Hearst’s Digital Media Maven on Dr. Oz, Lena Dunham and Trusting Your Gut

By Diane Clehane Comment

lunch at michaelsIt was a bustling scene at Michael’s today with the media mob out in full force. Among the sea of usual suspects, I spotted the late arriving and charmingly scruffy Michael Sheen settling in for lunch with ICM’s Adam Schweitzer on Table Three, but I think I was the only one who noticed. Perhaps that’s because the fabulous actor currently starring as Dr. William Masters on Masters of Sex looked nothing like the bowtied sexpert he plays on the Showtime series. That’s why they call it acting, folks.

Diane Clehane and Kate Lewis

Diane Clehane and Kate Lewis

I was joined today by Kate Lewis, senior vice president, content operations and editorial director at Hearst Magazines Digital Media and yet another member of Hearst’s industrious and energetic PR team, the soon-to-be married Olivia Bernardo (Congrats!). Just reading Kate’s job description left me hankering for a nap. She manages content groups across Hearst Magazines Digital Media portfolio–21 websites in all, comprised of 18 magazines (Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Town & Country and Dr. Oz The Good Life among them) as well as Hearst’s other media properties including Delish and the weekly newsletter Lenny Letter, the company’s publishing partnership with Girls star Lena Dunham and her producing partner Jenni Konner. (More on that interesting endeavor later.)

What was most intriguing to me about Kate’s job is her role as defacto talent whisperer. She is a one-woman bridge between Hearst’s editorial and digital teams, making sure Hearst’s EICs and the site directors for their respective magazines “coexist” while ensuring that the print and digital voices of the brands share a similar timbre. “Each brand is different and every editor in chief has their own take and their own way of doing things. We work really hard to make sure the chemistry is right between the EICs and the site directors,” she told me between bites of tomato burrata salad. As you might imagine, this takes some serious interpersonal skills and Kate, who is also the mother of two elementary schoolers, is one of those people whose warmth and good humor puts you instantly at ease.

Having spent nearly 18 years at Condé Nast, Kate started as a ‘rover’ ultimately rising to the position of senior executive director of human resources. Among Kate’s varied jobs at the company: assistant to art director David Harris at Vanity Fair in the mid-’90s (“It was such an exciting time to be there during the invention of celebrity journalism. I learned so much there”), editorial business manager during Bonnie Fuller’s tenure at Glamour and 10 years as Self’s managing editor. After a short stint as svp and editorial director at Say Media, Kate joined Hearst two years ago when the company decided to commit “real resources” to developing its digital properties. She reports to Hearst Magazines Digital Media president Troy Young.

Kate described the duality of her job this way: “Print tells me what’s next; digital tells me what’s now.” At Hearst, the magazines and sites are run by completely different staffs who connect through Kate with regular meetings between the EICs and site directors (who report to her). “Print EICs often don’t have the bandwidth or inclination” to run a website in addition to their magazines. The “bonkers pace” of digital requires that staffers embrace an all hands on deck approach. “I would never hire a person who couldn’t write,” said Kate who screens site director candidates and sends the top contenders on to meet EICs. Synergy between digital and print is critical. “A lot of the time, print values are contiguous across brands. We are focused on reader experiences.”

Kate believes there’s plenty of business out there that allows for both the print and digital incarnations of a brand to grow. Both have different readership, she said. “I have no concerns that a digital experience will jeopardize print sales.” While she “absolutely believes there is a future for print,” Kate is less inclined to make predictions on just where digital innovation is headed. “Everything is moving so fast, I defy the person who says they know what will happen. There is so much shifting of platforms. In digital, we are all taking risks every day.”

2015 was a banner year for Hearst Magazines Digital Media, with the launch of several new sites including Delish, Dr. Oz The Good Life and Lenny Letter. (According to Kate Dr. Oz is “very involved, very down to earth and comes to meetings” just like the other EICs.) Things ended on a high note with the sites’ traffic hitting 163 million unique visitors. Content has more than doubled from 100 posts per day in mid 2014 to 300 posts per day in late 2015. The brands have a collective 70 million total followers on social media.

When it comes to engaging readers, Lenny Letter, whose partnership with HMDM was announced last October, certainly got industry insiders talking. “They [Lena and Jenni Konner] approached us,” said Kate. “They wanted to build a media business and had this thesis about [creating content] for the feminist, fun audience they connected with on Girls and on social media.” When I asked Kate if she thought the brand could sustain itself once the HBO show ends its six season run next year, she posited that is precisely why Dunham and Konner wanted to partner with Hearst. “The timing is important. They want to extend their reach” post-Girls using their “autonomous editorial team” and Hearst Digital Media’s platform. “And we can sell ads.”

As we finished up our coffee, the conversation turned to the perennial question of how women balance a demanding job with the demands of motherhood. “I’m never not working,” Kate told me. “I keep threatening to disconnect, but I’ve never done it.” That’s not surprising given her self-described addiction to Instagram, which just might work itself into her upcoming talk during this year’s Social Media Week entitled ‘Data versus Gut’ in which she’ll explore the differences between making editorial decisions driven by statistics versus those decided upon based on instinct. “At a certain point,” she said, “editors have to be able to say, ‘I know what I want.'” Or perhaps, if they’re smart, they’ll ask Kate what to do.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Lynn Sherr and pals

2. Peter Brown

3. ICM’s Adam Schweitzer and Masters of Sex star Michael Sheen

4. Mitch Kanner

5. Jacqui Safra

6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman

7. Larry Kudlow

8. Agent Boaty Boatwright

9. Lynn Nesbit

11.  The perennially stylish scribe Amy Fine Collins

12. Betty Lee Stern

14. Alexandre Chemla; Act Two: Writer/playwright Jill Brooke, entertainment scribe Roger Friedman and Hampton Sheet’s Joan Jedell

15. Peter Price

16. Bisila Bokoko and some well-heeled pals

17. Judy Price

18. LAK PR CEO’s Lisa Linden and former U.S. congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman

20. Producer Meryl Poster whose new-ish company is aptly named Superb Entertainment

21. Quest’s Chris Meigher

22. PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky celebrating her birthday with pals Cathy Shaffer (wife of Paul) and Cynthia Kayan

23. Jay Kriegel

25. Barry Frey

27. Kate Lewis, Olivia Bernardo and yours truly

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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