'Don’t Underestimate The Value Of A Super Engaged Email List'

We spoke all things digital publishing with Jessica Novak, content strategy director at Zoe Media Group


Jessica Novak is the director of content strategy at Zoe Media Group, the digital media division of Rachel Zoe, Inc. where she leads growth, optimization, and social strategy across editorial and video. Prior to ZMG, Jessica led the content strategy team at Refinery29 where she partnered with editorial to drive triple-digit traffic growth over the last three years and spearheaded the creation of the Refinery29 Intelligence blog. Jessica comes from the startup world and speaks about data-driven content, video strategy, and viral content. 

We sat down with Jessica ahead of her presentation at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in New York this July 13-14. 

How do you think publishers will continue to develop other monetization strategies?

I think off-platform/distributed monetization strategies are where publishers should be focusing their attention, especially as it pertains to branded video and Facebook live. I think ads will start looking more and more like a broadcast model, with 'commercials' interspersed between original content on platforms like Facebook and Snapchat. I also think more publishers will turn to white label content production as another revenue stream. We're producing content for our owned digital audience and can see that scaling, as we're already creating content for other brands.

How do you think digital will continue to shape the publishing Industry?

Digital has commoditized attention and reach, so now brands will have to differentiate themselves in order to retain users and stand out in such a saturated space. I think publishers will go more niche and aim to build more loyal audiences rather than trying to compete with the Buzzfeeds of the world for page views. As attention spans shrink, quality will win out, and videos will become more and more prominent in your newsfeed.

What do you think the future trends are for digital publishing and do you see IoT having an effect?

The landscape is already distributed, so the next natural evolution is off the phone and off the desktop and into your devices. The IoT will definitely shape how we find and consume content, especially as virtual reality technology becomes more available. Before this happens, though, distributed video content and integration with over-the-top distributors will continue to grow.

What changes do you see the growth in mobile bringing to the publishing industry?

This isn’t really a change since most publishers have been over 50% mobile for at least the last 3 years. I think the continued growth in mobile, though, has made publishers more savvy about mobile-first design and even more reliant on mobile-heavy social media networks. Messaging app integration has become commonplace, and content is being created for sound-off, mobile-first viewing. It’s also easier than ever to reach readers where they are, so providing a relevant, timely experience and differentiating your content to cater to device, intent, and time of day is more important.

Now everyone develops and shares content – how do you stay ahead in a saturated space?

Cultivating a strong brand and offering a unique perspective are more important now than ever, and are the key differentiators between publishers who have a loyal following and publishers who don’t. As the space gets more saturated, growing audience through loyalty and a unique value proposition will eventually win out. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a super engaged email list. Distributed platforms is where the buzz is, but email is the most consistent and predictable way to reach an engaged audience.

Looking at the growth in Snapchat and changes to other social platforms, how are you looking to continue to utilize this space?

Since we aren’t on Discover, we use Snapchat primarily as an engagement tool and a way to create added value for our followers. We also monetize this space through sponsored snaps, since the audience on this platform is so hyper-engaged. Moving forward, we plan to program out this channel more formally as an extension of our video strategy, and also creatively cross-promote on our other channels. Snapchat is only going to get bigger.

What challenges do you see coming out of the publishing space for the rest of this year?

For social-first publishers, maintaining reach will be (and already has been) a challenge; Digiday reported that publishers saw a drop in reach of over 42% on Facebook earlier this year. Finding other ways to grow audience, whether that’s through building a stronger email list or going deep in a specific niche, will be the greatest challenge. Brands will need to differentiate themselves.

How are you best using data to improve all aspects of your operation?

We use data to optimize distribution and publishing – everything from time of day to what headline we run with. Our strategy is always informed by data, brand, and editorial integrity. Having an influential person as our Editor In Chief adds an additional layer as well; it has to perform, it has to be on brand, and it has to reflect well on Rachel. It’s a layered approach, but it’s the only way to scale a strong brand.

You can hear more from Jessica, along with other industry-leading executives at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in New York this July 13-14. To register your interest, click here.

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