Fresh Off a Print Renovation, Architectural Digest Is Booming Online, Too
Digital director Keith Pollock and digital GM Eric Gillin on how two new verticals helped drive an 80-percent traffic increase in just one year.
Under newly minted editor-in-chief Amy Astley, Architectural Digest‘s 2017 redesign was widely seen as further proof that even a 97-year-old magazine can reinvent itself for the social media age (a gushing New York Times profile, for example, declared that the book was “livelier than it has ever been”).
And although you may now be just as likely to encounter Mike D of the Beastie Boys’ Malibu pad within the magazine’s pages as you would Timothy Corrigan’s neoclassical French château, the feeling remained that AD‘s digital presence could benefit from a bit of renovating, too.
To that end, the Condé Nast brand launched a pair of online verticals meant to cater to new audience segments on decidedly opposite ends of the design spectrum: AD Pro, which operates as something of a trade publication for the design world, last Spring; and Clever, for the millennial design enthusiast, last October.
As digital executive director Keith Pollock describes it, the two new digital offshoots serve as a home for the types of content that AD was already serving to its audience, but in an under-focused way.
“We weren’t doing a great job at speaking to the endemic industry person, or the design-interested millennial,” Pollock tells Folio:. “Launching these verticals allowed us to go narrow and deep and better serve those audiences.”
The results speak for themselves. ArchitecturalDigest.com achieved its highest level of traffic ever in February of this year (up more than 80-percent year-over-year across desktop and mobile to more than 2.3 million uniques, per comScore data), in no small part due to the new offerings. AD Pro now accounts for 20 percent of the site’s overall traffic, according to digital GM Eric Gillin, and Astley has credited Clever with driving a seven-fold increase in the number of millennials visiting the site.
“There were no interiors magazines that spoke to this new millennial mindset around nesting, around small spaces, around rentals,” adds Gillin, who added AD to his purview a year ago after three years running Condé Nast’s foodie site Epicurious. “If you look at a lot of what Clever is doing, it’s all about how to trick out your rental or how to do things on a budget. It’s a matter of using the great design sensibility of AD but applying it an entirely new way.”
Pollock and Gillin agree that breaking Clever out into its own branded vertical afforded AD‘s integrated print and digital editorial team the liberty to cover topics with humor, approachability, and attitude. Pieces that have performed well for Clever might never have made it onto ArchitecturalDigest.com before, such as a February feature on the impact that smoking has on an apartment’s interior, or a March column entitled, “Why Minimalism is B.S.”
“Before we launched Clever, we were really cautious about some of these topics sitting alongside beautiful home features that appear in the magazine,” says Pollock. “It forced us to think outside the box and push our own boundaries a bit.”
“There’s an element of realness to it that takes it beyond drapes,” Gillin adds. “Stuff about landlords and roommates and how you can take a renal and make it your own.”
An additional benefit is that Condé Nast’s millennial-populated One World Trade Center digs provide no shortage of inspiration for content that addresses the reality of millennial living situations. An original working title for Clever was AD Apt (as in, AD Apartment), but the feeling was that it would come off as some type of Architectural Digest-Lite, rather than something that treated apartment living in a serious but accessible way.
Originally intended to debut alongside AD Pro, Clever’s launch was pushed back six months while the team spent the summer of 2017 testing out different types of content and branding, particularly on social media. In the end, the name Clever stuck out as the perfect representation of the new brand-within-a-brand’s identity.
“It’s right there in the name; it provides really interesting ideas on how to do things that go beyond DIY,” Gillin says. “I think this generation is incredibly visual, so the design of the site is very leaned-in, very pop art, very Memphis.”
And while Clever aggressively pursues millennials with animated gifs and Instagram stories, AD Pro steps in to help prevent AD from alienating a core audience segment in the design trade with a daily newsletter featuring industry news and columns geared specifically for professionals.
Many of the same writers and editors who already contribute to Architectural Digest (in print and online) now regularly write for AD Pro, something Pollock says is key in ensuring the newsletter maintains the same all-important authoritative voice of its flagship.
“With Pro, we leaned a lot on our endemic connections. It was really old-fashioned shoe leather and word-of-mouth in the industry,” Gillin adds. “We’re covering the news from their perspective, and I think it’s really one of those situations in which we are the audience that we’re writing for.”
Unlike Clever, AD Pro speaks to an audience not just defined by sensibility, but also by profession, thus becoming a much more clearly delineated community play. It creates not only an ideal space for the reader, but also for the endemic advertiser. When it launched, AD invited prominent members of the design community (whom Gillin describes as “family and friends”) to One World Trade Center for a breakfast chat focused on digital media and how AD could help tackle their own business or creative challenges.
“We’ll be doing more industry-specific events and outreach to really help facilitate that community,” says Gillin. “At the end of the day, we love this industry; we love the trade. We really support our friends and family who are doing it on a daily basis.”
Ultimately, the pair says, the new launches serve as reflections of the way the magazine has changed under Astley’s leadership.
“Look at the book. The AD logo is bright pink,” Gillin continues. “I think the AD universe has expanded and gotten more vibrant and surprising and interesting, and now we have these two brands that are doing the same thing online.”
“Certainly, the magazine is such a premium expression of the brand,” adds Pollock. “On the digital side, we have this elasticity to really push things in new directions, which is very exciting.”