• Larry Stevens

Coffee Talk with Barista Media - Issue #6

Barista Media Newsletter

Issue #6

October 20, 2019



Tom Kirwan is the Vice President, Chief Revenue Officer at Hearst Media Solutions, a newly formed integrated sales division within Hearst Magazines

Coffee Talk With Tom Kirwan 


Barista Media sat down with Tom Kirwan to talk about his role at Hearst, instant insights and data-driven advertising, and working in the coolest building in NYC.



“The thing you’re going to be hearing more and more about is brands embracing the idea that they can and should be a force for good, as well as a force for growth. It’s okay for them to venture into to the political fray and have a voice about equality and inclusiveness.” 

— Tom Kirwan


Q: Tell us about Hearst’s new direction for sales.


A: At Hearst, we’ve recently reimagined our “go-to-market” sales strategies in order to simplify our sales process and make Hearst a very easy company for our clients to work with. 

Previously we had both an integrated corporate sales team (Hearst Integrated Media) and a digital only focused sales team (Hearst Digital Media) which operated somewhat autonomously of each other. In September, we restructured the two teams into a single business unit — Hearst Media Solutions. While we still have sales people at individual brand groups, this new group functions across all of Hearst Magazine's 27+ brands in both print and digital. 

Q: In your opinion and from your unique vantage point, how has digital media changed in the past 10 years? 


A: I think the real question here is, how hasn’t it changed?  Everything is different. 

The level of scrutiny and accountability has risen. Viewability, verification, brand safety, fraud and transparency are all major requirements, as they should be. 


The level of complexity in the medium also continues to rise. Today in a single program it’s not uncommon for us to include things like 1st and 3rd party data segmentation, content production, social distribution, viewability guarantees, and programmatic ad serving. The reality is digital media has not for a long time been simply “banners and buttons”.  It’s about opening your ecosphere to your clients and helping them reach their audience and placing guarantees against everything from KPI performance to how we factor into their ROAS. 


The rise of social media has also been a huge contributing factor in adding complexity to the landscape.  For the last several years, we’ve been hearing that Social Media is the new homepage. The reality is that this change in how content is consumed has forced premium publishers to approach everything from storytelling to content distribution in a different manner. It’s not just about onsite content consumption, it’s about letting your audience consume your content where they choose. 


One of the changes I am most excited about is how much more creativity is involved in the sales process. 10 years ago it was much more about banners, buttons and sponsorships. Today, we act more like producers than sales people. We create videos, events and content to help our clients to tell their stories in meaningful ways. 

Q: Premium content is now competing with social media, influencers and custom content for sponsorship dollars. Is data a big key ingredient in adjusting your team strategy in order to win and retain business from big clients? 


A: Data is at the center of everything we do, however it is important to understand that our approach to data is that data doesn’t make decisions…people make decisions informed by data. Through this approach, we’ve become incredibly adept at understanding our audiences. Having that understanding informs both our editorial and branded content. We do much of this through out 1st party Real-time data collection, that in turn can be used to influence development of co-branded content. We call these Instant Insights, which are essentially polls our editors use to determine what particular topics and trends are of most interest to our readers. 


For example we recently used an Instant Insight poll to determine what particular skincare trends most interested readers, then used the results to inform our approach to branded content for a large skincare brand. We augmented this effort with social amplification,  and proprietary skincare data segments built around skincare content consumption and e-commerce purchase behavior. The result was a high-preforming program that delivered a highly-engaged reader with a higher propensity to purchase the product. 


Using these types of data-driven insights allows us to deliver content we know our reader will engage with and because of strategies like this, it is not uncommon for branded content pieces to be among our highest-performing pieces of content at any given time.  

Q: How has the Meredith / Time, Inc. merger affected your business? 


A: To say the least, it’s an interesting time for the publishing industry. I think many people believe the acquisition is tied directly to the challenges print media has faced for the last several years. I would argue that prior to the Meredith acquisition, Time Inc. struggled to find its footing as a separate publicly-traded entity when Time Warner spun them off in 2014. They made several missteps in sales strategy and organizing their sales teams. These missteps have provided a bit of case study and roadmap for us to learn from and not make similar mistakes. 


These types of consolidations will continue. Hearst acquired Rodale in 2018 and we’ve seen a few smaller scale mergers/acquisitions just this month with Vox and NY Magazine, but to be clear these are media challenges. Other recent examples include Group Nine and PopSugar, Vice and Refinery29. 

Q: What’s the hottest new media technology or trend that advertisers are excited about and asking for?  


A: Though not necessarily new, OTT and anything video-related are the darlings of the moment. As far as trends, I attended the ANA Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando a couple of weeks ago , and the common theme among all the advertisers there was that the thing you’re going to be hearing more and more about is brands embracing the idea that they can and should be a force for good, as well as a force for growth. It’s okay for them to venture into the political fray and have a voice about equality and inclusiveness. The #seeher movement is a good example of brands approach to this.

Q: Do you think there will ever be a day where programmatic takes over all aspects of media, or do you think there will always be a need for human interaction to provide the customer service and creativity that’s needed currently? 


A: I’ve always thought of the rise of programmatic as a good thing. I do believe most, if not all, digital display will be served programmatically in the next 2-5 years. I also believe there will always be a need for consultative sales people and client services. 


As I mentioned earlier, the medium has become incredibly complex. At Hearst Media Solutions, our salespeople are generally agnostic to how media is served. Most of our time is spent creating large-scale custom programs that include content and distribution. How ads are served is just a means to an end. Is there room for both? 100%

Q: The Hearst building in NYC is one of the coolest structures in the city – it’s even connected to the Time Warner building. What’s it like being in that space every day?  


A: The Hearst Building is an awe-inspiring place to work from a historic and architectural perspective. The seven story base was the original building built by our founder, William Randolph Hearst, and opened in1928. At the time, the original plans called for a tower on top of the base, but those plans were scrapped due to the Great Depression. Some 70 years later, the decision was made to add the tower. It was designed by famed architect Norman Foster, and was the first sky scraper in NYC to break ground after the Sept 11th, 2001 attacks. It was also the first “Green” skyscraper built in NY and the city’s  first LEED certified building. It’s amazing to work inside of a landmark.

Q: What are you reading right now? 


A: I am a history/real events buff.  I just started “Into the Raging Sea” by Rachel Slade.  It’s about the sinking of the container ship “el Faro” during Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. 

Q: Do you have a favorite podcast you’d recommend? 


A: Just like my reading, I like real event topics. I just finished “Somebody knows Something” by the CBC, which chronicles unsolved cold cases.

Q: How do you get your industry news — what are some daily feeds you check or subscribe to? 


A: I subscribe to Media Star because they do a nice daily curation of industry news each morning.  I also regularly read AdExchanger, MediaPost, and WWD.

Q: Now, the obligatory question, since this is Coffee Talk, after all: How do you take your coffee?


A: Iced in the summer, hot in the winter and always black. 


Visit LinkedIn to connect with Tom and learn more about his insights and experience.

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