Hearst Magazines Taps Say Media’s Kate Lewis

Continues reshaping online division

Troy Young continues to reshape Hearst Magazines Digital Media, hiring Kate Lewis from Say Media as vp of content operations and editorial director for the division’s 24 magazine websites. She’ll start Jan. 13 and report to Young.

Young, a veteran of pure-play digital media, was brought over in May to reinvent the magazines’ digital strategy, and has already made some high-profile moves, relocating some digital editorial staffers away from their print counterparts and hiring new editors to lead Hearst’s biggest sites. He most recently was president of Say Media, although he left before Lewis arrived in 2012.

Hearst, along with the rest of the magazine industry, is struggling to match the online audience of digital natives to make more money online as print advertising continues to recover from the 2008 recession. One way Young hopes to do this is by finding common approaches to producing the sites for brands like Cosmopolitan and Elle.

“There’s this kind of huge opportunity to harness the scale of Hearst brands,” Young said. “We have to figure out how to effectively and efficiently create content people love. It’s really difficult to manage the complexities of the digital publications across 24 brands, but I think we have a real advantage if we do it the right way … Kate and I are going to work on that.”

Lewis said she was drawn to the job based on her tenure as editorial director at the Young-influenced Say Media. She's the latest high-profile executive to recently leave Say following Kim Kelleher's departure as president from the blog network in November.

“Digital is not a second-class citizen anymore,” Lewis said. “That’s what’s exciting about what Hearst is doing. Hearst has some of the most storied magazine brands in America, and I think Troy is thinking about how do you articulate those in a digital way.”

Young’s first task has been remaking Cosmopolitan.com, Hearst’s biggest magazine site, hiring Amy Odell from BuzzFeed as its top editor. Drawing sharper lines between the print and digital staffs could be a recipe for tension, though Young said he still expects print and Web counterparts to collaborate.

“In the long term, what ends up happening is that they reinforce one another,” he said. “Cosmopolitan.com has grown 100 percent because we … are focused on the medium. Joanna [Coles, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine] is still very involved [in Cosmopolitan.com]. But Amy Odell is running the property day to day.”

Lewis, for her part, seemed to anticipate the possibility of such tension, striking a collaborative tone and emphasizing her long-established print credentials.

“I’m sure it will have its elements of uncomfortableness,” she said. “But there have to be ways to have similar mission statements, and what you’re just focused on is having different execution. I plan to really be involved with the thinking of the editors in chief. The point is not to leave them out.”

In another sign of Young’s pure-play digital (and to many traditional publishers, foreign) thinking, Lewis will oversee the connection between editorial and sales to create native ads with brands, as she did at Say. Hearst, like other publishers, is trying to sell new native ads, products that closely resemble editorial content and can be more lucrative than traditional banner ads.

At Say, editorial staffers created native ads for brands, a practice that would be unheard of at traditional publishing companies that observe a strict separation of editorial and sales. Yet at Hearst, Young said digital editorial staffers are involved in creating the ads. 

Lewis said that while she didn’t start out “thinking it was the best idea” to have editorial staffers working on ads, she came around, seeing that editors could always say no and there was full disclosure around the financial arrangement to readers.

Young didn’t comment specifically on what the future holds for the native ad content creation process at Hearst, but said the whole industry is evolving when it comes to putting editorial resources to work for brands. “I think the best branded content programs are fundamentally just great content,” he said. “They work for the reader, they work for the publication and they work for our customer. What I am really fixated on is how we get that win-win-win. The principles of transparency will remain foundational.”