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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Executive editor Jay Yarow breaks down CNBC’s formula for digital growth

December 21, 2017 | By Ron Miller—Independent Technology Journalist @ron_miller

When your employer is first and foremost in the television business, and your job is to manage the company’s entire digital presence, you’ve got your work cut out for you. That’s precisely what Jay Yarow, CNBC’s SVP and Executive Editor, Digital faces on a daily basis. He is responsible for everything that appears online outside of what is being broadcast. That means CNBC.com, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – everything.

Yarow says that the objective of the brand is tracking everything related to business, finance, and investing. “We are aiming to be the most trusted brand when it comes to everything money.”

And his approach seems to be working: In September 2017, CNBC Digital reached the number three position in the Business/Finance News category for the first time ever and delivered a record 49.2 million unique visitors in September, which was up 74% year-over year. CNBC Digital also saw impressive growth in mobile with a record high of 30 million mobile unique visitors in September, up 105% year-over-year.  And so far this year, traffic from social platforms to CNBC.com has grown 83%.

Keeping it simple

When he came on board in February 2016, Yarow’s goal was to keep a good thing going and expand upon and improve what he could. “They had a great digital brand in place [when I got here]. It was growing before I got here. I helped to accelerate that growth. They have been doing digital for years. I tried to come in and add some extra,” he explained.

Sometimes, the seemingly small things make a big difference. For example, when you read a CNBC story and you see the bulleted data points summarizing the story at the top of the page, that’s something that Yarow added. “From my perspective, it’s super valuable. Investors or business leaders tend to be busy and don’t have time to absorb a lot of information,” he said. This way, readers can quickly get the gist of a news story on the way to a meeting when they might not have time to read the whole thing.

He also recognizes the importance of social media in reaching his busy audience. “I’m fortunate in that I really enjoy doing these things. It’s not like it’s a chore to check Instagram and check Twitter or Facebook or CNBC.com. These are all things I would do either way and I get to influence that.”

Keeping it real

Yarow says his primary focus is putting together a strong news team that breaks a lot of stories. As he joked, “We are first and foremost a media company. We never have to pivot to video.”

Above all, his focus is on producing high quality journalism. Then, he asks if “the journalism we are producing being rewarded with an appropriately large audience.” As he points out, it is important to be able to support the production of this journalism so reaching a significant audience and monetizing them is essential. “When you are building something, you have to make sure there is a business there,” he said. To that end, Yarow stays in sync with the business side to ensure that whatever he is doing has their support.

Media people

And, with so many media properties struggling and announcing layoffs, CNBC has been a marked positive contrast. It’s been growing and adding reporters like Chrissy Farr and Alex Sherman as well as a slew of new reporters to its tech coverage team in the last year. When it comes to different social channels like Instagram and YouTube, Yarow says he tries to hire good people and empower them to do good work. “We have great leaders we trust and empower them to run the different channels. My goal is to have nothing to do.”

“We have really focused on news and making sure we are breaking news. We built out our tech section and made it a strong team. And we are always systematically assessing business news and where we can get stronger,” Yarow explained.

One of the great advantages of being part of CNBC is that we have a lot of great platforms. I see a lot of different tech pieces being built and see what produces the best results.” He added, “We focus primarily on journalism and building a technology platform and tech stack.” And while the company is growing fast, he emphasizes that they are doing so it in a responsible way. “We are not saying, ‘Here is a $100M. Set it on fire and see what happens to our traffic’.”

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