EXCLUSIVE: Us Weekly Vice President and CRO Vicci Rose on David Pecker, Her New EIC and Branded Content

Her first interview since the American Media, Inc. ownership change

Vicci Rose has been with Us Weekly for a long time. Her tenure as publisher predates the arrival of the World Wide Web and encompassed the celebrated editorial runs of both Janice Min and Bonnie Fuller.

The American Media, Inc. (AMI) phase of her career has only just begun. But already, Rose, who now holds the titles of vice president and chief revenue officer, has high praise for the man who has replaced Rolling Stone Media’s Jann Wenner. “David Pecker is not only a visionary, but one of the greatest champions of the media industry in my lifetime,” she tells Fishbowl. “I have never worked with someone with his passion for this business and understanding of both the audience served and advertisers in equal measure.”

“David is willing to invest where he sees a clear path to the ROI. He has been extremely supportive in the transition and we are committed to exceeding his high expectations.”

That’s high praise. Above is Fishbowl’s exclusive first look at the cover of this week’s June 19 issue, the latest print footprint of Rose’s work with new editor in chief James Heidenry. The latter came up through the AMI ranks, overseeing Star and OK! magazines before adding Us. Once again, Rose, after all these years, is full of enthusiasm for her new charge.

“As both Bonnie and Janice respectively did, James “gets” that today personality and perspective play an even greater role than it did in the past under our celebrity editors,” Rose says. “Back when Bonnie and Janice were respectively at the helm, Us Weekly had one main competitor. Today, we have thousands of competitors for our audiences’ share of mind–coming at us from every angle, every medium and the newest technology.”

“James is his own man with his own unique zeitgeist at a very different time in our business,” she adds. “He is similarly clear in his vision for what differentiates Us Weekly and the role that authenticity and currency play in the hierarchy of needs of discerning consumers.”

There have been reports, most notably by New York Post columnist Keith J. Kelly, of the emotional toll inflicted on both remaining and exiting Us Weekly employees by the recent, extended ownership transition. But Rose disputes the tenor of those items, admitting that while transitioning a large media business is never easy, it has been done as smoothly as possible.

“From the start David, [chief content officer] Dylan [Howard] and the team of senior executives at AMI were committed to minimizing the disruption and making the process as seamless as possible,” she notes. “Despite a protracted timetable, Us Weekly’s staff remained focused, passionate and productive throughout. I have come to realize how fortunate I am to work with such a dedicated and resilient group of professionals.”

Internally, and for a long time now, Rose and her colleagues have lovingly referred to the Us Weekly community as a “tribe.” One that now comes to the digital side of the publication through new channels. “Around 30% of our site traffic comes from social media,” Rose reveals. “Us Weekly’s social media footprint is 7 million strong and growing naturally. Further, as we have always been an exciting visual brand thriving on new images and exclusive photos, our Instagram following has doubled to 2.1 million followers in the past year. Dylan’s personal commitment to Us Weekly increasing its daily-post output is also helping further capitalize upon the existing momentum in social channels.”

In terms of advertiser inflow during the Rolling Stone Media era versus these nascent AMI days, Rose suggests that the marketplace has become desensitized to media-outlet ownership changes. A landscape where disruption and parent company shifting are constantly afoot means that personal relationships with advertisers are more key than ever.

“It is surprising how confident and encouraging the ad community has been in this transition,” Rose states. “With most of Us Weekly’s senior advertising management team in place for more than a decade now transitioned to AMI, and the company’s early signs of investment visible, like paper stock and added edit pages per issue, many clients believe that Us will thrive under a committed and fiscally productive leader like David Pecker.”

Us Weekly and Rose have also long been involved with branded content. The magazine’s sponsored content practice was launched more than a decade ago with modest “advertorials.” Today, it’s a multi-million dollar enterprise.

“A good example of what we’re current doing is AT&T’s custom sponsorship of Red Carpet Daily, a daily three-minute style & beauty round-up of the previous night’s events,” Rose explains. “That has generated 16 million video views on the site in 15 months. Another is our current activation with [Rachel Ray’s] Nutrish Pet Food and exclusive sponsorship of Us Weekly ‘Pets–They Are Just Like Us.’”

“The Muppets multi-platform content takeover was another example of a “best in class” execution,” she continues. “Looking ahead to the fall, we will be launching several new custom partnerships and continuing to leverage Facebook Live videos, which last year on average generated roughly one million video views per week.”

In our interview, Rose disputed the idea that Instagram and the tenor of new competitors like TMZ are cementing the idea that today, celebrities are only sometimes like us. “On the contrary,” she insists. “At its core, the success of Us Weekly is that stars have remained “just like us.” The common denominator recognized by Us, whether executed in SJLU or What’s in my Bag, Inside My Kitchen, Us Living, Us Beauty or Style or new features, will remain compelling to our audience.”