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

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

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.”