Find out what the president of digital at Time Inc. has to say about the company's approach to advertising and the evolution of branded content.Magazines have taken a beating in the past few years, but Kirk McDonald, president of digital at Time Inc., doesn't see them disappearing anytime soon. And he would know: Time Inc. is the largest magazine publisher in the U.S., and its brands -- including People, Time, Fortune, Real Simple, and InStyle -- are reaching an audience of 137 million people across multiple platforms.
iMedia recently caught up with Kirk, who gave readers a sneak peek into what lies ahead for Time Inc.
iMedia Connection: You presented the keynote address at this week's December Agency Summit. Give us a recap of what attendees heard from you.
McDonald: As content choices have grown and fragmented, branded content value is reemerging as a way for media consumers to cut through the clutter. There's an emotional resonance of content and context, and when that core proposition is married to what Terence Kawaja of Luma Partners LLC recently called the "scientification of media" -- meaning data-driven targeting and optimization of media -- we are confident that we will deliver for our consumers and advertising partners.
iMedia: Beyond website display ads, what do you think is the most exciting up-and-coming ad format available to publishers?
McDonald: Technology is allowing us to re-imagine how we develop and publish our content everywhere and anywhere. We want to provide consumers with quality content experiences and our advertisers and marketing partners with exceptional value. Our mobile and video content programming has been growing dramatically across our brands, and we are excited to be at the vanguard of the emergence of tablet devices. We're already seeing that rich storytelling is enhanced by the lean-back nature of the tablet, and users can really immerse themselves into the incremental programming we've created as a complement to our other platforms.
iMedia: What can you share about Time Inc.'s strategy for the iPad?
McDonald: While iPad is the darling of the past six months, we're not looking at the device in isolation. Tablets are one part of our aim to make our world-class content available everywhere and every way that our audience wants to consume their favorite magazine media.
We are excited to be taking a leadership role with the new technology: Time Inc. editors are leading the way on creating rich content experiences on new devices -- that was clear when Sports Illustrated released its visionary tablet demo last December, when one could only imagine what our content might look like on a yet-to-be-released tablet. Time Inc. has launched seven iPad magazine applications -- some are digital magazines, some are apps -- to date. More are in the works, and we're readying content for new devices and platforms still to come as well.
iMedia: How has Time Inc.'s approach to advertising changed as publications have become more digital-focused?
McDonald: We welcome change in our industry as a constant, and we're adopting technology to build new capabilities to respond quickly and effectively to continue delivering exceptional value for our advertising and marketing partners. Digital has meant new ways to distribute our content, engage consumers, and it has also meant new revenue streams. We are committed to developing incremental opportunities that value original content programming as a premium, and therefore provide rich consumer engagement and emotional connections that our brand marketers seek. We're also seeing from our marketing partners a bigger interest and commitment to idea-based, cross-platform integrated solutions.
iMedia: With all the tools and technologies coming on the market, has it become easier to identify and target your core audience? What tools do you consider indispensable to this task?
McDonald: For advertisers seeking to use some newer approaches to buy into our environments, we have adopted targeting technology to allow them to buy audience segments across our network of properties. So, you can buy into Time Inc. environments through sponsorship of content, by guaranteed placement in environments, by audience segments across our environments as a premium, and as a reach solution across our network. We believe that the trusted environments of our magazine brands are important to help marketers' brands make connections with consumers, and this suite of solutions answers the breadth of our clients' needs.
iMedia: What are your thoughts on paid vs. free content? Do you foresee that the free, ad-supported model will be sustainable, or will subscription models and pay walls be the only way for publishers to survive?
McDonald: Consumers are habitual, and they understand and already have a habit of paying for quality. The quality of our content is becoming even more relevant as more generic forms of content are flooding onto every platform. We already see that consumers are filtering for relevance and willing to use apps and tools to get to what's important. This trend indicates to us that as we continue to innovate, we are well positioned with consumers. For publishers in general, future models will most probably be a blend of paid and ad-subsidized models.
iMedia: Taking into account your background with Condé Nast, what is your reaction to the "print is dead" argument?
McDonald: I think we are often too quick to call for a winner and a loser in almost every great debate. We pick sides and wait for the carnage, and are sometimes even disappointed when we realize, as is most often the case, that the truth is always better as a compromise. Not a revolution, but an evolution of ideas, models, and platforms. I don't think anything is dead unless it is afraid of change. Time Inc. is excited about change, and the future is looking very bright.
Lucia Davis is associate editor at iMedia Connection.
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