Last year, Hachette Filipacchi and NatMag merged to form Hearst Magazines UK, and the new chief operating officer was Anna Jones. Meg Carter talks to Anna about the merger and the outlook for Hearst and the wider publishing industry.
Hearst Magazines UK chief operating officer Anna Jones' ascent to one of the top roles at one of the UK's leading media companies hasn't just been both rapid and timely. For her CV is, in many ways, a blueprint for the skills and experience today's industry newcomers will need if they are to prosper in an increasingly competitive, increasingly digital content publishing world.
With a degree in international business management and a background in PR and marketing, Jones joined Emap in 2000 where teen and young women's portfolio product manager roles followed before she worked on the launch of Grazia magazine. Appointed marketing director at Hachette Filipacchi in 2005, she took on the additional role of digital director three years later - an area of expertise she was not shy to build on, becoming digital and strategy director in 2010.
Appointed to her current role shortly after Hearst Corporation's acquisition of the UK portion of French-owned publishing group Lagardère's international press and magazine business last July, Jones reports to Arnaud de Puyfontaine, chief executive of Hearst Magazines UK - the new operation formed last August following the subsequent merger of Hearst-owned National Magazine Company with Lagardère-owned Hachette Filipacchi UK.
The logic to the deal lies in broader context, Jones explains: "While this was the coming together of two like-minded companies, each with some fairly iconic magazine brands, it was driven by the opportunity to have a broader footprint combined - geographically and digitally. Interestingly, there wasn't much overlap - certainly in the UK - and it gave us a bigger share in market terms of high end and luxury fashion with the bringing together of Harper's Bazaar with Elle and Red."
Digital consolidation was a positive by-product. "Both companies had a strong digital presence through existing magazine brands and pure play brands such as Handbag, NetDoctor and Digital Spy," she adds. "Add them together and you have a large and powerful stable."
Which matters very much in today's marketplace where for big companies like Hearst, big brands work best. "It's about playing to our core strengths," Jones adds. Because when you go through this kind of acquisition you look to where you have the biggest opportunities and prioritise - the thinking behind the company's closure last year of She and Cosmo Bride and its subsequent offloading of You & Your Wedding and Prima Baby & Pregnancy to Immediate Media in January 2012.
"Those titles are better off in more of a niche environment while the management team we have here focus on where we can achieve the biggest collective wins," she believes. "We see big opportunities ahead for brands like Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Red and Elle - they open doors, consumers love and trust them, and there is a lot more we can do with them which is what we will now focus on."
Digital will play a crucial role in this big brand strategy and, already, Jones says that the re-structuring that followed the establishment of Hearst Magazines UK has strengthened the company's hand.
"A big thing we have done is physically bring together all the elements of each content brand, including companion websites. This is different, because at Hachette, digital was run separately," she explains. Hearst Magazines UK currently comprises 22 magazines and 21 ‘digital assets’ - magazine-branded and pure play websites - with an enviable reach of 32% of all UK adults and 46% of UK women. The idea is for everyone associated with a particular brand to approach its development holistically.
How the company will approach further developing digital products will be dictated by the different wants and expectations of each consumer group. "It's exciting, because there's no one size fits all solution," Jones explains.
"Elle online is incredibly successful, but would I launch all our print titles online, probably not. Good Housekeeping doesn't have much of a digital footprint at present and this is one opportunity to develop moving forward - maybe doing something around a paywall would work for that audience, maybe not. The Cosmopolitan audience is highly mobile savvy - we recently launched a Cosmo shopping app and will certainly consider more along the same lines," she adds.
High-end brands can work brilliantly on a tablet because the tablet audience is still relatively upmarket, though tablets will become more ubiquitous over time, Jones adds: "We were one of the first publishers onto Apple Newsstand and we've seen some really good results, though while I'm happy with it so far, I think it is too early to say if is going to be the biggest trend in publishing, as some people say. The point is, what you do in digital - what products you develop, which platforms you use, which business model - completely depends, and as a publisher you've got to remain flexible and keep an open mind."
Extending a printed magazine into a website can be one of the most tricky aspects of a publisher's digital strategy, she believes: "It has to be complementary content, and in an ideal world you'd have a close working relationship between digital and editorial content creators - if not a single, integrated team. But there are challenges in achieving this, it takes time. People need to adjust to new ways of working."
You've got to take a broader view of where are the opportunities - the gaps in the market to fill, she adds: "It's easier to make a great website if you are just reliant on one idea or area of interest. But our brands are content-rich and community-focused, so you have to think through all of that and then, once you've done all this, you need to find the right business model."
Need for speed
Jones' understanding of digital culture was honed at Hachette where she worked when the company bought Digital Spy. "It was fascinating acquiring that business - essentially, one that had been run from a back bedroom - and incorporating it into a much larger publishing company," she observes.
"Where people can go wrong is when they assume that corporations know best. What I did was let them do what they are good at doing. Because while you probably do have better systems in terms of payroll, research and marketing, when it comes to agility and flexibility, this won't be the case. I remember suggesting there might be potential for Digital Spy to do something on mobile and they developed a mobile site within a week."
What Jones and Hearst Magazines UK have taken from this and the experience of developing and launching other digital products is plentiful.
"We learned you've got to be prepared to constantly tweak what you're doing. To always listen to what your customers are saying to you. To respond and improve as quickly as you can, to obsess about your analytics - people don't do that enough. Obsess about your data. Leave room to experiment. Get people involved and let them have a go," she says.
"All of which is why I'm keen to make sure our print and digital teams become fully enmeshed, because it's a dynamic, constantly changing marketplace now - you have to assume the job is never done."
A case in point occurred during the recent David Beckham cover shoot for Elle. Elle not only announced that Beckham was going to be its first ever solo male cover star ahead of publication, but also gave its Twitter followers exclusive access to the shoot. Behind-the-scenes stills were also streamed via Twitter and also on the Elle website. Social media can play a powerful role in creating excitement around event covers, Jones believes.
As important moving forward, however, will be further evolving Hearst Magazines UK brands in other directions - licensing, events and also print. The company recently launched Men's Health spin-off Women's Health and further spin-offs and additional standalone print products, books and bookazines are planned.
Healthy print future
"People's consumption patterns and available time may change but the tactile experience, the familiarity and the convenience of the physical product will not," she believes. "We've managed to have strong performance. Even in the latest ABCs, which commentators outside the industry were very downbeat about, we had ten titles that were ahead in terms of market share and a number which had their highest ABC ever - Red, Elle Decoration - we've had some great wins."
Jones' confidence about print even extends to the men's magazine market where, despite the decline of the lads end of the business, she remains confident there's still room for future growth through new product development. The company will shortly undertake a major piece of research into men's media consumption to understand these opportunities further.
"Men's Health is buoyant - a reflection of the level of interest there is today in 'service journalism'. Get it right and print can work as well as digital to provide tools to help the reader achieve a particular goal,” she claims.
Another priority, however, is addressing current concern amongst advertisers about the current state of digital and print measurement and readership metrics. "It's still a bit of a mess, and it is important we help address this - to understand better what advertisers should be looking at and deliver that, both at an individual company and at an industry level," she believes.
"For the time being, advertisers come to us because they trust our brands and because we deliver for them, and we are very good at creative executions and getting good results for the brands we work with. We've got a fantastic insight function here and we are working hard to join up as many dots as we can with our own quantitative and qualitative research and by threading in different industry standard measurements.
"As an industry, however, analytics and reporting needs to get easier and better. Looking ahead, more needs to be done and getting this right will be one of the greatest challenges of all."