SCALING UP BY SCALING DOWN AT CONDÉ NAST: It has been just over a year since Condé Nast merged its two food-centric titles Epicurious and Bon Appétit in what, at the time, appeared to be a cost-savings measure or a marketing strategy to sell advertising — or both.
But suggest those scenarios to publisher and chief revenue officer Pamela Drucker Mann, who oversees both properties, and you’ll get a little side-eye in response and a long explanation.
“Mash-up [merger] by nature isn’t necessarily the defining principle or defining strategy,” Drucker Mann said. “It’s about ultimately looking for what the marketplace is looking for…I wasn’t interested in just being a group publisher and running two brands. I was excited about doing something different and doing something new.”
From her corner office at Condé Nast’s headquarters at One World Trade Center, the publisher explained that the merger of the properties was part of the larger plan to form what the company calls “The Food Innovation Group” or ‘FIG.’
On its face, FIG is an amalgamation of Bon Appétit, Epicurious and The Shopper’s Network, comprised of more than 200 bloggers who produce exclusive content. It also includes a video and an-in house branded content studio dubbed “The Farm.”
Insiders pointed to FIG as a potential model for Condé Nast, which recently folded the business sides of Teen Vogue into Vogue and Self into Glamour. WWD has learned that Glamour and Self are poised to launch a joint network focusing on wellness, for instance.
Condé Nast chief executive officer Bob Sauerberg did not comment on that, nor did he elaborate on whether FIG is a model for the company, but he did offer: “Condé Nast’s digital network is seeing unprecedented growth in audience — across desktop, mobile and video, and the reach of our brands has never been greater. Strategically and effectively leveraging the scale of our premium content to drive results for our advertising partners is a top priority for us.”
Condé Nast said FIG has grown total advertising revenue 21 percent in 2015 over the prior year, due in part to new partners, such as Samsung, who were looking for advertising packages that spanned print, digital, video and social.
Drucker Mann declined to comment on FIG as a sort of test kitchen for Condé, but she did note that the robust digital strategy has given her “scale” to sell to advertisers.
Case in point on its own, Bon Appétit and Epicurious attracted 6 million and 12.9 million respective unique visitors in November, according to Comscore. When measured in totality as FIG, which the Shopper’s Network and its subsequent Web traffic from affiliated sites, it boasted 49.8 million uniques for the month, Drucker Mann said.
This traffic yield has allowed FIG to compete with Meredith’s All Recipes Network, which includes AllRecipes, the crowd-sourced mobile recipe dynamo, and Scripps’ Food Network Sites comprised of Food.com, Food Network, and the Cooking Channel. In November, the former network logged 48 million unique visitors, and the latter attracted 57 million, according to Comscore.
While Comscore said it eschews reporting traffic as a custom entity because traffic could get counted twice, that issue doesn’t seem to bother advertisers or publishers.
In 2016, FIG already has 26 new video series lined up, some of which will be sponsored, as well as new products, including a “Cities Guide” mobile app for Bon Appétit to launch in May.
“It’s a company within a company,” the publisher said of FIG, adding that the group is not only a one-stop shop for food content, but it also is an entity that is likely to acquire other businesses in the future.
Drucker Mann noted that digital focus has enhanced Bon Appétit’s print performance. Insiders indicated to WWD that Bon Appétit was the only magazine at Condé Nast to log a gain in print advertising pages in 2015; all the other titles were down. Although the publisher wouldn’t get into specifics she noted: “They both kind of worked together,” she said, of print and digital advertising. “Ultimately, I feel like our digital success is actually fueling our print success. One is not taking away from the other. We know that there are more opportunities in digital…but I also think that what’s happening in print is interesting, too. There’s more of this ‘specialness’ to print, and you’re seeing clients really wanting to do things that are really dynamic…There’s this renaissance in print. When you put something in print, it is forever.”