Expert View: 'For Us, It’s Not About Personalisation'

We sat down with Paul Cassar, Chief Digital Officer at Hearst Magazines


Paul Cassar joined Hearst Magazines UK in January 2017 as its Chief Digital Officer. He is responsible for driving Hearst’s digital development, audience, revenues, and expertise.

Paul joined from Say Media where he was VP International Operations, overseeing all sales, strategy, and operations for Canada and the UK. He has almost 30 years’ experience in the media industry, and previously ran the national sales operation across Canadian newspaper company Communications Voir.

Ahead of his presentation at the Chief Digital Officer Forum in London this April 27-28, we sat down with Paul to talk all things digital, from personalisation to the year's key trends.

How did you get started in your career?

In the late 80s I joined a young news and entertainment weekly newspaper to develop the commercial business. Within a year, I had tripled the advertising revenue by expanding into new verticals such as music, film and retail. After twelve months, I was asked to co-own the company.

What, in your view, are the key digital trends to look out for in 2017?

Brands and marketers will continue to push for higher standardisation around things like viewability, better creative execution in the programmatic space and branded content. Platforms will also increase their investment in content and traditional publishers.

Likewise, similar to when we launched Cosmopolitan UK on Snapchat’s Discover platform in September 2015, we’re always looking for opportunities to work with new platforms. Snapchat has been phenomenally successful for us both from a commercial and consumer perspective. As we focus on the digital transformation of our core business, innovative ways in which to share content with existing and new consumers will always be of interest.

Are you personalising your customer engagement? If so, how? If not, why not?

For us, it’s not about personalisation. We focus on creating meaningful emotional connections between our brands and consumers. We use our in-depth audience insight to deliver the best content experience for our audiences no matter what device they view the content on. It’s working. Consumers trust our content and this trust is driving significant engagement levels.

How do you maintain brand loyalty and meaningful engagement in the over-crowded digital space?

At Hearst, we have the advantage of owning brands that have meant something to consumers for many years, often decades. We therefore have a long established emotional connection with our audience – they want to be 'an Esquire man' or 'a Cosmopolitan woman’ for example. This gives us a natural and distinct advantage.

But, it’s sometimes true that digital content can be a race to the middle. We don't think that being first with news or with a specific trend is everything; you have to filter it through the lens of your audience and your brand. We do exactly that; our content is certainly not all things to all people. We question whether a story would be shared because it reflects something our audience values. We question whether a story will teach our audience something new. We ask whether it would make them laugh or cry. When you have your reader as a North Star, meaningful engagement will follow.

Would you say that all new business ventures should be digital-first or even digital-only?

It completely depends on the context, but I would say new business ventures should put great emphasis on digital and mobile.

You can hear more from Paul, along with many other industry leading digital executives, at the Chief Digital Officer Forum this April 27-28 in London. To see the full lineup, click here.

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