Hearst Magazines Digital Chief Troy Young Discusses Finding Great Editors

Also, the company’s approach to native advertising


Who Troy Young

Age 45

New gig President, Hearst Magazines Digital Media

Old gig President, Say Media

What’s it been like coming from pure-play digital companies like Say Media to Hearst, which has had a print mind-set?

It was different at first, for sure. There were a lot more steps between A and B. At Say, we started with five people, so you just did what you needed to do. I think that’s changing here a lot, but I would say there are more stakeholders in every decision.

What was your first big task when you got here?

Making our guiding light the user.

What was the guiding light before?

The business. But there was a lot done before I arrived. I want to be clear: I’m just writing a second chapter.

Two of your biggest hires—Amy Odell and Leah Chernikoff—had digital backgrounds. Do you make an effort to hire people who are digital natives?

First, it’s about finding great people. I think there are wonderfully talented people in print, but you’ve got to be able to live in the moment. The young, modern digital editor doesn’t just think about content, they think about content and distribution. When you sit with a group of young editors, you’ll hear them say, “Oh yeah, that worked, that was cool; that didn’t work at all.” When you sit with other editors, it’s like, “That’s a good idea.” The difference between those two things is massive.

Everyone’s trying to find the key to successful native advertising. What’s Hearst’s approach?

We write content around a thesis and a brand—like at Cosmo, our content is about being hot and being empowered—and we put together extraordinary writers and create a platform for consumers to participate in that content, and we package it and get it distributed and get people to read it. What native represents to me is that all the tools we use, marketers want to use, too. They want us to help them create content that has a point of view, that is associated with our brands, and that in a safe and respectful way, rents our audiences. When we create conversations with the consumer, they want to be part of that. Do we have the facility to literally run content in the content well and call it Cosmo times L’Oréal? For sure. That’s easy. What’s harder is creating something that people want to read and creating a conversation around it. Marketers have to pull away from talking about themselves. It’s like going to a cocktail party and just talking about yourself incessantly. It’s more interesting when you have an idea about something.

The editorial and operations sides of the digital media group report to you, unlike print, where the two often report to different bosses. Why do you think this model works for digital?

Because digital takes three minds. Meeting the needs of the modern marketer requires a different type of collaboration internally. In print, it wasn’t so dependent and so immediate. We need to bring a whole bunch of groups together to help brands, and that’s creating pressure for the business side and the edit side to work together like they never have. And it’s not just here. We saw it at Time Inc. We see it at Refinery29 and at places like Vice and Say Media.

Your management style has been described as brusque. Is that fair?

My wife would say the same thing. The thing is that I’m really passionate, and I really want to succeed, and I’m impatient. The other side of it is that I really care about people and I really love having informal interactions with people.

@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.