Fran Hauser, Time Interactive GM on magazines and brands

At the Media Center conference, Fran Hauser, the general manager for Time Interactive, gave a talk on magazines, brands and the web focused on deciding when convergence makes sense.
I thought her points were worth sharing, both as an insight into how Time Interactive approaches their business and creative, and as a useful reference point for other media publishers.

Fran says that much of her job was to work with the magazine brands and vet or support their ideas. In that vein, she shared the question she asks editors when they have online ideas, or want to use new technology–Is this an appropriate way to extend the brand to a new media platform?
At Time Interactive, Fran gets requests to use the following tools:

  • Blogs
  • Video
  • Database apps
  • Mobile handhelds
  • Podcasting

She says: “A lot of what I do it talk to staff about whether a platform is on brand and whether there is an acceptable return to move a brand to a specific platform.”

One example of a project she greenlit was enabling InStyle.com to spend about $75,000 to shoot 30 minutes of fashion video for the fall. The shoot features 80 looks on the theme of what you can wear and what’s hot this fall, with merch provided by Macy’s, Target and The Gap.
The video is being cut up into 80 little clips that will live in a VOD database and be available for members to watch.
Of course, all the clothes are available for purchase.
Fran says “InStyle is branded runway to reality and this video is exactly that..plus, we found a sponsor for it.”

But, as Fran explains, she doesn’t greenlight everything. Parenting.com asked if they could do some instructional video; Fran said no way. “Parenting is about useful info to Mom on raising kids, “she explained. “So, what can you do better in video? Nothing–photo galleries and articles do enough.”
Similarily, Fran told Real Simple no RSS feeds–Although Fortune.com has them, Fran feels that RSS ” is a male, tech-savvy thing” so, Real Simple doesn’t have them–nor will the other women’s brands. (I disagree with that decision.)

The two brands where Fran has supported blogging are EW, because the site is “all about opinion” and All You, the Walmart Magazine that is” informal and accessible.”

One of the most interesting areas Fran discussed were Time Interactive mobile programs. Mobile is an emerging category, but the emphasis for many publishers would be on emerging. Fran said, ” Teens are big mobile consumers so we did a teen people mobile program with Ringtones, wallpaper and video. However, the most successful mobile program that we have done is the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue downloads onto your phone–consumners paid for 500,000 images.”
Final words from Fran were lessons learned:

  • Be judicious about using new technology platforms
  • Does it fit the brand to extend to this platform?
  • Is there a hole in the market for this new extension?

Susan sez: It’s always fascinating to hear someone in a decision-making role explain their choices. If I were the person dealing with these issues, I would approach it completely differently–I think the best questions for media brands are to ask–what tools and technologies are your current audience using and are you on par with those?– and then, most importantly–what tools and technologies are new audiences I want to acquire using–and shouldn’t I look at how those tools can help me get this new audience?

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  1. Joshua Mack says:

    In a rare instance I actually find myself disagreeing with you. I think that Hauser’s challenge to the magazines to justify why a new technology is important to the brand makes for better use of the tools now available. Also Hauser by raising the bar prevents a “me too”syndrome from starting. If brand A gets video without making a good case then for it then all of the others can make a case for it. On the other hand she goes a bit far in making generalizations that RSS is a male thing, somewhat overlooking the way RSS can be used for syndication and in doing so she may be discouraging the brands from thinking about them further. If the Microsoft plans for RSS come to pass there will be myriad uses for it across gender lines.
    You write, “…If I were the person dealing with these issues, I would approach it completely differently–I think the best questions for media brands are to ask–what tools and technologies are your current audience using and are you on par with those?– and then, most importantly–what tools and technologies are new audiences I want to acquire using–and shouldn’t I look at how those tools can help me get this new audience?” You would be spot-on if the editors of the magazines or the people making the decisions were thinking “what kind of content can I create to use these tools well in a unique way that would get me a new audience, am I willing to pay for its creation, and lastly how am I going to market this new thing to a broad and new audience? If these questions are answered or a use can be justified then I agree with you but in my past experience too often brand stewards hear something is hot and decide they need it without making any commitments to making something good and without staffing the resources or in the case of certain user generated tools to free the brand to enable the content to morph in to something interesting. I think the trick is in getting original thinking about how to best extend a brand using technology to create interesting and useful areas that best reflect a brand in a new space and extend it. Just having the platforms and putting the same old stuff in them doesn’t mean that they will come.

  2. susan mernit says:

    very good points,Joshua–thx

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