Atlantic Media has a track record of mixed revenue models across all its brands. Its core magazine, The Atlantic, is 161 years old and has gone through a period of sustained re-invention. We caught up with Hayley Romer, its Chief Revenue Officer and Publisher ahead of her session at Advertising Week to speak about the importance of experimentation, its approach to reaching readers wherever they may be, and the recent acquisition by The Emerson Collective, an organization with who The Atlantic shares more in common than first meets the eye.
AW: The Atlantic is a brand with a long heritage – 161 years old this year – how much of that still remains?
HR: All of it. While we are 161 years old, and heritage or legacy can sometimes be viewed as negative, for us it is essential. It’s the thing we build off, it’s our reference point for looking back. That heritage is something so unique, and so uniquely ours that we are proud of it, we don’t want to shy away from it. Of course, we always have to be looking forward, but we definitely don’t do that by dismissing what has happened in the past.
AW: In a podcast, you recently said 84% of The Atlantic readers view the world in a different way after engaging with the brand. How much of that is part of the strategy?
HR: This is one of my favourite stats. If we can help illuminate different issues or different perspectives, then we are doing our job. We need to be authentic in what we do which goes back to our heritage, but also as it relates to the audience and really achieving this every time we publish something or each time we do something with an advertiser or invite guests to an event. The goal is to help people see things differently.
AW: Obviously over 161 years the way people consume news and information has been re-invented in its entirety. The Atlantic has gained a reputation for embracing platforms and experimenting. It was one of the first publishers to launch on Facebook Instant Articles and embraced Google’s counterpart, Accelerated Mobile Pages. How important has experimentation been in adapting to this new world of media?
HR: I think understanding how people interact with and consume content is incredibly important. It is the only way we can learn how to put out the best product. And if we don’t embrace all the ways that people do that, then there’s no way we are going to get better at it. In terms of platforms, we’ve seen success in building audiences off platforms. But as you know you can’t be reliant on other platforms to build audiences. It’s a huge risk. We’ve been very strategic about building our audience through our own platforms and evolving the way in which we translate our brands across them.
AW: It seems one way of doing that has been through various subscription programs, all of which are looking to make more direct connections with readers.
HR: As we evolve we’ll continue to be more publicly focused on growing this way. This isn’t unique, but it goes back to our heritage. Credibility matters and we have 161 years of it. People crave credibility and deep reporting with rigor and they want to trust where their information is coming from. We’re seeing people increasingly gravitate towards platforms that offer that, and so see an opportunity to continue to invest in our consumer strategy.AW: Are subscribers the metric of success for The Atlantic?
HR: I think they are a metric of success. Not the only metric of success. We’ve been profitable for the past 7 years and that’s not necessarily so much luck, as it is hard work and execution. This is rare in our industry and we are proud of it. Where our metrics of success come together and meet I’d describe in one word, impact. As we look to continue to grow The Atlantic, whether that is our subscriber base, revenues, profitability, or various touchpoints, what it comes down to is the simple question of how are we impacting the world positively and what will that world look like in the future?
AW: Last year Atlantic Media was acquired by The Emerson Collective. Do you think that acquisition combined with your profitability gives you scope to be fearless and try things that perhaps you wouldn’t usually be able to?
HR: I think fearlessness has been built into our DNA. Our founders fearlessly founded this magazine at a time where the founding principles like abolition were not very popular. 10 years ago, when we decided we had to become digital first, we had to be fearless about the potential implications to the brand. On the acquisition, I don’t think it is so much fearlessness as it is having more access to resources that enable us to have more impact. We are fortunate to have found a new owner and steward of the brand, a group who really believes in our mission.
AW: Do you think building on that authenticity from a brand strategy perspective is important?HR: Authenticity is my favorite word and it is so true at The Atlantic in so many ways. Editorially, authenticity is definitely at the heart of what we do and is our currency. You see that across the amazing journalists who work here. And then you have the acquisition. When the Emerson Collective became the new owner, we realized how serendipitous the whole thing was. They are named after one of our own founders: Ralph Waldo Emerson. You can’t get more authentic than that. We now have a connection to someone who is looking to increase our impact, and who inherently understand our values.