Content creation appears to be the internet’s version of “The Great Gold Rush” with seemingly everyone creating and/or curating content. From legacy outlets to vloggers, the ability to produce consistent quality content is arguably the key to win Google’s search race. With 15 years of making content and programming, Jamie Elden, President and CEO of Nylon has consistently struck gold by using his deep understanding of the media landscape as well as effective customer engagement, which has lead to some very strategic acquisitions. While today large publishing houses are retreating, Nylon is forward-thinking and confident in their ability to engage effectively, evidenced by the re-launch of Nylon Guys the men’s fashion and lifestyle portal. We spoke with Jamie about the current state of influencer marketing, the difference in content discovery between men and women, and the importance of authentic multi-cultural marketing. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Brandingmag: At the most recent NATPE conference in Miami, you moderated a panel entitled, “Screen Queens – How to Differentiate and Win in the Content Creation Game.” What are the three most important things to win with developing content?

Jamie Elden: It’s a great question, and I kind of narrowed it down heading into that panel by doing a lot of research, and just from my own 15 years of making content and programming. I would say the first part is, lock in your distribution – your first, second, and even a third window. Anybody can make content today, but content that has the opportunity to reach viewers in a captive environment such as a network, cable, OTT, Amazon, etc., works better for all parties than relying on hope. Building your distribution ahead of production is key as it will help with any guaranteed benchmarks.

The second is to make content that is organic to you, your platform, your audience, and have complete insights on where it can go after Episode 1. A lot of people tend to make some content without thinking where it will go, for example, a web series with 10-12 minute episodes. Then what? Have a vision. Networks, distributors, licensees want to know, because no one wants to invest in a one-off thing, they want to invest in something that might grow to be franchised or syndicated.

The third is format. Viewers love a great format, wherever they’re watching it. Whether it’s a weekly series or a daily show, they know what to expect. Formats condition the viewer to like a show and it’s often because it delivers the beginning, middle, and end. Formats are what condition people to come back for more, and make recall much easier, so therefore, formats are the most valuable asset when making programming. If you have a great format, you can license and sell that format all over the world. For example, “The Office,” the BBC show that came over to NBC here — super format, you know? A dozen people in an office, relatable, it was a new original kind of format that you knew that was out there, and it worked. “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” Great format. They build up suspense at the beginning, while viewers get to know the contestants, and then 3/4 of the way through, you cannot leave the screen. It ends and then you’re ready for next week because you know what’s going to happen. Formats — extremely valuable. So those are the three things – distribution, vision, and format.

Bm: Brands are always seeking ways to engage and connect at a much deeper level with their consumers. Your recent acquisition of fashion and beauty conference, Simply Stylist, will hopefully enable consumers to connect with celebrities as well as influencers, which is huge as of late. Why is consumer engagement key for brands, and do you think influencers and celebrities will play an ever-increasing role?

JE: Consumer engagement is key for brands right now in this media landscape as there is so much social commentary and social conversation that’s happening between consumer-to-consumer, brand-to-consumer. Brands now expect to see engagement measured, so they need to engage with consumers of all different levels today. For example, when Best Buy was re-launching its customer service, one of the things they realized was a lot of their negative PR was taking place on Twitter and other social platforms. People commented on how poor the return policy was, or that this particular product doesn’t work. Other people were agreeing and offering advice ,“Try this product or call this number,” so Best Buy decided to put customer service onto Twitter — live operators on Twitter — and it transformed the business as a whole. It allowed them to engage their brand on a much deeper level with consumers.

The byproduct was that it took away the element of poor PR that was not being managed. Brands are scared of engagement now on the Internet, whether it’s social platforms or websites; they’re scared because one bad comment can kill a product. If a department store or a food store puts out a bad product or gets a recall, it’s across the Internet, in real time, reaching millions of people. It can literally put a brand out of business. Brands want to engage because they want to show they care, and that they’re listening, and the more involved in the conversation they are, the more chance they have to pick up trends and improve product and services, and connect with consumers.

For me it’s a good thing. It keeps brands accountable and engaged.

Bm: It acts as an accountability clause.

JE: If you look at the two modern day media disasters – United Airlines and Pepsi – those speak for themselves and are a testament to how powerful consumer engagement is and how it can affect your brand and put you on trial, basically. You have to respond. If you don’t respond, it’s not pretty.

“A lot of brand marketing is in-house now, they’re taking social, events, and PR in-house, and the reason is to get closer to the consumer…”

Bm: Brands don’t understand that sometimes a sorry is enough, and sometimes you need a little more than a sorry. So in the Pepsi incident, I think you need to do some brand rehabilitation to a certain degree. When you take that leap, it’s a bridge too far for some folks. It is essential for brands to understand how all stakeholders may be adversely affected.

JE: I think it’s good. I think brands are learning, every single day, and I think they’re employing people who have the relevant background and experience that can guide them into a modern day media landscape. A lot of brand marketing is in-house now, they’re taking social, events, and PR in-house, and the reason is to get closer to the consumer, a 1-to-1 connection becomes closer than through numerous agencies.

Bm: What do you think about the FTC ruling about making celebrities have to announce when they’re being paid or brand engagement? What do you think about that?

JE: I think it’s an absolute must, because when you consider five years ago, there were no rules. Now with exponential growth of influencer marketing, verification has to be a part of the process to quantify genuineness and value. For somebody to promote a product and make substantial claims about it, diet pills for example, when there is no FDA regulation and no disclosure of payment to promote – that’s the gray area. Television is regulated, so you watch a commercial, whether it’s on a local or national level, and you know there are some measures of protection in place. It protects consumers from buying into something that is not proven, tested, or yet made its mark.

I think with influencers, it’s the same thing – you have to be careful. Certain celebrities came out five years ago and were selling anything to their audience to make money without even using the product at all. I do believe in regulation. I think it helps everybody, it protects people, and it also improves quality of content. Right now, the FTC is cracking down, and so is the IRS – it’s a new economic boom. Influencer marketing is predicted to be nearly two billion dollars this year. It has become a big business — it has to be regulated to protect everybody.

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Bm: By most accounts, large publishing houses have been consolidating print, increasingly digital, social, and content platforms. Conversely, Nylon relaunched Nylon Guys, the men’s fashion and lifestyle consumer portal. What was the driving force behind that strategy and do you forecast an uptake in men’s brands?

JE: It’s an interesting time. A few people, friends, contacted me when I made the press announcement that we’re re-launching Nylon Guys. They were like, “Are you crazy? Oh my god.” However, I noticed in the current landscape that a lot of the larger publishing houses, Conde, Hearst, Meredith, were all consolidating and closing titles down to focus on what they believe are their winning brands for the future, like Cosmopolitan at Hearst. Cosmopolitan is a great magazine, has a great desktop/mobile digital platform, great social platform, and they’ve put in massive investment into Snapchat with their Suite channel.

“There’s a lack of really high quality content that talks fashion, grooming, music, lifestyle, and culture to an 18-34 year old male today, that really can speak and translate from print into social really well.”

Brands are no longer looking to spend money in five magazines that will each talk about the same thing, reaching the same demographics. While observing this, I saw Details close, for example; Esquire closed down, Complex magazine closed down. Then all of a sudden, you look around the digital landscape, and there’s very little that talks to a guy. With Nylon Guys, we capitalized on the success of its prior 15-year run, so literally within days of the announcement, I had probably 10 brands and agencies call up wanting to be in the first issue and sponsor it. And also, “Can we do an event? Can we do on run on social media? What else can we do?” I was blown away.

For me, there’s a lack of really high quality content that talks fashion, grooming, music, lifestyle, and culture to an 18-34 year old male today, that really can speak and translate from print into social really well. The driving force behind the launch was consolidation, but also that brands still wanted to reach guys through high-quality print. They still need places to advertise. Both fashion and men’s grooming categories still love print. If you run an efficient, cost-effective media company like we do at Nylon, we’re able to launch a magazine, be profitable, and make it work and grow. I don’t have 8,000 people on a payroll, and I don’t own 72 publications of which 40 of them don’t make a dime. We’re in a business where our magazine does well, and in the last two to three years, we’ve built up both digital and social revenues to meaningful levels, and we have a studio division that makes content exclusively for brands. Right now, in the male sector, there’s a gap in the market and no one is out there talking to male-focused brands about how they can connect with men aged 18-34 socially, in print — it’s not there. I’ve really done my research on it. I saw it as an opportunity, and right now, we took it, and so far, it’s worked. It’s been tremendously successful.

Bm: I will ask —  why do you think it’s so difficult to position and communicate to the male consumer?

JE: Discovery for men with content is very different than discovery for women. Men tend to be very routine in their discovery of content – they’re either into sports, music, politics, fiction, etc. or they follow Dan Blizerian on Instagram because who doesn’t want to be Dan Blizerian or the Bespoke Gentleman. I think most men ages 18-34 check CNN, Bleacher Report, and ESPN daily in this country. That’s a religion.

Whereas women tend to have much more of an emotional connection to content they discover, research, and search for. A guy knows exactly where he’s going to go to find what he wants, whereas women are more open to discovery. Men are very direct, so if a brand can focus on a particular area and do it well, whether it is fashion, etc., but deliver it in a unique way that’s cool for a guy, than you have a win. And that’s the challenge we set ourselves up for with Nylon Guys in 2017 and beyond. It’s that — how can we educate, discuss music, Nascar, grooming, etc. differently and put a Nylon spin on it? That’s what we did in our first issue. We tap into things we know are popular, but give them a different spin and build it out a bit. Let’s talk about the guy who’s racing in Nascar – his wife, what she thinks about it all, and what the guy’s philosophy on life is? He could die today on that track. What happens then? You bring that kind of thing out, and people get interested in it — hopefully.

Bm: I love Bespoke Gentlemen by the way as a blog, but I would say that third category, at least for me and my group of friends probably is culture, and culture can fall in a few areas. It can be art, it can be lifestyle. The third one is culture. That’s what I look for, outside of fashion for men. Do you have a culture piece in there? If it’s done right, I’m in. I love it.

JE: It’s all about packaging content for men. It’s a completely different set of rules for men than it is for women in media. Consumption, engagement, and time spent are all different, which is the exciting challenge.

Bm: You gave kind of what a mens arch is, what do you think is the hierarchy for women as far as content goes?

JE: Developing content for women today is extremely exciting. It’s fallen out of the traditional formats that the print industry delivered ten, fifteen years ago. You bought Allure for beauty, House and Gardens for your home and garden, and Vogue to see what’s happening in fashion. Today, with the rise of social media and the amount of content that media companies can put out there, you can build 101 different verticals and channels that are relevant and a part of a female’s everyday life. Again, the differences – the appetite from females is there, whether it’s beauty tips, dating, mortgages, economics, politics, sex – the expanse in which a female chooses content in 101 areas is really exciting right now, with a focus on quality over quantity. Females still lean towards legacy brands to deliver information. They might not buy Cosmopolitan magazine anymore in print, but they will be following it on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, and selecting interesting articles from there to click through and discover the full feature. At the same time, they’ve also opened up to Refinery29, Bustle, etc. – digital-first businesses. There are thousands of places, however women are very clever at curating the content that they want to read and engage with.

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Bm: When you were speaking that, I just had images of Anna Wintour’s razor sharp bob when she sits down at Fashion Week right? They still are leading the charges as far as who makes the decision.

JE: With all the consolidation going on, people say print is dead. Maybe… but what isn’t dead is the brand. Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Harpers will all survive onto the next level of media. Now on social platforms, these brands are rising, whereas the digital-first businesses are challenged financially to keep pushing out all of this content as they don’t have the built-in economics and resources that the large publishing houses do. What we’re seeing right now is the rebirth of these legacy brands that have strong brand recognition for the last 20-30 years, now growing substantially across the media landscape. The growth comes from delivering what a reader expects – it’s a whole new level of great quality content that’s being curated by the publishing sector. I think they do it a lot better than a digital-first company, because they understand the essence of creating a story – features, photos, or even a piece of video content — the standards of the legacy publishing houses, I think, are far higher. I think the skill set is more finely tuned in putting out great content, and that’s why consumers will follow these brands into social media and onto other platforms.

Bm: Let’s move to the next question here. So recently an Atlanta-based firm launched its first multi-cultural influencer report, the “Color of Influence” — which I was really excited to see — to help brands and agencies with diversity. Why is it important for brands to keep color and diversity top of mind, and how does Nylon Media make that a priority?

JE: It’s a great question. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work in multicultural marketing. I ran a company called Alloy Media + Marketing, and we were one of the first companies, believe it or not, that created a multicultural division. It was called Alloy Access, and it was set up to do research into multicultural markets and to be a liaison between brands and audiences. We would have our brief meetings with brands like Timberland and Reebok, both huge clients. They were looking at how to engage further into African-American and Hispanic communities, through culture, music, film, TV, and events, and how to make it meaningful in the same way as their general market advertising. Our goal was to look for opportunities, partnerships, and build out platforms where brands could get insights into African-American or Hispanic marketing. If you’re going to sponsor Hot97 Summer Jam, what are you going to do? What do you want to do? What’s the messaging you want put out here? We spent a lot of time building out that strategy. Today, it’s a very different landscape. There are a number of large corporations that don’t segregate or separate diversity or culture. They believe their overall marketing strategy reaches everyone it needs to reach. It’s a new strategy that a lot of brands take now, because at the end of the day, you can build out a Hispanic, African-American, and Asian strategy and completely separate them from the general market and that’s proven to work and it’s also proven not to work.

“As a media company, you constantly make sure you’re telling the right story and that you’re not creating alienation.”

For us at Nylon, we look at things this way: we have a very mixed cultural following across our magazine, digitally and across our social platforms. We make content about culture, all cultures. Look at every cover we’ve had out this year, many cultures, ethnicities, diversities have been represented in the last twelve months. That’s a result of Nylon discovering trends in culture led by icons. As a media company, you constantly make sure you’re telling the right story and that you’re not creating alienation. One of the challenges today in media is pleasing everybody. It’s tough. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc. receive public complaints daily about their POV, comments, etc., which is proof to the above. Generalism is harder today than it ever has been because we can offend anybody – the slightest story, the slightest statement — and that has had a major effect on journalism as a whole, even at small media companies like Nylon. We carry the same philosophy as a lot of publishers: you carry on, you evolve your publication, and you keep your voice and you stick to it. If at any moment in time you change to think that you have to be sensitive, then you lose your audience and you lose your credibility as a journalist and as a voice. I think brands today have lost a lot of integrity when they approach multicultural marketing. I think they’ve become very cliché with it. Sometimes I look at marketing and I find it just downright offensive.

Bm: If you think that, then what do you think I think? [laughs]

JE: I know, I see it, and it does offend me because it’s just poor judgment. You look at some of the major Forbes 100 brands, and I think they have it down. I think they’ve listened, they’ve learned, they use social media as a platform, they understand culture better than they ever have, they understand local communities better than they ever have, and for the first time, they understand diversity.

Now their approach to marketing takes all of that in, and allows them to be a better judge on how to market sensitively, but also aggressively, because they still have to sell product. They want to be impactful, they want to reach the Hispanic community and really engage there. They want to engage the African-American community and connect there. In America, it’s a tough task.

Bm: I will close out with my trademark question, what’s next?

JE: What is next is we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing. We’re in 23 countries with Nylon Magazine and digital content. We intend to carry on increasing our brand globally. We are aiming to produce around 200-300 hours of content this year – video, television, OTT, Amazon, etc. where we have deals in place. Video content and programming is our growth area. We’re also going to be increasing our event business. We currently have around 60 events a year, everything from parties surrounding Coachella to New York Fashion Week to Comic Con, however, we are looking to go international next, and we’re excited about doing it. We did a party in celebration of Lollapalooza Berlin last year for the first time, because it complemented what we do with Lollapalooza here in the US, so we’re reaching a new community and capturing content, and it makes great programming. For us, it’s always coming up with more innovative ways that we can engage our consumers and bring brands along for that journey, where they actually get to touch, engage with our consumers, and the journey is a good one for all and that’s it. Trying to keep things simple, effective, meaningful, leading and “always expanding” — that’s the motto.

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