What Time Inc.'s Ad Strategy Says About Its 93-Year-Old Media Empire

on Content Trends

It’s been an interesting year or so for Time Inc., the 93-year-old legacy media empire that is home to brands like Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and of course, Time Magazine.

This past June, Time Inc. was spun off from its parent company, Time Warner, in order to allow Time Warner to focus on its successful television and film businesses.

Since then, it has worked to make its more than 90 magazine brands competitive in the digital age.

Time has been upping its Facebook traffic through content geared toward the social web and making itself more attractive to advertisers by investing heavily in video and embracing collaboration between its brands.

We spoke with Mark Ford, Time Inc.’s executive vice president of global advertising, and Matt Bean, the former Entertainment Weekly editor-in-chief recently installed as the company’s first SVP of editorial innovation, about how the company manages its many brands and how it goes about creating sponsored content.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and consistency.

Mark Ford, Time Inc.’s executive vice president of global advertising, and Matt Bean, SVP of editorial innovation for Time Inc.

From left to right, Time Inc.'s Mark Ford, executive vice president of global advertising and Matt Bean, senior vice president of editorial innovation.

Native: When you work with advertisers, are you selling them ads for a specific Time Inc. publication or are you selling packages across all of your sites?

Mark Ford: There’s two sides of the business. There’s the analytical side of the business that’s really driven by data and programmatic. And then there’s the high-touch side of the business where we're doing big, multi-platform programs across multiple sites and print publications, as well as live media.

I’d say about 70% of our inventory is really multiple franchises. So, we’re engaging multiple brands and multiple mediums. Some clients buy print, some buy print and digital, some buy print and live media. These are the bigger idea programs, and native is certainly part of that.

Native: What are some of the digital advertising products you’re having success with?

Mark Ford: Video is where we’re spending most of our time right now. Video is where we’re seeing dollars shift from television budgets. We’re creating original programming and we’re creating branded entertainment, which is basically working with an advertiser’s objectives and helping them distribute content.

Certainly, we have other rich media units that we go out and sell. We don’t really have a menu of native ideas that we go out with. We know that there are really interesting creative units that you can create in print, as well as digitally, but we’re really not locked in. We have standard units like any digital company would have, but we’re always looking to innovate.

Native: Are your online packages sold separately from print, or are you usually selling a bundle that includes both print and digital activations?

Mark Ford: We think about the marketer first. We’re somewhat media agnostic. We do believe strongly in print, but we’re not jamming print solutions down a client’s throat. We’re developing ideas that sometimes are socially-based ideas, sometimes there’s a video franchise that we like.

We believe strongly that media mix matters, and to scale it, you want to buy the print as well as the digital, as well as the live media, but it really depends on what the objectives are for the advertiser and what their budget is.

We have many advertisers that say, “We really want this to be print only, and we only want you to work on a print execution.” An example of that would be a high-end auto company like Maserati, where they know our audience, they want us to help develop the creative, and they’re putting most of their money in print.

Native: Would you be able to walk me through how branded content works at Time Inc.? How many people are involved with it, and what are the steps you go through to create it?

Matt Bean: We have a core team of four or five folks who really focus on the big ideas. What kind of cross-brand plays can we create that enable us to go to a client with that really big idea?

The job of the group in the middle of all that is to coordinate with the brands and say, “Here’s the general concept. How do you think your readers would best like to engage with this?”

What we said [in the past] was, “Alright editors, tell us what you might like to get for Christmas or what you might like to give for the holidays.”

And we cranked out a sponsored gift guide by the editors of Time Inc. and put it in the magazines.

That same process then happens at all the other brands. Step one is locking in which brands are going to participate, step two is deciding how are they going to participate, and step three is then executing against that content.

Native: How do you measure the success of your branded content?

Mark Ford: We use Moat for measurement, and we can see how consumers are engaged in that content. We have a research group here that measures brand lift and all of those types of things. Engagement is a measurement that’s critical. Clickthrough rates don’t really matter a whole lot here.

Native: Finally, what’s one thing that Time Inc. offers advertisers that no one else does?

Mark Ford: I mean, look at the brands and the content we have. We’ve been storytelling for a lot of years. We’re trusted by consumers.

We have a big, broad, diverse portfolio of brands that consumers love and are engaged in, and advertisers are integrating in new and deeper ways around that content. That really helps their message.

I think that’s a huge advantage over some of our competitors. We’re a content company, and we’re in the premium content business.