AOP Conference: Online publishers must stop focusing on the platform

Hearst Magazines UK, AOL and Shortlist Media publishing executives have said online publishers must stop focusing on whether they are digital first or mobile first and become customer first.

Tim Weller: chief executive of Incisive Media
Tim Weller: chief executive of Incisive Media

Concluding the AOP Autumn Conference, a panel with senior figures from the publishers, alongside business-to-business publisher Incisive Media, rebuffed the suggestion that the way forward for online publishing would be platform-focused instead preferring to start the online journey with the consumer.

Tim Weller, the chief executive of Incisive Media, said the online publishing industry needs to shift its focus back to the consumer. He said: "I think its wrong that we think of mobile first, we think of web first, as I think that's the wrong way to approach things. At Incisive we take a customer-centric view, so we put the user first."

He said technology would be the "enabler" in reaching these consumers in the future and that a particular focus would be through tablets, which he flagged as closest to the print product.

Rebecca Miskin, the digital strategy director at Hearst Magazines UK, the publisher of Elle, Company and Red along with online-only brands including Digital Spy, was also on the panel and echoed Weller's sentiment.

Miskin said: "We'll be successful when we stop talking about digital and data and start talking about just the customer and I think success is about 'do our audiences love our product?' and it's that simple. It hasn't changed."

AOL UK, which bought The Huffington Post two-years-ago, uses a mixture of analytics and "gut instinct" from its online editorial teams to understand its needs, said Noel Penzer, the country manager for AOL UK.

Penzer said: "From an editorial point of view we use data to make informed decisions about what works and what doesn't work and what are consumers engaging with and what is driving the traffic, whether it be social or search or something else.

"It's the marriage of the human gut feel with the creative instinct that really makes it tick and work for us."

In addition to its free print magazines, Shortlist has a daily online-only product called Emerald Street. Phil Hilton, the editorial director at Shortlist Media, said there is now a creative challenge in being "customer centric".

Hilton said there is a responsibility towards the customer that cannot be forgotten in the rush to use data targeting. He said: "You have to continue to surprise and delight the customer and not just get led around by the data."

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