On Monday, April 23, Michael Clinton, president of marketing and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, hosted a small group of students from Pace University at Hearst Headquarters for a roundtable discussion. (The event was sponsored by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.) Organized networking opportunities are one of the many benefits of the M.S. in Publishing program, and three M.S. in Publishing students, Kimberly Holcombe, Rachael Kelly, and Edgell and Littleford Scholarship winner Nicole Cadavid, were able to attend the event.
Hearst is “one of the nation’s largest diversified media, information and services companies with more than 360 businesses. Its major interests include ownership in cable television networks such as A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime and ESPN; global ratings agency Fitch Group; Hearst Health, a group of medical information and services businesses; [and] 31 television stations.” The company is also home to newspapers like the Houston Chronicle and the Albany Times Union; magazines like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s BAZAAR, and Car and Driver; digital service businesses like iCrossing and KUBRA; and investment opportunities like BuzzFeed and Vice.
Hearst’s 46-story tower is built on top of the company’s original building, an Art Deco structure lined with limestone columns and allegorical figures. The original building was commissioned by the company’s founder, William Randolph Hearst, in 1926. The tower was completed in 2006.
When students entered the lobby of the Hearst building – designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster, no less – they were impressed by its industrial, grid-like frame, which gives the building a triangular, “rippling appearance.”
It was exciting to think about the possibility of working at Hearst one day.
Meeting the boss
Clinton met the group at the elevator and took us from one conference room to the next, encouraging students to take pictures of Hearst Tower’s stunning views. He made the effort to point out notable art pieces on the walls of the 44th floor, one of the tower’s highest levels. (The building is located on “billionaire’s row,” known for its luxurious residential skyscrapers.)
A prominent alumnus of the Lubin School of Business (he earned his MBA in 1983 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Pace thirty years later), Clinton oversees all print, digital, brand development, and consumer marketing initiatives at Hearst Magazines. He joined the company in October 1997 as senior vice president and chief marketing officer after working as the executive vice president of Condé Nast Publications, where he managed sales and marketing directives for magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Architectural Digest.
Inside a meeting room overlooking the Hudson River, Clinton spoke at length about publishing trends. He believes fandom magazines (with .com and social media support) will be an area for future growth in the industry. Fandom magazines revolve around a certain personality or idea and are built out of an already established brand. He gave the example of one of Hearst’s newest partnerships, The Pioneer Woman magazine, a brand extension of The Pioneer Woman blog founded by Ree Drummond in 2007.
Drummond is “like Martha Stewart goes prairie – like Martha Stewart goes to the ranch,” said Clinton. She’s the author of nine books (including five cookbooks) and the host of The Pioneer Woman series on the Food Network. She also recently opened a general store, restaurant, and bakery in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where her show and blog are based.
The magazine completely sold out its first couple print runs. Clinton argues built-in fanbases, like Drummond’s, are the new requirement for sustainable magazines.
“When you’re building a brand, you have to have a long arc of growth,” said Clinton. “YouTubers are in and out. Influencers are in and out. The influencer market is very short-term – few go on to build enterprises.”
Hearst now has more than 35 million active subscribers worldwide, one of the highest subscription rates in the company’s history. Clinton chalks this up to consumers’ need for “digital relief.”
“You have to have a story behind your brand because brand is storytelling,” said Clinton. “It’s all about the unique voice of the brand and the unique voice of the story which, in a perfect world, you can’t get anywhere else.”
adapting with the times
For its “latest trick,” Hearst magazines integrated Amazon Smile technology into its March issues of Cosmo and Seventeen.
When you launch the Amazon app and open the camera, you see three or four different icons, one of which is called the “Smile Code Scanner.” Aligning this scanner with a QR code embedded in a magazine page leads to “extra experiences,” like bonus content, a custom storefront, and additional information about a product.
Hearst is starting to challenge companies like HP and the MIT Media Lab to incorporate sight, sound, and motion experiences into magazines.
“We had 50,000 subscribers for the last issue of ELLE where Kim Kardashian was on the cover. Fifty thousand individuals got a ‘handwritten’ note with their first name from Kim. It said, ‘Dear [insert name here], love and kisses, Kim.’ Our readers were like, ‘She wrote me a note!’ But it was actually Hewlett Packard technology that allowed us to personalize parts of the magazine” for subscribers and their particular interests.
Advice for Students
At the end of his presentation, Clinton encouraged students to attend as many events as possible, as well as job-oriented meetings with Career Services. Learning to put resumes together, search for jobs in a strategic, targeted manner, and meet with advisors and mentors can help students “find their magic.”
Clinton studied economics and political science at the University of Pittsburgh before receiving his MBA at Pace. As an undergraduate, he – in a moment of great spontaneity – decided to attend a student newspaper meeting, where he ended up learning about magazine advertising. He was intrigued, to say the least, and started selling advertising for the paper as a junior.
When he was a senior in college, he decided to try advertising out as a job – not necessarily a career – and took his advisor’s advice to move to New York. With $60 in his pocket and his uncle’s couch at his disposal, Clinton looked for publishing jobs, had no luck, did a summer tour with Earth, Wind, and Fire (a story for another time), resumed his job hunt, and eventually landed his first publishing job. The rest is history.
“Seven or eight years in, I realized that advertising was really what I wanted to do as a career,” said Clinton, “Had I not meandered into that crazy little session at PitNews when they were talking about student media, I never would have found my thread.”