Industry Voices

Matt Hayes | Chief International Brand Officer | Hearst UK

By Sorcha Mondon

26 Oct 2021

This week we catch up with Matt Hayes, Hearst UK Chief International Brand Officer. We discussed the changes he's observed in the industry in his 8 years at the publisher, why his head has never been turned away from publishing and the evolution of much loved Hearst UK titles.

What made you want to work in publishing?

I’m lucky to have spent nearly my whole career in publishing. The thing that made me want to work in publishing in the first place and continue to work in publishing is working with the most brilliant people on iconic brands. I still get a buzz out of that every day. It’s why my head has never been turned anywhere else.

You’ve been at Hearst UK for 8 years – what are the biggest changes to the industry you’ve noticed in your time there?

When I first started my career magazines were just print - that was it. Across the last eight years at Hearst UK, there has been a real emphasis on revenue diversification. Print is still at the core of what we’re doing but the significance for revenue diversification for our business has increased. We now reach our audiences digitally, through events, we have a fabulous accreditation business, licensing continues to grow, E-Commerce is going from strength to strength and our digital acceleration across lots of touch points. Particularly in the growth of video, YouTube, Tik Tok, Snapchat.

Print still remains a crucial part of our business. Subscriptions for the first half of 2021 were up 6% year on year, which is amazing given that 2020 had been such a fabulous year for subscriptions.

Branded partnerships have also become a really important revenue stream and working much more closely with our commercial partners. I think the amazing work we’ve done on Project Body Love (a Hearst UK campaign to change the way women think, feel and speak about their bodies) across many of our brands is a great example of that.

One of the most significant changes of course, is the way we’re now working. Eight years ago, we were in the office five days a week, we’d be in at 9 and leave at 6 and where we are now seemed a million miles away. It’s so good and refreshing that now we have this more flexible working model, not just at Hearst UK but across the industry. Eight years have flown by but it’s so different!

Hearst UK is home to many iconic titles – what challenges do you face as Chief International Brand Officer working on titles that have such loyal, and engaged readerships?

I’m not sure I would describe them as challenges, but everyone at Hearst UK has such pride in working on these brands and feels a sense of responsibility for working on them. However, people access them, through print or digitally, coming to our events or buying our products – they mean so much to people and they have done for so many years. Cosmopolitan for example is 50 years old next year, and to be as successful as Cosmopolitan has been in every one of those 50 years, it’s had to continually evolve and our editorial teams, our content teams, our marketing teams, circulation teams are brilliant at doing that.

I was looking at the first issue of Cosmopolitan from 1972, and it’s a completely different product to what it is now but it struck me how brilliant our teams have been at evolving the brand, so it is just as relevant to young women today as it was when it launched in February 1972. You only remain that successful having amazing people evolving the title, and that’s not just true of Cosmopolitan but across all our brands.

Could you tell us a bit about the Hearst UK Panel and the research you do to connect to consumers?

The Hearst UK Panel is around 47,000 people. It’s a key component for us to help tackle the issues that matter. It provides insight for our brands and our commercial partners. By using the Panel, we have research into our consumers’ habits, and it allows our brands to generate campaigns that are going to generate maximum impact.

We use it right across our business. The level of detail we can go into allows us to run client webinars that will talk about, for example, trends in beauty or trends in finance and that allows us to work very closely with our clients. It’s a unique asset that we have at Hearst UK and we’re lucky to have it. Our editors find it invaluable because that kind of data is gold.

A recent report by OFCOM on news consumption in the UK showed magazines to be the most trusted form of media – in your experience, why do you think that is?

We have strong heritage brands that over the years continue to build this loyal trust with our consumers. I think the pandemic has highlighted that need for reliable sources of information, especially in the health and wellness category. Our brands are consulting the best experts and the most informed people when it comes to specialist topics. For example, Men’s Health and Women’s Health are leading the conversation on mental health, fitness and nutrition - all the information that comes from our brands only come from credible, authenticated institutions and individuals. I think if you look at what we’re doing at Hearst UK magazine media versus what’s going on in social media, which has sometimes been questioned as a source of information over the pandemic, it shows that magazines continue to provide positive, trusted content.

What has been a career highlight while you have been working for Hearst UK?

That’s a difficult question because there have been so many highlights! I don’t actually think I could select one particular moment, but I have to say it’s made me immensely proud of how our people have constantly evolved our brands during the last eight years. So, I’d say the people here at Hearst UK are my highlight. Whether it’s our teams within editorial, commercial, marketing, subscriptions or senior management, the job our people have done in taking our brands to larger and more engaged audiences has been simply incredible. The last 18 months have undoubtedly presented challenges but I couldn’t be prouder of how we’ve navigated through an unprecedented period, whilst still delivering record results in many areas of the business.

What’s on your radar?

We’ve just launched a membership programme on Men’s Health that I’m really excited about, and we’ll be rolling that out across our other wellness titles. It’s a big step forward for us. The teams have created some brilliant content that is going into membership so if you’re a member you’re going to get exclusive access to content on the site, you can join Instagram lives, we’ll provide an expert panel you can interact with, and it can be built in with a print subscription or not – however you want to do it.

I also recently was chatting to some colleagues in Hearst Japan and across Asia and they have been seeing massive growth in ‘live selling’ – either selling through the website or through Instagram using influencers. They recently did a Women’s Health Live event in Japan and all the equipment being used by the influencers you could click through and buy as they were using it. We’re beginning to experiment with doing something like that – I know our colleagues in the US are too. It’s a massive opportunity as we have such influence over our readers, they look to us for recommendations, and I think that gives us the authority to sell products.

What magazine do you stockpile?

I genuinely read all eight magazines that I am responsible for, so commuters on my line have got used to seeing me reading Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan. That’s one of the things I’ve missed about commuting, is having that time to sit and read the magazines. But the one I look forward to the most is Esquire because very early on in my career I worked on it back in the 1990s. It was a fabulous brand then and it’s a fabulous brand now. Alex Bilmes and his team create the most amazing content that you want to read and lose yourself in.

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