Hearst's New Digital Chief on E-Commerce and the 'Natural Evolution' to Native Ads

Give Consumers Value in Native Ads 'or You're Dead,' Troy Young Says

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Hearst Magazines named Troy Young to the new post of president at Hearst Magazines Digital Media this week, citing two decades of experience in the digital world. He is the former president of Say Media, a website publisher with properties including xoJane and ReadWrite, as well as the former chief experience officer of the Omnicom digital agency Organic.

Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media
Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media

But before those digital jobs, Mr. Young worked in old media, at a now-defunct weekly called the Montreal Mirror. During his tenure at the paper, Mr. Young created a system for the paper's content that let readers to log in and, using a shared desktop, create discussions on stories. This was 1992. "It was our own little hipster AOL," he said.

"It was my discovery of digital," he added, "and it changed my life."

In his new role at Hearst starting on Monday, Mr. Young, 45, will focus on what's next for the digital division's 26 online brands. His role won't extend to the print side. Here's what he had to say about the new position.

Advertising Age: Yours is a new position at Hearst, in which you'll oversee content, revenue and development for its online brands. What does that mean exactly?

Troy Young: It is and it isn't [a new position]. It's new because it brings more functions under a single leader, but there's been a tremendous amount of work done on the digital side already so I'm going to focus and accelerate our efforts. I think of my role broadly -- to change from [a company] that delivers [an experience that is] loved by the month to loved by the moment, and to help change the way we build relationships with consumers. The building blocks are there; these are obviously venerable brands that are adept with content and with starting points for distribution networks. It's about changing the way it thinks to move very, very quickly -- moving from reflective and curatorial to a newsroom. That's a big change. That change is underway, and there are implications for all pieces of the business.

Ad Age: Is there a specific title where you'll start applying this mindset?

Mr. Young: You have to create boxes for success. You can't do it everywhere at once; when you have that many brands you have to really focus. You have to create your shining beacon of success. But it's too early to talk definitively about where to focus.

Ad Age: Hearst Magazines President David Carey said you will bring the "pulse of a startup" to Hearst brands. Is that possible at a legacy media company like Hearst?

Mr. Young: I think that you would be surprised by how entrepreneurial and nimble Hearst is. You have to remember that it's evolved from a company that published afternoon newspapers to a massively diversified media company in a time of 50 years. The examples are numerous, and it's not just the magazines -- it's business media, it's cable holdings, it's a portfolio of newspaper, it's data companies. [Outgoing CEO Frank A. Bennack, Jr.] has always said that Hearst has continued to think and act as a startup.

Ad Age: You mentioned that part of your job is changing the way Hearst builds relationships with consumers online. In that case, what does your hiring mean for readers?

Mr. Young: We'll be very analytical about what they're reacting to and what's engaging them. Like everyone else in the industry, we'll be looking for new measurements of engagement that go beyond uniques and pageviews. If you're looking for a measurement of relationship quality, a unique and a pageview doesn't describe that quality of the reader. That will be a big focus: recalibrating what success means.

Ad Age: What do you think this new measure of success looks like?

Mr. Young: It's going to be a constant measure: return visits, time on page, interactions, social interactions, commenting, sharing. I believe that the signals that readers are participating in the content are hugely important. The model of "I write, you read" is evolving to write, read, inspire, connect.

Ad Age: Will native advertising be part of the advertising mix?

Mr. Young: Absolutely. There's a lot to come on the native side, and I'm glad the market is rallying around the idea, but really it's a natural evolution of doing a couple of things: Making the advertising fit more elegantly in the content experience, and making it more interesting and removing the friction from consuming it, which was always the problem with legacy advertising experience.

Now it's about putting something back in for the user. Give them value or you're dead. It's a natural evolution. I think it's all good and every publishing company is going to have to deal with it.

Ad Age: Will e-commerce be a part of the mix as well?

Mr. Young: I think e-commerce is really interesting. The media market has jumped on it as a way to find additional revenue streams. I think it's important to recognize that the relationship with consumers comes first, because e-commerce requires trust... and I think media companies are trying to figure out where they fit. My mindset is that unless we are creating a tremendous amount of value, consumers will just find easier ways to buy. You have to have a relentless focus on what consumers really want.

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