Selling Positivity: A Look Inside Condé Nast Aurora
A Folio: Q&A with Glamour and Self publisher and chief revenue officer, Connie Anne Phillips.
Late last year, Condé Nast’s then-president Bob Sauerberg revealed a reorganization in which the sales and marketing teams of Glamour and Self were to be combined under Glamour publisher Connie Anne Phillips.
That reorganization turned out to be the framework for Condé Nast Aurora, revealed in February, a new network designed to give advertisers access to both brands’ offerings at scale, all based around a mindset of feminine optimism and positivity.
Now, four months in, Phillips sat down with Folio: to discuss Aurora, Glamour and Self’s role in the changing conversation around female empowerment, and what it all means for the rest of 2016 and beyond.
Folio: Essentially, what is Aurora, and how did it come about?
Connie Anne Phillips: Basically, what we did back in December was bring together two of the most important brands in women’s media, Glamour and Self, into one modern, powerful offering, and we did so at scale.
At the heart of this network is a shared mindset of optimism and confidence and endless possibilities for a woman’s life. Today is fabulous. If she’s feeling beautiful and powerful and smart and sexy, guess what? She can feel even more of that tomorrow. It’s that real optimism, that sense of power. Power, by the way, is one of the reasons we chose the name. Aurora is the Latin goddess of the dawn. We felt it represented both power and femininity.
We’re able to connect our partners to this mindset and we’re able to do so efficiently and effectively. We have a combined audience of 18.3 million, which puts us ahead of most of our competitive set. It also allows us to deliver larger segmentations, basically striving to be everyone’s best business partner, understanding what clients’ objectives are and where they want that ROI to be driven to.
Folio: How has it gone so far?
Phillips: We’re six months in now, and it's proven very successful. For Self, we have 20 new accounts. We’ve also made 21 new hires and our traffic was at an all-time high in April. Our traffic has actually tripled since [executive digital director] Carolyn Kylstra has taken over from Buzzfeed.
Annie Fox is leading the digital effort on Glamour, and we had our second biggest month on Glamour.com in April. The MPA just reported that Glamour’s multi-platform audience is actually up nearly 27 percent. We are just guns blazing on all fronts and doing really well, and I’m super proud of the team.
Folio: Where are those 21 new hires you mentioned?
Phillips: Those have been digital hires on Self. We deliberately set out to hire real digital natives.
Folio: This idea of selling a psychographic, so to speak, as opposed to a demographic—is that something you’re seeing in the industry, something advertisers want?
Phillips: Absolutely. Other media networks tend to be organized around a topic—maybe food, or music, or fashion—or around a segmentation the way Vice is on millennials, for instance. We’re different in the sense that we deliberately set out to organize our platform around a distinct mindset of endless possibilities for a woman.
For example, I was absolutely blown away by Dodge Ram’s courage campaign last year. It celebrates women’s strength and their accomplishments and their fortitude. The power of possible is something that marketers recognize across multiple categories as the most meaningful way to connect with women. So now, with a cross-platform audience of 18.3 million, Aurora offers real scale against that audience.
Folio: That positivity angle, the power of possible, was that the idea behind Glamour’s big partnership with Lane Bryant, announced back in March?
Phillips: Yes, I mean Glamour has always inspired women to be chic every day and at every size. We worked with Lane Bryant very closely. Their CEO, Linda Heasley, by the way, is an amazing person, and she’s taken that responsibility of being a CEO to a completely new level in the sense that they really want to change the conversation women are having about size and their bodies.
We created a 360-degree content program. It spans a digital video series, two print special issues, and, what I’m most excited about, an exclusive Glamour/Lane Bryant clothing collection to be launched in stores this fall. The partnership brings our editorial fashion expertise directly into 75 Lane Bryant stores nationwide and to millions of women across America. Along with that, it’s inspiring millions of women across America to feel great about themselves. I think that’s what’s brilliant about both Glamour and Self. It’s that self-empowerment. It’s about making women feel both chic and beautiful every day.
Folio: So when you’re thinking about approaching brands as partners within Aurora, is part of it making sure that their messaging falls in line with Glamour’s and Self’s regarding female positivity and empowerment?
Phillips: I think what we’re doing is enabling our business partners to reach women where they are: online, print, social—and now also at retail—and capture their attention in a really crowded marketplace with a message all about positivity. When you look at the level of brands that are marketing with this message, it’s everybody from Dodge Ram to Charles Schwab to Lowe's to, of course, a myriad of beauty companies. What we’re doing is tailoring our content to specific platforms, audiences, and interests in order to create a really meaningful experience for the consumer, and therefore a really engaged consumer who's going to deliver ROI for our marketers.
Folio: Is print still a major part of these integrated buys for advertisers?
Phillips: Oh, yes. Print continues to be an extremely important medium for our consumer audience as well as our advertisers. I think the exciting challenge of our business today is just how many assets we can deliver to a marketer. What I tell my team all the time is, you’ve got to know your client’s objectives. You’ve got to know what they’re trying to accomplish, what their challenges are. And then, you have an entire arsenal of assets that you can go to them with. That’s what’s really exciting about this, that constant mix. And now you’ve got two brands to choose from, between Self and Glamour.
Folio: Glamour isn’t the first magazine you’ve had a hand in turning around, so to speak, from a print standpoint. What’s your secret?
Phillips: It really starts with the team that I build. You start with the team you build, and then you build a culture where people really want to come to work every day. I always say that it’s very important to go to bed happy. If the team goes to bed Sunday night happy, they wake up Monday morning motivated.
I think it's about the team, it’s about the culture, and then it’s really about understanding the brand you represent and what that means to the consumer, as well as the marketer. When I first came to Glamour, the brand was a little bit about being all things to all people. So our strategy, initially, was to clearly define the brand and our audience: why our audience came to the brand and why a marketer needs to reach them in order to achieve their goals. In doing that, we became very successful. Glamour is an all-American brand. We are about confidence, and we are about romance, and we are about optimism.
As far as Self is concerned, it sort of suffered from the same problem of being all things to all people. Now we have a better understanding of that Self woman. She loves beauty. She wants to look beautiful before, during, and after going to the gym. We’ve started to reflect that in the editorial and as well as the accounts we're targeting and who we’re partnering with. I’m proud to say we just broke the L'Oréal Lancôme business. I’ve been fortunate enough to be successful at this, but it always starts with the team.
Folio: How has the business changed, particularly when it comes to sales, over the past three years since you arrived at Glamour?
Phillips: There are significant changes: the decline of newsstand, the rise of mobile, social, and video, and the importance of that. And of course, what I find the most exciting is the emergence of branded content and the need to be a native-content partner for marketers, which is paramount today.
I see it as a really exciting time. For all of the challenges, there are tremendous opportunities. That’s how you really have to look at it. If you look at our digital growth across both brands, it’s completely allowed us to offset any other declines we’ve had. We’re also continuing to innovate. It makes every day really exciting and gives us the opportunity to be the best business partner possible. We just built the Condé Nast Aurora studio, and that’s going to enable us to create 360-degree, content-driven programs.
It’s really important that you’re the first call for your clients. If I’ve got a challenge, who am I going to call first? You’re going to call the brand that really understands what you’re going through and is going to deliver exactly what you need.
Folio: So what can we expect in the year ahead?
Phillips: Oh, we’ve got so much going on. In October, Self is going to be hosting an Up and Out Studio. It’s definitely a hot-ticket event. It invites consumers to sample all of their favorite boutique fitness classes, such as Barry’s Boot Camp, Flywheel, CityRow, all in one environment. It’s also going to host live activations, so we’re going to spotlight discoveries in beauty, fashion, food, and tech. Really all the subjects that matter to our consumers. We expect to have about 2,500 attendees.
From a digital standpoint, Self also has tremendous growth. I’m really excited about that. We’ve got that new team of 21 new people and record traffic. I think the potential for growth there is extreme.