration to our audience. There’s a lot to be said about the power of digital media: It’s interactive, you are connecting, you can have a two-way dialogue. You can binge-watch a lot in lockdown but it will drive you crazy. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch.

What are you offering your audience that’s different?

The first thing was to launch [campaign] “Alone Together”. Clarity of purpose is the most important thing the media can be thinking of right now. There’s also a bigger emphasis on live, participatory media and interactive elements. We’re launching various Facebook groups where editors are in constant dialogue with our audience.

How is your output changing? 

We can produce many things from isolation. We’re doing double what we were doing before coronavirus. We’re making shows, involving the audience. We’re talking to artists like [musician and cover star for its virtual issue] Billie Eilish about what we can do now they aren’t performing, there are no festivals but there’s a desire to connect with people. 

We’ve canceled the summer print issue, instead, it will be a reader-created virtual issue. The best thing for us to do right now is to represent how young creative people are expressing themselves in isolation.

How are you talking with your brand partners?

We’re sharing a digital care package every fortnight of insights about our audiences’ needs. Dazed and Nowness operate in China so we’re getting insights from a longer gestation of coronavirus. We’re speaking to everyone we are working with and asking ‘how can we support you through this, how can we share ideas to help navigate through a different time?’ Without it being a conversation about money, conversations about money right now are kind of irrelevant.

But publishers need to manage their cash flow as much as anyone does.

I’m not being naive about it, but everyone has been affected on every level, which makes you see the scale and enormity of it.

Some of our energy has gone into more humanitarian efforts. How can we help the most vulnerable and at risk: 50% of workers in the creative industries are freelancers. They are the life and soul of our culture. We are working with Hong Kong partners distributing 300,000 masks over here.

What are you hearing from advertisers?

No one is really making any moves. They are all doing corporate announcements rather than ad campaigns. We see that as the trend for the next few months. For our legacy campaigns, like our tie in with Converse for our Dazed 100, we’re talking about modifying the message for an audience in crisis, a post-corona reality. 

What does this mean for the business outlook for Dazed?

All our brand partners see us as being core to their value and vision. Initial conversations make me feel confident for the future, the short term is very tough and I have to take a hit on that. The fall is our peak time but I’m anticipating a massive reduction in spend: 70% less revenue for what I had projected. It will come back but slowly and in a different way. We need to look at a two-year road map to get to a similar sort of revenue projection. If we don’t do that we are not being realistic. We have to err on side of caution.

We’re in shock at the moment. There is no road map. We’re all making it up as we go along. There are new best practices coming out of different behaviors. As a publisher who has had a strong social purpose and agenda, we have a built-in sensitivity that puts us in good stead in navigating a time of crisis where it’s about the emotional and social wellbeing of the audience. 

How do you managing through a crisis when the outcome is so uncertain?

The question has to be ‘how do you make a call or judgment where there is no precedent?’ You have to apply common sense and put your values and authenticity before anything. Do that and I believe the business will follow. I don’t believe we are going to go back to business as usual, there is no business as usual after this. There is, what are your value propositions to your audience? Does it square with mine and my audience? If so let’s work together. 

Wasn’t it like that before?

It was for me, I don’t know for others. Those in the middle, the bloating excesses of our industry, they come into sharp relief. When the value proposition to the audience was never clear. When the media — from a creative, strategic side — treated the audience as a number and not communities of people with real emotions.

Has your day today changed?

I’m feeling very adrenalized by the threat and the task at hand. There is so much at stake — on the humanitarian and cultural side — and so urgent speed of action is imperative. There’s the duty of care to staff. I’m trying to apply some self-care, exercise and meditate, eat healthily, I’ve quit smoking too so I have the energy to put into the challenge. 

Dazed will be around another 30 years. This is a massive reset, we’re not going back. If we want to set any agenda —  a person of influence, a media owner or brand owner — it needs to be done quickly. Anyone sitting back seeing how it plays out is part of the problem rather than the solution. I only want to work with people who are part of the solution.

Image: Sarah Piantadosi.


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