But some publishers are now seeing the value in stripping back content to reach a new audience of trade professionals who trust the brand equity of a legacy magazine, but are looking to learn how to better their businesses and deal with obstacles in their perspective fields.
Earlier this year, Condé Nast launched a free, standalone brand called Vogue Business, operated out of London by Condé Nast International as a separate entity from the fashion magazine, with its own newsletter, job board, website and content aimed at fashion industry professionals. And This Old House created its Pro2Pro vertical within its site that features a mix of written and video content aimed at readers who work in the skilled trades.
For Architectural Digest and Food & Wine however, their approaches to creating B2B brand extensions derived from the close relationships with the industry professionals they’ve worked with for decades editorially and through events, and seeing that these demographics had an unsatisfied need for service content that could help them better their own businesses and careers.
White Space in the Design Space
AD Pro, which launched as a membership-only digital extension of Architectural Digest in April, is aimed at the professionals within the interior design and architecture space—a demographic that executive digital director Keith Pollock says was always a big portion of the magazine’s digital audience, “we just needed to more successfully serve them, which is why we created Pro.”
He says that the idea for the professionally oriented vertical originally came when editor-in-chief Amy Astley joined Architectural Digest in 2016, and her goal for the digital side was to make it “dominant in the design category.” From there, two new verticals, the DIY/millennial-oriented vertical Clever and the B2B brand extension AD Pro, were created and launched two years ago in order to broadly cover the entire spectrum of the interior design space.
AD Pro initially operated as a soft launch, acting more as an experimental offshoot aimed at covering industry news, which Pollock says got a lot of traction through search and pulled significantly higher time on page rates versus the other content on the site.
“Many of our interior design and architecture news stories rank incredibly high in search, which signals that this wasn’t a really crowded space,” says Pollock. “We were aware that there was a white space here and an opportunity for us to better serve this community in full.”
Another goal of the soft launch, according to Pollock, was to see if there was even an appetite for this type of content, because while the digital space typically focuses on scale, this brand extension was not a scale play, but more about engagement for a very targeted audience made up of those designers and architects.
Taking this data, Pollock and his team, which has since grown by 10 editors and writers, then spent the next two years doing research and collecting information from their targeted national markets about what professionals in the design and architecture industry would want to see from the B2B brand.
The team used reader surveys and created an advisory board to help guide the editorial strategy, and learned that in addition to breaking news, long-form features and interviews with leaders in the space, as well as tactical knowledge for how to deal with obstacles in the industry ranked high for what this audience wanted.
And now, just over two months after going under the paywall and relaunching as the new AD Pro, Pollock says the response from their professional audience has been great and that the engagement benchmarks the team has set for themselves have so far all been met.
As for standing out among a set of B2B publishers against which Pollock and his team had never competed before, he says that “our biggest point of differentiation is access—certainly Architectural Digest opens a lot of doors.” He continues that as part of the site launch, several of the bigger designers in the space signed on as founding members, including Bunny Williams and Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who have contributed editorially in different ways.
One of which is in a new video series called “Behind the Scenes” that takes members into the studios and homes of top designers—a project that he says the brand “heavily invested in” and produced with creative consultancy Noë & Associates because the research indicated that a video platform was important to the audience.
The vertical’s revenue comes from both consumers and partnerships, which Pollock says currently is growing online in a way that AD typically doesn’t experience with digital. He continues that the founding partner, Dacor, proved his team’s theory of how a B2B brand extension can provide an opportunity for AD’s print-centric endemic advertisers to cross into the digital space.
“Digital really reaches a mass audience so it has traditionally been less attractive to a premium endemic advertisers that really just wants to speak to a select few that can afford their products,” he says. “Here we’ve created a targeted site for interior designers, so the environment is very appealing to them.”
He says that more partnership opportunities are also in the pipeline for the upcoming hands-on education series that the brand is taking on a roadshow in major markets across the country. These editorially driven masterclasses, which are invitation-only events for members, are aimed at improving the interior designers’ businesses by covering everything from social media strategy to creating client presentations.
And of course, AD Pro gets a sizable portion of its revenue from its membership model, which is priced at $240 annually or $25 monthly. Included in that, subscribers get six trend reports per year, invitations to hands-on workshop events and access to the magazine’s archives, features, job board, global events calendar, video series and private Facebook group.
Going on Gut Instinct
Unlike AD Pro, Lewis says that F&W Pro, an offshoot of Meredith’s Food & Wine magazine, was not at all aimed at its traditional reader of the sophisticated home cook, but instead was aimed at its network of professionals who interact with the brand on a more intimate level. That’s why when the brand was launched, editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis says that the feedback that he and his team normally receive from their audience wasn’t a deciding factor in this case.
“It was really building Pro on a big gut instinct,” says Lewis. “The way I thought of Pro was we needed to build it to show the sales and marketing team what it could be, to show the Pro audience what it could be and then long term, to show advertisers new business ideas of where we could go.”
He says that in the past, the idea to expand into a professional platform like this might have had the push for a launch sponsor, similarly to AD Pro, but the brand’s publisher Tom Bair was on board to get it into the ecosystem and collect the audience’s reaction right away.
F&W Pro is very much a passion project for Lewis, as his experience working in the restaurant industry played a major role in his personal education and now he wants to share that education with his former colleagues. When he joined Food & Wine in 2017, he says that the industry was going through a tumultuous time and issues revolving around high rent and high wages, as well as the growing Me Too movement were “splitting the industry open,” he felt that “there was a piece of F&W that we could steer towards helping to solve some of these problems and helping to translate some of the solutions.”
The first step taken towards addressing some of the problems facing the restaurant and wine industries was through a series of first-person essays by chefs for other chefs called “Communal Table,” which now exists also as a podcast within the F&W Pro vertical.
Lewis also says that this brand extension made sense for F&W, potentially even more so than for the other epicurean and culinary brands at Meredith, because of the deep relationships that the brand has been able to cultivate with chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers and other industry professionals over the years at their events, including the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
While planning the platform, he says he was inspired by “Fortune’s model and the way that Fortune speaks directly to business leaders and tastemakers. That audience is different from F&W’s audience, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the business of food and wine.”
Since its launch in March, F&W Pro, while still digital-first and living as a tab on the main brand website, has expanded into a weekly newsletter from Lewis himself, a podcast and activations within industry events and F&W brand events. It is also debuting in print as a two-page, front-of-the-book spread called the “19 Great Restaurants to Work For,” in the July issue, which Lewis says will continue in later issues as at least one page.
As an event activation, he continues that F&W Pro has been able to provide industry professionals with some of the most tactical business-building experience so far. At the magazine’s 2019 Best New Chefs celebration, a three-hour working lunch was hosted by former Best New Chefs who spoke to the new class about everything from work-life balance to how to sign a business partner, under the heading of F&W Pro.
“These are the kinds of things that in the past, and in the restaurant business specifically, was the school of hard knocks that you learn on the fly and you make your mistakes and you crash and burn,” Lewis explains. “Now more than ever, we’re investing in this next generation and linking them up with some of the old guard.”
F&W Pro was also a media partner at the Welcome Conference earlier this month, which is a hospitality conference in New York, and there they hosted several activations aimed at boosting engagement for their brand.
And though the B2B vertical is not monetized through a membership-model—which Lewis says is not a priority for Meredith as a whole at this time—he says that his team’s mission right now is “about building the audience and growing awareness around Pro over the next year and as we do that, we’ll think about down the road how the model will evolve.”
For now, revenue is coming from advertisers, which Lewis plans on diversifying down the road, and not just for Pro, but for Food & Wine as a whole.
“I think in this day and age you have to be thinking about things like Pro and things like TV opportunities and things like events in order to diversify the pie. Like any other brand, we can’t just rely on a traditional advertiser model,” he tells Folio:. “As we all evolve, if you look at the budgets for marketers right now, experiential is becoming a bigger part of their budgets so certainly experiential will be a big part of what we look at as well.”
On the advertising side, however, he says that there has been strong interest so far, with Sterling Silver Meats coming on as the brand’s first sponsor, and Treasury and Gallo partnering with Pro in various activations this summer.
“Think what you will about this current climate of ‘influencers,’ but the way that we look at it is the chef and restaurant community are the ultimate influencers. So the savvy advertisers know that if they can market a product to people in the trade and when the trade picks that product up and they evangelize it, then they have something that’s going to carry through to a broader audience down the road,” he explains. “And that’s part of the magic from Pro as well from a revenue-side, is that it’s an influencer platform in a way that feels very natural and not defined by how we see influencers nowadays.”
And while everyone on the F&W team has been involved in one way or another, Lewis points out that this project has been spearheaded mainly by senior editor Kat Kinsman, who has been instrumental in creating the “Chefs With Issues” series, which highlights mental health in the industry.
“This is a solution for people in the trade and is a new way forward,” says Lewis. “It’s not a catch-all for everything we do. We are still a brand that’s focused on surprising and delighting a very broad audience at scale, and Pro is more about influence than it is about scale.”