How Hearst’s Troy Young Is Redefining the Role of a Magazine Executive

The digitally minded leader has his finger on the pulse

Overhauling the status quo at a massive media company can be a daunting task. When that company has as deep a legacy as the 128-year-old Hearst does, that task gets even harder. Add in a slew of strong-willed editors overseeing 19 independent brands, and it's nearly impossible. But for Troy Young—Adweek's Magazine Executive of the Year—the challenge proved far from insurmountable. In the two-plus years since becoming president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media, Young has successfully unified the publisher's print and digital brands into a single, well-oiled machine whose traffic has surged 157 percent, leading to a 75 percent revenue hike.

When he first joined Hearst, Young already had more than two decades of digital experience behind him. As president of Say Media, he went from selling the company's first ad to overseeing more than $100 million in annual revenue. Prior to that, Young was the chief experience officer of Omnicom digital agency Organic where he helped to guide clients American Express, Chrysler and Bank of America into the digisphere. His background led to a unique role at Hearst at a time when editorial and advertising oversight remained largely separate. As president of HMDM, Young oversees not only business development, technology and operations for Hearst's digital brands but also editorial content.

While others might have spent months testing the waters, Young wasn't afraid to institute sweeping changes—or ruffle a few feathers—right off the bat. He quickly replaced top digital editors at Cosmopolitan and Elle, moved magazine Web teams from their dedicated brand offices to a new, multibrand digital space, and began relaunching the website of each Hearst brand.

"For me, everything started with really candid conversations about what our next generation of leadership should be and finding new people they could trust," says Young. "If you look at what we did over the last couple of years, there's a lot of new talent. We've tried to give them room to realize the potential of their brands, and that's what's happening."

Under his leadership, collaboration across brands has gone from nearly nonexistent to more in line with what's become the magazine industry norm. It is increasingly common to see the same stories posted on multiple magazine sites—a recent Cosmo story about a young woman who gave up her job in New York to open an ice cream shop in the Caribbean was syndicated across the sites of Elle, Country Living, Marie Claire, Redbook, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping and Delish. In fact, around 25 percent of all Hearst content is now shared by other brands, leading to a 29 percent lift in pageviews.

More recently, Young has focused on rolling out a new product, called MediaOS, a combined CMS, ad sales and data strategy tool for all Hearst properties, including its TV stations, newspapers and international outlets. MediaOS makes it possible for Hearst to quickly launch new sites, lets editors immediately see how a story is performing and fosters collaboration through an internal messaging service. Since it was introduced in October 2014, Hearst has seen pageviews on sites using MediaOS rise by 42 percent.

Young is also working to build innovative new digital-only brands. Delish.com, which relaunched in March, is a millennial-targeted site focused on eating and sharing food (via social media, of course) rather than cooking. The recently launched BestProducts.com helps bridge the gap between content and commerce by providing product reviews and the chance to purchase. Then there's Sweet, the much-hyped new Snapchat channel that provides lifestyle content for young men and women. Its content will also be distributed across multiple other platforms as well as its own dedicated Web hub, Young says (he hints there might even be a print extension in the works).

There's also a business opportunity in providing outside content creators back-end support for their sites. The first of these deals, with Lena Dunham's Lenny, was announced last month. Young says to expect more partnerships in the future.

He is unapologetic about encouraging his digital editors to be involved in "shaping" native content for brands in order to ensure everything published on HMDM sites retains the same level of quality. As he sees it, "Our authority is understanding what people want to consume because the challenge of branded content or native is it starts with creating something that's going to get consumed."

Troy credits Hearst's leadership, particularly that of president David Carey, for helping him execute his vision. "There are roles that exist called chief digital officer or whatever, and they're about change but aren't really afforded the mechanisms of true change," explains Young. "I was given the means to make the changes and the control to do it. More importantly, I had the support of David. If he hadn't cleared many, many, many obstacles, this would never have happened."

When it comes to proving the merit of his new strategy, Young simply points to the numbers. "The nice thing about digital is that it's validated every day," he says, "so it gets harder to argue with success."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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