Takeaways from the Yale Publishing Course: Publishers Embrace the "Flight to Quality"
I had the pleasure of attending the first two days of the Yale Publishing Course for magazine professionals last week. The course, hosted for the first time at the Yale School of Management, arms attendees with insights and strategies that will help them manage change and lead effective teams. Several media executives returned to speak at this year’s course, including publishing legend and founding editor of People magazine Dick Stolley, Hearst Magazines VP of marketing Michael Clinton, and Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive.
Several professors from Yale’s School of Management also spoke at the course, marking a new partnership between YPC and the SOM. YPC director Tina Weiner informed me the partnership is a natural fit. YPC has always strived to educate future leaders on sound business practices for the media industry and how to manage organizations in transition.
Following are just some of the takeaways from this year’s course:
1. Publishers Cannot Compromise on Truth
Dick Stolley kicked off this year’s Yale Publishing Course and outlined the challenges the industry faces today in a session titled, “The Power of Truth.” “Truth is under assault in this nation,” said Stolley, from fake news, ad spoofing, and even the President, who regularly casts doubt on the validity of the news. The publishing industry must counter these threats with an even greater commitment to high-quality content, said Stolley. Quoting Bo Sacks, he said “Those magazines out there producing brilliant content, dedicated to uniqueness and surprising the reader, they will survive.”
2. Advertisers Are Beginning to Value Quality Engagement Over Quantity
Clinton echoed Stolley’s call for quality. He said that at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, the prevailing theme among advertisers was a “flight to quality.” Clinton explained that advertisers are becoming more concerned with brand safe environments and quality engagement rather than capturing the greatest number of eyeballs.
This growing trend has led Hearst to double down on its native advertising strategy, developing pieces that deliver the advertiser’s message in a helpful and compelling way to the reader. Sometimes that native piece can be as simple as a product recommendation, says Clinton. For example, Hearst’s Oprah Magazine partnered with Amazon to create a dedicated “Oprah’s Favorite Things” landing page, which listed all of the products Oprah recommended in the magazine. Editors included that landing page link on every page of the Favorite Things issue. “They were able to track what sold on Amazon; The numbers were spectacular,” said Clinton. “. . .You need to use your brand to get the advertiser’s story in your magazines, websites, social media, and in video. That’s how we will survive in the future.”
3. Brands Must Constantly Evolve to Better Serve Their Readers
While valuable content is paramount, publishers cannot be complacent with how that content is delivered to readers. Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief at Condé Nast’s Glamour, spoke about the need for constant brand evolution to keep up with the rapidly changing tastes and habits of her audience as well as the multitude of platforms on which the Glamour brand lives. Today Glamour encompasses a print magazine, website, several social platforms, video, and events. Navigating these many platforms requires new, digital-native talent, new workflows, and a willingness to experiment.
But most importantly, said Leive, publishers must continue to ask their readers what they want. No matter the technological disruption reshaping the industry, Leive advised, “When in doubt, go to your audience, whether that's in the comment section, in emails, or tweets.” It’s easier than ever to garner reader feedback; publishers simply need to ask.