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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Condé Nast’s Deborah Brett on the power of partnerships

September 21, 2023 | By Jessica Patterson – Independent Media Reporter
FKA Twigs joined by members of the Rambert Dance Company at Vogue World. Photo credit Marc Brenner/Vogue. 

Condé Nast’s Global Digital Chief Business Officer Deborah Brett has a long history of leveraging the power of partnerships to drive consumer and advertiser growth and implement revenue-generating products. According to Brett, content drives consumer engagement and intent, which in turn delivers value for the reader and improves audience engagement.

“We’ve been doing this long before an advertorial or a branded content post or dark social ever existed,” she explained. “So, candidly, it’s been very easy for us to translate that legacy into all of the different emerging partnership platforms as they’ve presented themselves.”

A world of partnerships

Brett spent last week in London for Vogue World, which began last year as a live fashion show and street fair in New York but became an integral part of Fashion Week 2023. This is an emblematic partnership for the iconic Condé Nast fashion brand. And it’s something that Brett believes Condé Nast is uniquely positioned to do because of the caliber of its content, which drives audience engagement. 

“We’re executing Vogue World out of London, which will of course live on our owned and operated platforms. We’ll also engage the broader consumer-base across all of the social platforms,” said Brett. 

Celebrities, royals, opera singers, actors, supermodels, fashion designers descended on London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane for Vogue World London, a theatrical West End production encompassing the best of British culture and fashion. British Vogue teamed up with Italian luxury fashion house Moncler to host a VIP Vogue World party on September 14th at private members club George in Mayfair, which was decked out with Blooming Haus florals

The star-studded event celebrated iconic British creatives,  culture and fashion from Shakespeare to Stormzy, with performances from opera, theater, and film, as well as classical and pop music. The guest list included royals, celebrities, designers and featured music, dance, and a runway extravaganza finale. But the event’s reach was far from limited to the A-listers in attendance. 

“Wherever somebody happens to tune in, they’re going to be met with incredible content from Vogue World and the talent that engages in this event,” Brett explained. Audiences will also experience “all of the ways that our advertisers have integrated, activated on the ground–but more importantly–have activated within environments like TikTok, Instagram and X” (formerly known as Twitter).

The event is a calling card for how Condé Nast mirrors culture on the wide range of platforms where they reach consumers. It is also representative of how they bring advertisers along to the party. 

The approach illustrates what Pam Drucker Mann, Condé Nast’s global chief revenue officer, says at NewFronts in May: The company isn’t a walled garden. They are creators who meet consumers where they are.

The platforms

Condé Nast operates in 32 markets, among them France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Latin America, the U.K. and U.S. This vast global network consists of about 80 different distribution platforms, including the usual social suspects (Twitter/X, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, TikTok, LinkedIn) and YouTube as well as WeChat and Viber internationally. The media company also has a strong presence on Connected TV (Sling, Amazon Fire and Tubi, Roku) and across audio platforms (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocketcast, Google Play).

And as Brett pointed out, “It’s not just the same content everywhere, but tailored content that is going to be native and relevant to what that consumer expects.”

Condé Nast’s biggest platform partner is YouTube, where the company boasts more than 65 million subscribers, a gain of 12% over the previous year.

Earlier this year, Condé Nast announced over 300 new YouTube pilots over 55 brand channels in 11 countries. This included the return of over 230 original series, including Wired’s Autocomplete Interview, Vogue’s Beauty Secrets, GQ’s 10 Essentials and Architectural Digest’s Open Door, which together drove over 700 million views in 2022, Mann told Adweek

Condé Nast is also expanding its streaming partners to include Sling, Amazon Fire and Tubi. They’ve also got a brand channel for Architectural Digest on Roku, which features the Open Door and Unique Spaces series. These focus on celebrities’ private homes and the world’s most beautiful and architecturally unique homes, respectively.  

Condé Nast was also one of TikTok’s initial Pulse Premiere partners – a platform Brett said their audience demands they be part of. She describes TikTok as a platform that is turnkey, low-lift and scalable.  

Finding the right partners

Evaluating the perfect partnership involves a lot of considerations including brand image, customer benefits, fit, and value to bottom line. 

“For us, performance drives premiumness and premiumness drives performance. It’s a two-way street,” said Brett. “And what Condé Nast does uniquely is maintain a really strict code of elevated consumer engagement and elevated content creation.”

The media company does this by staying brand-consistent. They are driven by journalistic integrity. If they’re not authentic to the voice of that specific brand, the partnership doesn’t work. “If we miss on that authenticity, on the expectation of what Vogue would be or what the New Yorker would be or what Bon Appetit would be on one of these platforms, we’ll get called out.” 

Tracking conversion

Given the incredibly diverse platforms Condé Nast brands are on, as well as the global audience, evaluating ROI is a complex undertaking. However, Brett said that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is seeing how these efforts translate into conversions in trackable ways. 

“When we work with Meta, for example, when we use their platform, with our intent-driving content, we’re able to track attributable conversion: literal click to purchase, click to buy.” 

Condé Nast focuses on intent-driving metrics, like how likely people are to perform a certain action, for example, buying a product or attending an event. 

“For so long it felt like we knew we were driving these choices, but we would never have been able to bridge the gap with the click attribution of them actually happening.” Brett said that “the partnerships that we’ve built and the way that we’ve evolved, the way we work with all these different platforms and measurement tools have really proven back to us how direct that connection actually is. And we can see the dollars transact against our recommendations. I think that’s perhaps been–not the most surprising–but certainly the most satisfying.”

Brett said that witnessing the direct connection between the two has been a remarkable evolution of how platforms and capabilities are coming together to close the loop for the advertiser. Through metrics, they can see how it all intersects. For example, they can see how high value integrations convert to high value intents, and keep the funnel full while converting at the bottom of it.

“I think we like to say that content is really the best advertising, and to know that the content that we create for advertisers is driving every different stage of the consumer journey and that we can prove it for them in simple and repeatable ways. It’s just been such an exciting era for us as Condé Nast,” she said.

Premium connects the dots 

In the last five years or so, Brett said they’ve been able to move from more siloed strategies to connecting all of the dots. 

“I certainly think that the more recent shifts in cookie attribution and all the rest of these things has helped to open everybody to the power of premium content to drive performance and really figuring out how to connect those dots more purposefully.”

For a long time, the digital media industry relied on third-party cookie-based verification to assess and validate the performance and delivery of digital advertising campaigns. Cookies had broad-scale adoption, but that all changed when Google announced it would phase out third-party cookies on Chrome.  

“Now without that crutch, we’re really leaning back into what is true, what is fundamental, what speaks to the consumer, and how we come together to capitalize on that, but also to measure that in really meaningful ways.” 

Digital media companies are now focusing on privacy, transparency and user consent as they consider alternative strategies for measurement. First-party data is more reliable and privacy-compliant and boosts engagement through personalization, content creation and recommendations and targeted advertising. 

“I think everything that we do is calibrated around meaningful engagement for the consumer,” said Brett. “So every single campaign we’ve ever run and every single choice that we’re making would ladder into that ultimate goal. If it’s not delivering value for our audience, it’s not a place where we belong.”

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