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Q&A: Kate Lewis, VP, Hearst Magazines Digital Media on Delivering Compelling Multiscreen Experiences

May 13, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

This Q&A is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights… If you want to learn more, keep an eye out on our site for more interviews. Today’s Three on Three interview is with Kate Lewis, VP, Content Operations & Editorial Director Hearst Magazines Digital Media on Delivering Compelling Multiscreen Experiences.

Kate Lewis HeadshotQ: Where do you start in conceiving of a multiscreen user experience?

A: Honestly, that’s just not how we think about it. We think audience first. Our audience is coming through search, social and direct. We do find that social primarily takes place on the phone and when we factor in viral, we have to consider whether the content is something a reader is going to click on while looking at their Facebook page or Twitter feed on a phone. But we don’t obsess about whether you are on a tablet or at your desk. I don’t get data on how stories are performing on devices; I look at how a story is performing period.

To some extent, we are trying to think of everything from a mobile-first perspective now. A lot of our sites are female-driven and we find that female audiences are more phone and tablet oriented. But really, we don’t think about screens. We think about how to connect with audiences.

One thing we do look at is what we deliver at different times of day, when people are likely to be using different devices. Lunchtime is a big desktop time so we can think about delivering something longer and ways we can entice them to move around the site. At 6:00 p.m., we know it is a phone or tablet time of day. Then we are thinking about offering more “sound bites” or things like “23 Problems Only Tall Women Have.” It isn’t just a matter of device use at that time, though, it is also about how the audience is feeling and what they are in the mood for: “What can I relate to?” “What will free my mind from what I’ve been doing all day?” The content won’t change from desktop to phone.

Of course the majority of our sites are designed responsively so the experience is good on desktop and mobile. On mobile, the experience cannot be convoluted; it has to be straightforward with really clear pathing. That is affecting how we design all of our digital experiences. We want to let the content speak for itself.

Q: Describe a recent multiscreen experiences that you think worked particularly well.

Esquire Instagram ScreenA: Well, like I said, that isn’t really how we approach things. But Esquire published a piece that shows how all these screen experiences blend together:

They—rightly—felt compelled to cover what is happening in Ukraine. Yet they wanted to do it in a way that was appropriate to the brand and would take advantage of what is wonderful about digital. They didn’t want it to feel like a formal news site and they wanted it to feel connected in a human sense. The approach they took was to collect Instagram photos from before and after the uprising in the Ukraine and juxtapose them against each other. Think about it: It is so internet friendly, and nothing is more mobile-friendly than Instagram. Plus, it allowed them to tell a real news story with something totally relatable as the medium—everyone is on Instagram from Crimea to L.A.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunity in developing multiscreen experiences?

A: The ability to be with your audience all day, every day, everywhere. We are literally in the reader’s pocket. It is incredible. We used to think in terms of one deep experience a day. Now we think about delivering a core reader that deep experience plus making ten other touch points a day. We are holding their hand in line at the grocery store and keeping them company on a long subway ride.

This also lets us gauge in real time how stories are performing and if they resonate with our audience. There is still a lot of long tail success in our content, but there’s a lot of in-the-moment content and today we can react very quickly. We can see things in social that weren’t happening on our site and react very quickly.

All of this deepens the relationship with our audiences. They swipe the phone open and we are there. And that connection is more intimate than ever, which influences the editorial voice and how we communicate. Facebook, for example, has changed the tone of digital. Content needs to feel friendly, it also needs to feel urgent because there are so many things competing for attention on someone’s. And it needs to be engaging in the first sound bite because, on a phone, you only have a tiny screen, and a small window of opportunity, to engage.

Kate Lewis is the Vice President, Content Operations & Editorial Director at Hearst Magazines Digital Media, responsible for managing the content organizations of 24 sites, including digital brands Cosmopolitan.com, Esquire.com, Elle.com, CarandDriver.com, and HarpersBazaar.com, and pure-plays including Delish.com. January was Hearst Magazines Digital Media’s best month with 85.5 million uniques. Prior to Hearst, Lewis worked at Say Media in a similar role, overseeing content strategy and operations for a number Say’s own sites including xoJane, Remodelista, and ReadWrite, as well as a number of network sites. Originally a print editor, she spent 18 years at Conde Nast working on brands like Vanity Fair, Glamour, and SELF. Her last role there was editorial lead in the Human Resources department.

Note: This Q&A is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights.

Also in this series:

Q&A: Ryan Spoon, SVP Digital Product, ESPN on Delivering Compelling Multiscreen Experiences

Q&A: Rob Hayes, EVP Digital Media, NBCUniversal on Delivering Compelling Multiscreen Experiences

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