Digital Transformation and the death of display advertising

Are you finding that as digital grows, a lot of the content you’re producing for online isn’t going into the print magazine?

Yes. There’s a lot of overly developed content which is digital only and even more that is specifically designed for social.

Social Strategy is really important, and it’s mainly led by video content which pushes back to an accompanying article on the website. Then we also have social only projects such as Facebook Live, which is exclusive to that channel and won’t be featured anywhere else; it needs to be seen when it’s there or it’s simply just gone.

This concept of expiring content is quite popular at the moment. One minute it’s there and the next it’s gone. Look at Snapchat as an example, you only have 24-48 hours for your audience to see and interact with what you’re producing. It creates this feeling with users that it’s their only chance to see it, it’s almost like an exclusive club where you go to get it and then it’s gone.

Have you ventured into that ‘exclusive content’ quite a bit?

We’ve done quite a lot with Instagram, especially with events, Snapchat and we’ve also worked really closely with Facebook HQ to develop new ways of talking to different audiences. You have to remember that the GQ audience is so broad. We have subscribers who have been with us for 20 years + who are now in their mid-fifties to sixties then on the other end of the spectrum, we have 14-16 year old boys on the website looking at everything from cars to travel to style, and of course there’s also women in our audience.

The times of lad mags are over, guys aren’t interested in the magazine covers featuring women – they have all of this online. Mindset has really shifted and both men and women want something a bit deeper with more of a narrative behind it. That’s why video led content is so important because most people won’t necessarily read the long form feature online.

What trends are you noticing this year when it comes to content, especially in the publishing world.

Like I mentioned video content is huge, for us desktop traffic is 20% and mobile content is 80%. So everything we do, we keep in mind that it needs to be visible on a mobile or tablet. I don’t think most people look at brand websites at work, they do however, consume a lot of our content on the way to work/on the way home and during their lunch break, that’s why we also have the app.

There’s a bit of a retro vibe coming back. Podcasts are really popular whereas before I was always like podcasts? It’s a bit like listening to the radio but people are really into them so obviously we started doing that too.

Also events – not just celebrity events - consumer events are increasingly popular especially amongst brands because they want to target that younger audience and entry level consumer but in a way that gives them direct contact with them. So, in-store events, consumer focused parties or data capture competitions work really well.

Looking at digital transformation from a hiring perspective, are you finding that the people you’re hiring tend to be more print focused?

I think people need to be a lot more flexible and work in a much more instant way. With print you’ve got long lead times, deadlines and dates you can’t miss; everything is quite set ahead of you and clients know what you’re doing. Whereas with digital it’s a bit more of an intense turnaround, brands want it last week!

Things like a ten minute long video, really in-depth and they will want it live like yesterday. So that’s they type of people we’re hiring, people who are much more flexible and a bit more rowdy – especially when it comes to sales. Those people need to understand everything digital; they need to understand production and what goes into a video because you can’t sell a video unless you know how to make it. Who the good videographers are, what the sound person is there for, how you grade the video etc.

So, from a sales perspective, they need to be really rounded and it’s almost beneficial sometimes if they have worked in production before and then gone into sales, whether that be print or digital. Basically, when you’re talking to a brand, you need to be so on the nose with production because they will trust you if you’re telling them stuff they don’t know. If you can go into a meeting with a really big brand and tell them everything, then it’s done.

Do you think now that video is becoming the go to medium for content that GQ would consider bringing this in-house?

I think they should because that’s where you make more money. I think we will eventually but I don’t think we’re there yet. The massive problem is that all your work starts to look the same. With an in-house team it all looks very similar, that’s what clients have fed back to us about content produced in-house because it’s similar camera lenses, the same equipment and it all starts to get a bit repetitive. With outsourcing, although it’s more expensive, there’s the massive benefit that you have the option to create different looks and feels, enabling you to make it more specific to what the brand wants.

Luxury brands and fashion houses will sometimes want to work with a specific videographer to get that luxury feel whereas other brands such as sports, apparel and tech, even car brands will let you pick the team because they want something more grainy and lo-fi to connect with a certain audience. So, there’s definitely pros and cons to having it in-house.

With this rise in digital, do you think print will essentially die out?

I don’t think it’s imminent but yes. The big titles that depend on big display revenues from sectors will disappear but I think smaller, bespoke fashion brand titles and creative led titles like Gentle Woman and Mad About Town will emerge as they don’t have pressure to make revenue from display.

The big mags have so much revenue that has disappeared from FMCG and beauty brands because they no longer do print advertising which has caused the bottom to fall out of their business.

Brands know that they need to target consumers digitally because that’s where they can measure their return on investment. It’s also home to the younger age group who were born when everything was on iPhone. These people have always been online whereas when I was younger we didn’t have WhatsApp, we had landlines and we consumed everything through print. This new audience is made up of digital natives and brands are becoming increasingly more aware of this, that’s why their advertising is increasingly moving online. They won’t buy a magazine for £4-£5 when they have the website for free, it’s crazy for them.

It’s becoming increasingly harder for brands to spend on display because their being asked to prove traction and return and the best place for those results is digital. It’s not good enough for magazines to just say that we have a 400K readership and probably everyone saw your ad. With online ads and content we can tell them unique views, average views, length of time on the ad. Video, social and digital are totally transparent, other than Snapchat but that’s moving in the right direction.

I think brands will continue to invest in the more niche magazines because they know they’re getting in front of really specific people and whilst it’s not dead yet for those bigger publications, display advertising is over.

Thank you Sam

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