The Hearst Group is a legendary name in the press with 24 iconic brands in its stable including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Elle. Publishing director Judith Secombe and commercial content director Victoria White talked about how the group have met the challenges of the online world and what they’ve done to keep readers choosing their content.

Secombe admitted that digital journalism is an unpredictable world with no easy answers.

‘At the moment it’s a bit like the wild west,’ she told the audience at the Digital Media Strategies conference in London, ‘and like most people we’re making educated guesses.’

White explained that the the traditional pace of magazine publishing has changed:

‘We’ve moved from months to moments. Competition on our readers’ commute comes as much from Candy Crush Saga as it is does from rival publications.’

Readers now often consume magazines in stolen moments.

‘There’s lean back time which we love, that’s the time to savour a magazine. And then there’s stolen time which is when you consume a piece of journalism in a pocket of time, in between doing something else. It’s a time war.’

She focused on Cosmopolitan, the Hearst magazine which has embraced new ways of storytelling and means of distribution:

‘Cosmopolitan has its own Snapchat channel which is viewed 300,000 times a day. Millennials spend 18 hours a day consuming media, we need to grab as many of them as possible. A Cosmo reader may well be a Red Magazine reader in time.’

Instead of simply stocking Cosmopolitan in newsagents, Hearst Magazines now offers the title in shopping centres and gyms.

‘You have to go where the audience is,’ Secombe said.

Hearst Magazines UK has also adopted new revenue models including consumer partnerships. White headed up the Hearst partnership with Asda to produce online and print publications for the supermarket chain.

‘We went to Asda and said we would apply our business principle to their content. We would build them an eco system: a content eco system which would touch their shoppers from months to moments. We would do for Asda what we did for Bazaar and Elle.

White knew she had to give the Asda brand a voice, personality and the assurance of quality. She chose memorable fonts and bright, modern photography.

‘We created the magazine Good Living, on offer at Asda stores. Many of the magazine’s features do not link back to grocery sales. It’s important to entertain people so that they don’t feel like they are being sold to. We are storytellers working with a retailer, we felt we could drive sales in a subtle way without pestering readers.’ 

White believes the consumer content partnerships are likely to be the future of journalism:

‘If you are a sensible journalist the possibility of consumer partnerships is huge. It’s probably where we are all going to end up. There are of course constraints but the opportunities are so exciting.’